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Friday 22 August 2014

James Lawton: Cheating in football is almost past the point of no return

James Lawton

Published 09/10/2012 | 17:00

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The English FA video reviewers must surely have Monday as a double-shower day, the second one coming immediately after the kind of shift which yesterday included analysis of allegations that Robin van Persie delivered an utterly gratuitous cheap shot to Yohan Cabaye and Robert Huth stamped on Luis Suarez.

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Such were the routine items on a disciplinary agenda which now must also include, prominently, an hourly monitoring of Ashley Cole's contribution to the social network, which has become almost as shallow and self-absorbed as that of his former wife Cheryl.

For several days now she has been telling her followers of the extreme angst brought on not only by her ex-husband's serial infidelities, but the professional betrayals of a certain Mr Simon Cowell.

Trembling

These, she tells us, brought her not only to the point of firing off expletive-laden text messages but one where her whole body trembled and her head felt like it was exploding, which might just have been the experience for anyone who had the nerve and the patience to read on.

Ms Cole is, of course, beyond football's jurisdiction, which is just as well, because the old game has more than enough of its own capable of inviting unprecedented levels of ridicule.

This brings us to the shocking behaviour of Gareth Bale and the aforementioned Suarez. Diving is such an implicit part of football now that it takes something quite remarkable to draw special attention, and what Bale and Suarez did on Sunday took us well beyond the realms of self-parody.

Mark Lawrenson, a pundit who mostly manages an admirable balance between professional know-how and a good sense of humour, said that one could only laugh at the bizarre attempts by Bale and Suarez to confuse referees.

Suarez's most notable dive in the game against Stoke came in instalments. First he half-fell, then he gave it the full-star landing.

Lawrenson said he was impelled to laugh but, hopefully, it was an instant reaction to the ludicrousness of what he saw and quite separated from its grim implication of shameless cheating.

It was a response that could only have been precisely reproduced when Bale went into orbit without any help at all from Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

But the laughter freezes, surely, when you consider how such actions now come in an unbroken stream, and how much damage they are causing to the integrity of the business which pays such huge rewards to professionals to whom you like to think some basic responsibilities have been entrusted.

One is to perform honestly. Another is to observe the laws of the game. How many times do we hear a phrase like, "he got a bit of the ball", after a plainly illegal tackle has gone in?

How often do major figures in the game, men loaded with international caps and all the prestige -- and earning power -- they bring with them, excuse the appalling grappling that goes on in the penalty area?

"It's six of one and half a dozen of the other," is one familiar expression. This isn't analysis. It is tired betrayal of decent professional values and this has to be the charge against clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool if they remain unmoved by the recent excesses of their star players.

What is needed, of course, is someone with the minimal guts required to stand up for the name of football, to say that its relentless cheapening has reached perilously close to a point of no return.

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis, who went unchallenged in the matter of his player Robert Huth's stamp on Suarez, said the Liverpool player's antics were "embarrassing". They were indeed, but then, so much of what happens on the field has to be placed in that category.

It is a culture of deception which cries for self-monitoring but in its absence, in the sheer, putrefying failure of the clubs to look at themselves, there needs to be some stringent new directives from an FA which has, when all the smoke has been blown away, been entirely vindicated in its pursuit of John Terry and all his evasions.

They have to make it clear that what Suarez and Bale did warranted more than fleeting mirth and a weary shrug of the shoulders.

They have to say that football cannot go on hurting itself, cannot continue to make a mockery of a game that used to be fit to involve the interest of decent, honest people.

What would we think if a child of our own pulled the kind of stunts authored by Bale and Suarez?

Wouldn't we say that something fundamental had gone wrong in the upbringing of someone capable of such conduct? It is at least pretty easy to imagine we might just say that we were to blame.

Football now desperately requires a degree of such honesty, because each new outrage piles on it a little more blame.

Irish Independent

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