Colin Randall writes: Salut! Sunderland has always felt perfectly entitled to stick its nose into other people’s business. We’re Sunderland supporters but also have views on football generally, whether it’s Pete Sixsmith at one of his non-league excursions or Ken Gambles demanding compulsory wearing of pink mittens by shirtpullers and goggles by divers of all teams. These impertinent observations will henceforth appear under the How Dare We? banner. Did I say something about divers? ….
The look of pained innocence on Gareth Bale’s face was priceless. “Me! Dive? You’ve got the wrong man, guv,” you could almost hear him telling the ref, Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz though plain Antonio Mateu will do.
But we all, or most of us, know better. It was, as is usually the case with Bale, a fair cop.
It didn’t need anti-English (or Welsh) bias of the sort that’s usually alleged by the hard-of-thinking when a foreign ref gives anything against “one of ours”.
Bale was not just another blameless victim, his unjust reputation having been flown out by EasyJet to wherever it is that Mateu lives. A referee accustomed to the routines of diving and feigning of injury in La Liga had found it quite easy to detect at attempt to hoodwink him at White Hart Lane.
Yet over and over again, he invites the world outside Tottenham (in the broadest sense, meaning the worldwide Spurs catchment area) to see in him the instinct of the cheat.
And what a minor tragedy it is. Here we have a young British player equipped with a formidable array of footballing skills – ball control, movement, pace, strength, finishing power – that all of us can admire except when he’s playing against us.
We saw it at Sunderland. Safely put aside the big-club bias of Shearer and the rest of the MoTD panel. Opinions, I accept, differ fiercely but I was happy to have the endorsement of a top former referee Graham Poll (flawed as even he was) for my own view: “… there is contact but only after Bale’s leg is crumbling.”
In my piece at the time for ESPN, I noted that only Bale himself truly has the answer to the questions asked about him. But he does talk about “entitlement”, the right to go down if he senses a challenge. Why a player would wish to “win” a dubious penalty rather than complete a wonderful run and score or make a goal, as he might have done at the SoL or even last night, baffles me.
But I am as sure as I can be that it comes in part from the training ground and managerial instruction. Football has descended to such a squalid level that players are coached in the art of cheating and getting away with. Let us be charitable and say AVB does not explicitly tell Bale to dive when in the penalty area, even on a night when suspension from the next game is bizarrely considered a desirable outcome. But where, otherwise, does Bale get it from? What was he like at school when so much less was at stake but far, far lesser players were up against him – was he falling all over the place even then?
There is, naturally, another view. Steve Luckings is a former colleague of mine, a good lad and a Spurs supporter. He has contributed to these pages in the past (and I hope Malbranque’s brilliance with Lyon this season has caused him to revise his dim view of him).
Last night, happy with the excellent 3-0 win against Inter Milan, he posted this simple comment at Facebook:” Gareth Bale: owner of Inter Milan.”
There followed this exchange:
But isn’t it a shame, Steve, that he ruins his real prospect of greatness by this utterly immature weakness for diving? I fully appreciate that cheating may as well these days be written into the football coaching manuals, and is probably taught on the training ground and insisted upon by managers, but Bale needs to rise above these pressures and use his talent, not his preference for going to ground with no contact, running into opponents’ legs, falling theatrically at the least contact.
I couldn’t disagree more. Bale’s highlights reel will not be his best tumbles, they will be his best runs, his best dribbles, his best goals. Ronaldo perfected the art of leaving your leg in a tackle and you only have to wake up in the same time zone as Messi for a him to be rewarded a free kick bit people seem quite happy to only focus on their attributes.
No. Divers are divers however talented and whoever they are. Ronaldo, like Bale, is reviled for it, just as he – again like Bale – is admired for the runs, dribbles goals. It saddens more than sickens me. And I am not partisan on this; I hammered Larsson at my site for an outrageous dive last season, regularly upbraided Gyan and now criticise Sessegnon. I don’t know how to eradicate it (or feigning injury, shirt pulling, wrestling at set pieces etc) but it is challenging my love of the game.
The only way to eradicate it, in my view, is to make it a non-contact sport. The same as making every handball incident a free kick/penalty, taking away the final call of the ref for interpretation of intent. I’m sorry but I disagree with the idea that was his most telling contribution or that people will remember that incident from a game an admittedly ridiculously poor Inter Milan team were terrified of him in
So, nothing is resolved. My assessment of Steve’s view is that he is not denying Bale is a diver but saying this is an insignificant aspect of his game.