Eric Cantona once said ”When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” He was of course glossing over the fact that he had recently Kung-Fu kicked a fan in the face.
After all these years, a new challenger to Cantona’s metaphor crown has emerged. A man no stranger to controversy himself. The new contender came out with this peach: ”With some players, if he has a chihuahua character I can’t make a chihuahua into a rottweiler. He could be a proud chihuahua but he remains a chihuahua.”
The author of this quote was none other than Paolo Di Canio, who in his short time as Swindon gaffer has caused more controversy than Gary Glitter in Mothercare. This metaphorical lyric followed this unflinching assertion: ”From now on I will tell my players to dive”. He made this comment after his side failed to benefit from a penalty after Swindon player Matt Richie stayed on his feet after what Di Canio felt was a blatant foul and they ended up losing the game 2-0. In contrast, this weekend we saw Liverpool’s Luis Suarez engage in some Olympic quality gymnastics complimented by some Oscar worthy acting as he managed to get Everton’s Jack Rodwell sent off for a nothing challenge. As the saying goes, ‘nice guys come last’, so maybe Di Canio’s statement isn’t so controversial after all.
I completely understand Di Canio’s angle; time and time again referees get it wrong. It could be suggested that without some kind of simulation or acting from a player, they are unprompted to make the decisions they should be making. Why? I hear you cry, well that’s the million dollar question … but that’s another article!
The question here is about what Di Canio is saying, should he be encouraging diving and should we be encouraging it or outraged?
It is a difficult situation – the pressure on both players and managers to get results is immense. In football there is no substitute for winning and it is the only thing that really leads to happiness in football for players, managers and fans alike. If the team is winning your job is safe and life is easier. The players will also be earning the maximum wage possible, especially if they have a win bonus etc. The contract system itself is geared up to give financial incentive for players to win at all costs, even if it is deemed cheating. Going back to the weekend, did Luis Suarez cheat to get Jack Rodwell sent off? There is no doubt Rodwell made contact with a trailing leg, but without the theatrics of Suarez (a player I like btw), would Rodwell have been sent off and would Liverpool had won that game?
The gamesmanship versus cheating debate is age old now, but if referees are not going to reward honesty then players and managers may be pushed the other way. Di Canio was educated within a culture that has promoted this; Italian’s are known as some of the worst divers / theatrically over the top players in world football. It is probably frustrating for Di Canio when the honesty of his players gets him nothing.
But this is the Premier League! We don’t do diving and actively (and fairly) heckle those that do dive. At times it actually pains me to see players rolling around on the floor like they have been shot when we all know it doesn’t really hurt that much! Take amateur Sunday league football; unless your leg is actually hanging off or you can’t walk, then any type of rolling around is frowned upon. What I like about the example of Sunday league amateur football is that if someone was to dive, they would get a clip round the head probably from their own team!
So was Di Canio right to make such a statement? I am with the lunatic on this one and I will tell you why; this isn’t about the diving debate, this is another incident that highlights fundamental errors with Referee’s and only a radical statement like this will get people’s attention. As a devout football fan it pains me to say this, but the standard of refereeing at the Rugby World Cup has seemed, to me at least, first class. Great respect, no friendships with players, highly professional and the best of all, they are accountable and you get answers.
Let me make it clear, I don’t want to see diving/gamesmanship in football, this is a man’s game where you take the hits and get up without moaning. I am proud to be English and promote the values I was bought up with: win, but win the right way and earn your victory. Refereeing is hard enough, more simulation will only cause more bad decisions but come on Ref’s, in the words of Mr T. ‘get some nuts!’