In the week when his new manager Tony Pulis said something has to be done about players diving, Michael Owen owned up to doing just that when playing for England.
Owen said: “I have been guilty (of diving). I played at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina and I was running flat out, got a nudge, went down. Could I have stayed up? Probably. 75% of players could stay on their feet.”
I have always found Michael Owen to be one of the more honest of footballers. On and off the pitch. But for injury, he really could have been on of the finest England players of my lifetime.
I saw him play as a youngster for Liverpool against my own team. He was the most exciting young talent I had seen in many a year. He didn’t need to dive in those days. He was so fast defenders could not get near him.
Michael Owen says: “Four years later I got another penalty against Argentina. Again I could have stayed on my feet – the defender caught me and I did have a decent gash down my shin from it. But I could have stayed up.
“There is a part of a striker that tries to entice the (defender’s) leg to come out to try and win a penalty. It is a skill and has been done for years and years. It’s a very difficult subject to talk about, especially to people who have not played the game.
“When I was kid, and I used to watch Italian football, you would see a lot of simulation and you didn’t really see it in England. But I think the foreign influence started the ball rolling in England. Now English players are as guilty as foreign players.”
I don’t recall being upset with Michael Owen when he won those penalties against the then arch enemy, Argentina. Although at least one was a blatant, obvious dive. Most football fans look the other way if a player representing their team cons the referee in such a way.
I saw the ludicrous dive of Luis Suarez against Owen’s new employers, Stoke City. I doubt it would get two points for artistic merit. It was so bad, it was funny.
On a weekend when, in the UK, both British players and the foreign legion were throwing themselves on the ground to gain an advantage, one of the most honest footballers in the world was accused of diving.
In the El Clasico game against Real Madrid, Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta was fouled in the penalty box. It should have been a penalty. But his rather exaggerated drop to the ground had the opposite effect of what was intended. It put the referee off awarding a penalty.
So even when you are one of the best players in the world, falling theatrically in the penalty area can backfire.
Iniesta reacted angrily to accusations from the Portuguese player Pepe who plays his club football for Real Madrid. Pepe said Iniesta and his fellow Barcelona players were “very theatrical.”
Andres Iniesta, a player I admire almost as much as his club and country colleague Xavi, said that was nonsense. Iniesta said: “I am not an actor. Not me and not my teammates.”
The fact is that unless and until players are sent off for diving, and banned for three games thereafter, players will continue to cheat. Managers will continue to encourage their own players to do so, while criticising opponents that do likewise.
And us football fans will continue to look the other way if players such as Michael Owen gain our club or national team an advantage.
After all, in a game where so much is now at stake, we’re all hypocrites. Aren’t we?