Premier League will bring more ducking and diving

Play acting, simulation, downright cheating. Whatever you call it, the first weekend of the Premier League season suggests that City will be seeing a lot more of it.

There seems to be something about that piece of ground bounded by the 18 yard line that makes big, strong strikers at this level go weak at the knees whenever they find themselves at close quarters with an opponent.

Ritchie de Laet found that out on Saturday when, having been robbed by Franco di Santo, he matched his opponent's dash into the penalty box only to see him collapse like a sapling in a hurricane at the first sign of contact.

Clever stuff, because, with the referee a long way from the incident, the decision was effectively in the hands of a linesman who could only take a view on the basis of Di Santo's reaction because the body of the striker was blocking his view of the challenge.

Of course, not all dives are quite so well managed. Gervinho's trip over an imaginary tackle at Newcastle was quite comical, although Joey Barton clearly didn't see the joke.


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Having said that, the cuddly midfielder showed that he did, after all, appreciate slapstick by responding to Gervinho's rather effete slap to the side of the head as if he'd been hit with an ice pick.

All in all it was an incident that was at best unedifying, and at worst encapsulated everything that's wrong with the game in the modern era, but the fact is that that is how the game is played these days.

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There are many things that teams coming up from the Championship have to adapt to, the increased pace and technical quality of play being two obvious ones. However, I would suggest that another is the transition from a fairly physical league where the odd crunching tackle is still admired, to one in which 'contact' has rather insidiously become synonymous with 'foul' and therefore justification for a free kick or penalty. Excuse me, but isn't football supposed to be a contact sport?

No one wants to see gifted players kicked to pieces by grunting Neanderthals (although I would perhaps make an exception in the case of Adel Taarabt) but there has to be some sort of balance before the game formerly known as the working man's ballet (before the working man was priced out of going) becomes simply ballet and we are all required to turn up in dinner suits.

As David Fox discovered very early in Saturday's game, going off your feet in a challenge is likely to bring at least a yellow card at this level, whether or not you make contact with the ball, because you can guarantee that your opponent will perform a triple salchow to ensure that the referee is paying attention before writhing around in apparent agony.

However, to return to my original point, it is in and around the penalty box that the greatest selectivity needs to be shown.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that our players are wide-eyed innocents, nor that this sort of thing doesn't go on in the lower leagues.

But there is no doubt it's much more blatant in the Premiership, and, crucially, much more likely to be rewarded by the officials – particularly at Old Trafford, Liverpool and Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that theoretically means that when John Terry bumps Grant Holt to the ground in front of a packed Shed next week the referee will give us a penalty, but I won't be holding my breath.

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