Thursday 21 September 2017

Diving debate exposes moral conundrum for English game

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho
The diving debate

Dion Fanning

Ipsos Mori released data last week that showed that in 1978 up to 70 per cent of the British public agreed that the country was in danger of "being swamped" by other cultures. At the time, net migration was around zero.

Their most recent survey found that the public's average guess at what proportion of the British population was foreign-born was 31 per cent when the official estimate is 13 per cent.

These fears are real and no less real because they're irrational. Immigrants who arrive in Britain will be met with lurid headlines saying they're not welcome and first-hand experience which says they are. If they need any further examples of the contradictions, they could probably look to Jose Mourinho.

Jose Mourinho loves England. He is now that familiar figure, the émigré who has become more English than the English themselves. He will do anything to defend the country that laughs at his jokes and right now, he will do anything to protect the country from the dangers of diving.

After Chelsea beat Liverpool, he made the headlines with his comment that Luis Suarez had performed an "acrobatic swimming pool jump" when he was fouled by Samuel Eto'o.

He went on to describe Suarez as a "very nice boy" but one who remains wedded to some deeply unpleasant cultural habits. Mourinho understands these instincts, he had grown up with them, but now he thought like an Englishman. Soon, perhaps, he will start dressing like a member of David Cameron and Boris Johnson's Bullingdon Club, conducting press conferences in tailcoats then heading down to Henley for the regatta before pinching a policeman's helmet as Bertie Wooster used to do.

For now, he will simply defend the values of the English game and last week, with great sadness, he had to point out all that was wrong with Suarez,

When Suarez was in desperate search of victory, he changed. Something took over, something Mourinho called "the wild nature of the player or the cultural nature of the player". Mourinho understood this all too well. "Culturally people from that area, they like it [diving] but it is not also that area. There is a corner in Europe where I belong to where they also like [diving]."

The FA have a provision for this kind of thing. Rule E.3(2) deals with offensive statements which make "reference to a person's ethnic origin, colour or race".

Mourinho, of course, might not have breached Rule E.3(1) and used "abusive and/or insulting words" so maybe it's ok in those cases to reference a person's ethnic origin, even their wild and cultural nature.

After all, to criticise somebody for diving is perceived to be acting in the common good and as far away from abusive and insulting words as one can get. Mourinho was trying to help Suarez become a better man.

Nobody could accuse Mourinho of xenophobia but he may have made xenophobes feel a little more comfortable in their prejudice, in their irrational belief that diving is a cultural import that is weakening the moral fibre of England.

Diving provides the cover for xenophobia just as anti-communism once gave cover for anti-Semitism. Who knows what Mourinho believes but right now he believes he doesn't believe in diving.

Diving is one of the great moral conundrums for English football, the conundrum arising because it is a mistake to bring morality into it.

In the Merseyside derby, Suarez was kicked by Kevin Mirallas who was only booked. He spent most of Liverpool's two games against Manchester City and Chelsea dealing with physical punishment in the finest tradition of the game.

Ashley Young was fouled at the knee by Hugo Lloris but his own reputation and the incompetence of Howard Webb provided him with no protection.

David Moyes remains as committed to his anti-diving stance as he ever was, although right now he has other priorities. At Old Trafford on New Year's Day, Webb had rebutted the outlandish conspiracy theories that follow him around with a generally inept performance, evidence yet again that the cock-up view of history is always the sanest.

Moyes was irritated when he was asked afterwards about the dives his players had performed with no success. He had a point. In fact, it would have been no surprise if he said, "Listen, I can't get them to defend properly, what chance do you think I have stopping them from diving?"

Diving will stop when it becomes counter-productive to dive but there will always be ways to take liberties with the code of ethics that always clashes with the code of the dressing room. Is a player who accuses another player of diving when he knows he fouled him cheating? Or is he just turning everything to his own advantage? What moral transgression has a player made who says he didn't touch somebody when he did?

None of these actions seems to be as immoral as diving. Divers, it turns out, are asking for it but then a diver and a cheat like Maradona also had to deal with a broken ankle, snapped "like a piece of wood cracking" when Andoni Goikoetxea jumped in and assaulted him.

There is plenty of evidence that Maradona had an unorthodox relationship with conventional morality or perhaps he found that pious sermons didn't protect him from those who wanted to hurt him. Diving, at least, offered a way to make things even.

English football remains fearful of being swamped by foreign footballers and their ways, yet they are in awe of those who bring such joy to individual clubs.

When Eto'o went in high on Jordan Henderson, Mourinho took the blame because the player was only doing what he wanted him to do by adapting to the physical demands of Premier League football. Eto'o was becoming as English as the English themselves.

"It was my fault," Mourinho said, with the disarming self-flagellation of the Englishman.

dfanning@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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