Britain’s embarrassing xenophobia on “cheaters” holding them back

Steven Gerrard doesn't dive, ever

Its something that every non-British English speaking soccer fan knows all too well: in the eyes of the British, only foreigners cheat. We all remember the uproar surrounding David N’Gog’s blatant dive against Birmingham a few weeks back. Compare that furor to the tidal wave of criticism total silence on Wayne Rooney’s plunge against Villa on Saturday. But it’s not just diving; the British seem to have a peculiar view of who can pressure referees and who can’t. This reflexive xenophobia is part of what is holding the English back in world soccer.

David N’Gog dove. It’s pretty simple. Lee Carsley stuck his leg in and N’Gog theatrically went over it without any contact. He won a penalty that rescued a 2-2 draw for the struggling Reds. All across Britain, N’Gog was castigated – “hung, drawn, and quartered” in the words of one journalist. It shouldn’t have been a penalty and it was a key moment in the game, but it is impossible to think that it would have produced the same reaction if an English player had been the culprit.

And we now have more evidence that the British are completely blind to their countrymen’s blatant “cheating.” On Saturday with Manchester United trailing Aston Villa at home by one goal (the exact same circumstance of the N’Gog incident), Wayne Rooney jumped on the ground in the box hoping to deceive the official and get a penalty. He didn’t. The referee saw the whole play, saw that there was no contact, and correctly gave Rooney a yellow card for diving.

The reaction of Efan Ekoku, the color commentator on the international feed for the match, perfectly embodied the British attitude towards “cheating.” He was incredulous and described the incident as “shocking.” Of course, he wasn’t talking about Rooney. He was talking about the referee giving Rooney a yellow card. Even after reviewing the replays that clearly showed Rooney dove, Ekoku could only muster a mealy-mouthed complaint that referees have more choices than penalty or yellow card and should just let play go on.

In Ekoku’s mind, Wayne Rooney doesn’t dive. But it’s not like it’s the first time for Rooney. Or, for that matter, is it limited among the English players to the former Evertonian. The worst diver in the Premier League is Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. Here’s my favorite compilation of famous Gerrard dives.

But by far the most revealing episode of the entire match weekend came late in the Liverpool v Arsenal game at Anfield on Sunday. Alberto Aquilani, the Italian making his Premier League debut as a second half substitute (more on that later), had been hacked down by an Arsenal player and he looked up at the referee and waved his arm in a lame attempt to persuade Howard Webb to give a yellow. Craig Burley pounced and said, in all seriousness, “Referees make the decisions in this country, son.”

Just reading that statement, you can’t appreciate the dripping condescension flowing from Burley’s Scottish lilt. Apparently, no British person ever tries to influence the referee. Leaving aside Gerrard’s remonstrations at not being awarded a penalty in the first half of the game he was calling, one has to wonder if Burley has ever seen a Chelsea game. Chelsea and England captain John Terry verbally assaults the referee on every decision that goes against the Blues or England. Or a Manchester United game, when every person associated with the club berates the ref from start to finish. I thought I saw in the news somewhere that Alex Ferguson was recently banished to the stands for two games for verbal abuse of the match officials? I suppose he was upset that their kit clashed with Man U’s red strip.

The casual xenophobia underlining British reactions to “cheating” is evidence of a sense of superiority that is preventing the English from reaching their potential in world soccer. This doesn’t mean that they need to embrace diving; it’s just that they need to accept that the English have a lot to learn from others to succeed in modern soccer. Nowhere is this more apparent than among the managerial ranks. The last English manager to lead a club to the title in any of the top four European leagues (Italy, Spain, Germany, and England) was Kenny Dalgliesh in 1995. No other Briton save the Scot Ferguson has done it either. Two of the last three England national team managers have been foreigners and the only native son to hold the job failed to get the team into the European Championships.

Until the British drop the attitude that they are the paragon’s of virtue and only foreigners “cheat”, they’re always going to be one step behind the rest of the soccer world.


4 Responses

  1. […] foreign managed Chelsea and Arsenal. Perhaps its because it comes so close on the heels of my xenophobia post, but so many on the British Isles revere Alex Ferguson that they’re more likely to preemptively […]

  2. A good, accurate piece. And true. Apart from one thing – Kenny Dalglish is Scottish. The last English manager to win a title in England (FA Cup, League Cup or League) was Harry Redknapp, who led Portsmouth to the FA Cup in 2008.

  3. I really can’t believe it. I pray Rooney is not injured for the cup!

  4. I believe the English taught the rest of the world to cheat over the last 30 years

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