Morning all.

I’ve stolen this from The Athletic.

Why? Because the newspaper is a subscribe only one so I thought I’d share it for those who haven’t signed up to it. For what it’s worth, I find it to be one of the best sports newspapers out there.

Yesterday they raised the question over the weekend penalty awards to both Kane and Salah.

Clever play or simply cheating? By Charlie Eccleshare

 

When does canny forward play become something more sinister? When does a player cross the line from cute to cheat? When is a dive a dive?

One of English football’s biggest preoccupations reemerged this weekend as first Mohamed Salah and then Harry Kane were awarded controversial penalties.

Both incidents were divisive, suggesting neither were straightforward cases. Former players like Alan Shearer and Danny Murphy said they didn’t think Salah had been fouled, but former Premier League referee Chris Foy tells The Athletic that Arthur Masuaku was guilty of “impeding an opponent with contact” according to IFAB Law 12 of the game and therefore it was a penalty.

Foy says that Adam Lallana also fell foul of Law 12 because of the way he “jumped at” an opponent “in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force” and so the referee Graham Scott was correct to award the penalty. Others have pointed to the fact that Kane appeared to be endangering Lallana with the way he looked at the midfielder and then backed into him as he jumped for the ball.

The argument has also been made that both Salah and Kane have previous with these kinds of incidents, and that should be taken into account. But a mantra for referees is to prepare for matches, but to never, ever be prejudiced.

It’s a delicate balance, and so we spoke to former referees, players and coaches to try and explain what constitutes a dive.

Or, as former Bolton and England striker, Kevin Davies, who was told he needed to go down more, puts it: “Where do you draw the line? Guys like (Jack) Grealish, the way they go down, there’s no way the contact would send you down naturally. And there are plenty of players that do it.

“But the fact is, if you’re clever with the ball you can entice challenges, which we’d say is more footballing intelligence.

“So is it cheating or clever play? Probably a bit of both.”

Former Stoke City, West Brom and Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis meanwhile once called out his own player for diving and sees it in black-and-white terms: “I think diving’s cheating.”

In a nation that has traditionally prided itself on its tough-tackling and physicality, diving has often been treated as an affront to English football’s puritanical ideals. Typically blamed on the widespread arrival of foreign talent to play in the Premier League, many consider it the scourge of the beautiful game. Graeme Souness apologised last month for his xenophobic remark in describing Erik Lamela’s reaction to Anthony Martial’s raised hand as “very Latin”, but he was not alone in holding a variant of that opinion.

In any case, the growth of diving was deemed such an issue in the mid-2000s that the then Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL) general manager Keith Hackett organised a meeting with the Premier League’s managers.

Hackett explained that diving was the one area of the game where officials were going to make mistakes because of the challenge of trying to decide whether players who were operating at top speed, and deliberately trying to deceive match officials, had in fact been fouled or not.

The managers looked on bemused but were then shown a number of clips to demonstrate how hard it was to detect acts of simulation. Hackett explained that decisions would go against clubs one week, and for them the next. Some managers accepted this, while others, Hackett feels, sought ways to capitalise on the difficulties referees faced in getting these decisions right and encouraged their players to simulate contact wherever possible.

Simulation (when according to Law 12 a player “attempts to deceive the referee e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled”) subsequently became such a point of contention that in 2017 the FA introduced a ruling that players could receive retrospective two-match bans for diving if they had dived to win a penalty and it had not been spotted at the time. Everton’s Oumar Niasse and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini (pictured below) fell foul of this rule in the 2017-18 season, but none have been in the Premier League since.

The rule is still technically in place, but the introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VARs) from last season makes it very unlikely that an incident involving simulation for a penalty would be missed by both the referee and VAR. In Chelsea’s win at Burnley last October for instance, Callum Hudson-Odoi was booked for diving after a VAR intervention. Illustrating the earlier point of how triggering many in England find diving, a furious Burnley manager Sean Dyche said afterwards:

“It is shambolic how people dive about the place and we were told by the Premier League the worst you can get is a yellow card, so everyone has a chance to cheat once again and not get sent off.

“They are the future and if they are diving now, we have massive trouble now in five or 10 years. We didn’t use to accept it. Now we do and I am the only one who goes on about it.”

Some of the reactions over the weekend, when both Salah and Kane were awarded dubious penalties, suggest Dyche is wrong when he says he is the only one who is making noise about the issue.

Looking at the two incidents, the latter certainly feels more contentious, given that Kane looked to be potentially putting Lallana in a dangerous position, and was potentially guilty himself of “impeding an opponent with contact” and being “careless” in the way he did it. Lallana could have suffered a serious injury, and the potentially perilous situation thrown up by this kind of incident has led rugby union to rule that “a player must not tackle, charge, pull, push or grasp an opponent whose feet are off the ground”.

Kane and referee Scott would argue the striker was simply standing his ground, but Hackett, the former PGMOL general manager and Premier League referee, saw it differently:

“What has happened is he clearly knows that by backing and bending over he’s put his opponent in a very difficult position. So for me it’s Kane who’s committed the offence, not the player who’s fallen on him.

“Kane stops and deliberately impedes his opponent, deliberately prevents his opponent from going for the ball. He makes it look like the defender has committed the foul but Kane, by moving in and looking, has committed the offence.

“These are signals that the referee should pick up on. The referee is focusing on the foot area, rather than upper body. But you’ve got to review that and say it’s a foul by Kane.”

On Match of the Day 2, former defender Martin Keown and ex-striker Peter Crouch were largely in agreement with Hackett. Both said Kane “knew what he was doing”. Hackett adds that what Kane did was “dangerous”.

Foy, a Premier League referee until 2015 and now the Head of Community and Public Engagement for the PGMOL, however, defends his colleague Scott: “By breaching Law 12 and jumping into his opponent, Lallana has to be penalised. I don’t see it as Kane endangering Lallana. He’s held his ground. Kane doesn’t have to move. It’s an interesting one but I’m more than comfortable with the decision.”

Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher also said he thought Scott made the right call.

The Salah incident meanwhile enraged West Ham manager David Moyes, who said the Egyptian had “thrown himself to the ground” and added that “it’s not the sort of football I want to be involved in”.

Former players like Tony Cascarino expressed similar sentiments, but according to the laws of the game Masuaku was guilty of “impeding an opponent with contact” — even if that contact was minimal — and therefore referee Kevin Friend was right to award the penalty. You could argue that Salah was guilty of simulation because he was attempting to “deceive the referee, e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled”. But the fact is here he wasn’t “pretending to have been fouled” because technically he had been fouled.

Foy wholeheartedly supports Friend’s decision and adds: “Simulation is something people talk about now, and when you’re looking at it there are lots of things to look at. Has a player initiated contact? Has he avoided contact? Has a player exaggerated contact?” Those wishing to condemn Salah would argue that he surely was guilty of “exaggerating contact”.

The Kane and Salah incidents also throw up a secondary issue: how much should what a player has done before influence referees? In the case of Kane, no sooner had the incident with Lallana happened than videos were going around on social media of Kane endangering West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell and Manchester City’s Fernandinho by looking and then backing into them when they were in the air (pictured below). Fernandinho was so enraged by the incident that he shoved his elbow onto a prone Kane’s head, while the Cresswell incident was certainly dangerous enough to have merited a straight red card.

Salah meanwhile has won the joint-most Premier League penalties since the start of the 2018-19 season, and has been involved in similar controversies before. A penalty he won from Crystal Palace’s Mamadou Sakho in January 2019 led to criticism from former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg for “trying to deceive” officials, while Souness said on Sky Sports on Sunday: “I’ve seen Salah do this time and time again.”

How much referees should take into account a player’s past indiscretions is another complication when assessing whether a dive is a dive. Yes, in theory, it should not matter who is guilty of committing an offence, but at the same time, to what extent should referees be doing their homework on which players like to invite or make the most of contact? Would Scott, for instance, have benefitted from having seen those Kane clips that were circulated on social media? Or might that have prejudiced him?

Going further back, Cristiano Ronaldo felt that by the end of his time in the Premier League he wasn’t being awarded penalties because referees had marked him down as a diver. Robert Pires meanwhile never won another penalty for Arsenal after the hugely controversial one he was awarded against Portsmouth in September 2003. And at Tottenham Gareth Bale was warned by some of the coaches that he could get a reputation for diving after going to ground too easily looking for a penalty in the 2011 Champions League quarter-final second leg against Real Madrid.

As for how aware referees should be of the players they are officiating, Hackett would like to see referees “doing their homework and building up their experiences so they’re not coming in cold”.

Davies says: “Generally you know the players, and you’d think the refs would know as well. I get that it’s so hard for them but I do think that it’s a bit about them doing their homework and knowing which players to look out for. (Jack) Grealish is one at the moment, Lamela is another.”

Foy says the key is that referees do as much preparation as possible without it prejudicing their view. “It’s not so much homework,” he says. “Of course referees talk about games prior to them but it’s more about gaining an understanding of how the teams play and their tactics. Do they take short corners etc? Do they take long throws? What you do as a ref is you never pre-judge players. But you can certainly pre-plan.

“When I was reffing Stoke City under Pulis for instance, they used to take a lot of long throws, so if I adopt a position as if they’re going to take a short throw-in, then I’ve not done my homework have I? Or if a team goes long from goal kicks I can’t be dawdling around near their area.

“You need to be aware of certain tactics of teams, that’s really important. You never pre-judge, but there’s nothing wrong with pre-planning.”

Soon after Hackett’s meeting with the Premier League managers about diving, Bolton’s Sam Allardyce got in touch to organise a follow-up at the club’s training ground. He wanted to know what could be done about his star striker Davies, who was one of the most fouled players in the Premier League (as well as being one of the most frequent foulers) but was very rarely awarded penalties.

Davies’s problem, Allardyce felt, was that he didn’t go to ground in the way required to win penalties — and this remains a fundamental issue to this day: players feel they have to exaggerate contact and go to ground because it’s a prerequisite to winning penalties. Allardyce explained to Davies that for the good of the team he needed to stop staying on his feet.

“It was a really tough one,” Davies recalls. “From my point of view, it just didn’t feel like a natural thing to do. Although my sons still take the mickey out of me for one against Birmingham in the FA Cup (in 2011). We won 3-2, and I got myself between Curtis Davies and the ball, and went down. My boys say they think it was a bit of a dive but I think our feet got tangled up a little bit and gravity takes over.

“There’s such a fine line between cheating and being clever. Certainly the feedback on Monday sometimes from Sam to me or somebody else was, ‘You should have gone down there really. A defender’s gone in, and won the ball but there was a bit of contact as you tried to get your shot away’.

“I just found it really unnatural to go and do it, whereas someone like (El-Hadji) Diouf was a master at it. It was just a question of getting yourself between the defender and the ball, getting the first touch and drawing the foul that way. I would put that down to a bit of cleverness because we knew how good we were at set pieces.

“If you’ve got enough about you to entice a tackle and you’re smart enough to move the ball and invite the contact then that’s good play going forward.”

Pulis, whose teams generally had a strong target man up front, says the art of holding the ball up and winning fouls is very different from diving.

“We’re talking about a different thing,” he says. “That’s completely different, that’s being football savvy. People can understand that, people who have played the game. You can pin people, you can move across people’s line, it’s not obstruction, and get away with it. And that’s good play, good knowledge, good understanding, good football sense.”

Linking it back to the weekend’s events, Davies says in general that: “Kane is excellent at winning fouls, in and outside the box. But most of the time he’s just being smart. He knows how to get his body position right, and he sees the player coming.”

On Salah, he can see both sides, saying: “I don’t like players going down under such minimal contact. I understand it if you’re running full pelt and get your ankles clipped. But then again should defenders be sliding in around the penalty area?

“When the players are so quick and good at drawing fouls… should you be taking those risks? There are a lot more penalties now but I wonder if that’s just the players being so quick and intelligent now that it bamboozles defenders.”

So, behind the scenes do coaches encourage their players to dive? Pulis has always insisted this is not the case and when the then Middlesbrough manager in 2018 said of his striker Jordan Hugill after a 0-0 draw at former club Stoke that: “I thought Jordan went down far, far too easily a couple of times. I don’t want that as a manager. That’s not right. We’ve sorted that out after the game. I think he went down twice dramatically. I don’t like all that nonsense. That’s got to stop and he’ll know that now.”

Reflecting on the incident now, Pulis says: “I would never encourage players to dive. I think diving’s cheating. I hear players saying it’s this, that and everything else, and I’ve managed players who’ve done that and got decisions. My attitude was that refs had a difficult enough job already.”

Pulis though would appear to be in the minority. “If it’s blatantly obvious and everyone sees it, and if it recurs that’s when you say to someone to stop diving, but it happens more the other way around,” Davies says. “At half-time a manager would say to someone like Rodrigo when we were at Bolton, who was tricky and a dribbler, ‘You should have gone down for a penalty’. I’ve heard that numerous times.

“Is it honesty? A bit of naivety?

“If someone’s on a yellow, you would say to someone, ‘Keep running at him to try and get him sent off’. Because if you are playing a top team, you’re looking for anything to level it out. Again, is that just having a football brain?

“I’ve heard numerous managers, coaches, players saying that you should have gone down there. Why are you riding the challenge?”

One of the supposed solutions to the issue of diving is introducing a greater degree of deterrence. But as the introduction of the two-game retrospective ban has shown, this is a lot harder to do in practice. The fact that there have only been two instances of players receiving the retrospective punishment in the Premier League reflects how rarely a panel will unanimously reach a verdict on whether a player has unequivocally dived or not.

As the above shows, a consensus certainly wouldn’t have been reached on the Kane and Salah incidents — despite the strength of feeling on behalf of those making the case for the prosecution.

So, what constitutes a dive? Most of the time, it depends who’s watching.