One reason why Americans don’t care more for soccer is the prevalence of diving. We’ve all seen it – players who throw themselves to the ground at the slightest contact (or none at all) in the hope of fooling the referee to award a penalty. I love soccer, but the critics have a point. But what bothers me more than the diving itself is the hypocrisy and national chauvinism that often surrounds it. One of the great myths is that the English, with their tradition of sportsmanship and fair play, don’t dive or otherwise cheat. British television played on this stereotype in a very funny television commercial before Euro 2004. The commercial shows foreign players training for a big tournament by flopping to the ground and simulating injuries. But the reason the English find this funny is because they see themselves as different. Unlike those latins from South America and Italy, they play the game right. For proof that this is rubbish, one need only look at England’s best player, Wayne Rooney.
Wayne Rooney is a prodigious talent. He looks like a bulldog and battles like one, but he has world class skill, great instinct and wonderful touch with the ball. He’s also a cheat. In 2004, his first full season with Manchester United, this flop resulted in a penalty shot against Arsenal. And here is again diving against Tottenham (which did not fool the ref) and against Chelsea (which did). Here is a particularly bad bit of playacting against Blackburn. (And for another display of his famous “sportsmanship” watch the video at about 0:40).
This season, there’s been renewed attention to the problem of diving. The European soccer association (UEFA) even suspended an Arsenal player, Eduardo for this bit of simulation. But Rooney flops on. Here he is, last month, diving before the goalkeeper ever touches him. And here he is proudly representing his country in a match Slovenia, falling at some imaginary contact. But Rooney didn’t get suspended, just the opposite. In both instances, he was rewarded with a penalty kick. "Everyone who watches me play knows I am an honest player," Rooney told the The Manchester Evening News, presumably with a straight face. Anyway, it’s hardly HIS fault that he dives – that’s the fault of the officiating. "The decisions are down to the referee,” Rooney said. “It is a difficult job but they do the best they can. England has always had a good record of being honest," So there it is. He’s English.
Thanks largely to Rooney, England will be one of the favourites at the 2010 World Cup. I won’t be rooting for them.