Recently, while watching the Manchester derby, I witnessed a prototypical dive by Ander Herrera. You know, the one where he sees a player approaching to challenge, throws himself forward and flails his leg mimicking having taken a baseball bat to the knee. While on the ground he turns to the referee with arms extended screaming for a foul. His teammates berate the referee until he blows the whistle. To the utter disdain of the red side of Manchester, Herrera received a yellow card for diving. I thank God.
This episode really infuriated me and it’s not due to my passionate dislike of United. It was the smug look on Herrera’s face turned to a guilt ridden smile and the attempt to goad the referee into making a wrong decision that would create potential havoc on himself from the blue side – potentially an enduring period of hate. Referees have retired because of situations like this which prompted hatred of the worst - death threats. Believe you me, football fans don’t forgive and they sure as hell don’t forget. Take from it what you will. Being a referee in one of the top leagues must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. The only way you succeed is by having mental resilience due to the mockery some the players and managers bestow on the game. I was happy Herrera was booked but disappointed that the FA didn’t take retrospective action – he deserves a ban.
I’m currently reading the autobiography of Sir Alex Ferguson, a brilliant read. There is a chapter solely dedicated to Ronaldo, the greatest player he ever managed. He takes a moment to discuss the allegations of Ronaldo’s diving and states that he did encompass the crude habit in his first couple of seasons at United however, the senior players such as Gary Neville and Paul Scholes kicked it out of him, literally. Ferguson says that during Ronaldo’s later years at United he rarely dove despite the accusations. The justification for his love for the turf was that Ronaldo would run at such speed that a mere brush would see him topple. I can understand this although disagree that he completely stamped the trend out of his game - he 'improved'. His goal in the 2008-09 Champions League semi-final vs. Arsenal sees him run the length of the field in 12 seconds – a goal described by the Telegraph’s Paul Hayward as an ‘ice hockey goal.’ If Ronaldo had been slightly nudged during the sprint, he would’ve flown to the ground and been accused of diving, even though it was probably genuine.
Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the greatest footballers in the world go to ground when nudged in the penalty box. I don’t have an issue with this if there is legitimate contact, even the slightest. What I do detest are acts like Ander Herrera’s. A disgusting show of classlessness and disrespect. Crumbling to the ground and condescendingly complaining to the referee that he has missed the call or even worse, attaining an illegitimate penalty which embarrasses the man in the middle who is trying to do an honest day’s work. Luckily in this case, Michael Oliver stood his ground and made the correct call.
I understand that football has become a game of high stakes poker. Cold, hard cash is up for grabs. However, it is the responsibility of players, managers, referees and authorities to stamp out actions which can have dire consequences to some. Football originated as a blue collar game. Let’s not let the hard working and honest foundations it was built on be lost.