Ask those who don’t like football why they don’t like it and more often than not, the answer will be diving.
Like it or not, diving is rife in football. Whether it be the exaggeration of contact or actually inventing it, footballers throw themselves to the ground regularly.
However, the types of reactions between players like Mohamed Salah and those such as Harry Kane are stark.
Tony Cascarino’s recent column in the Times on a penalty won by Mohamed Salah was a perfect example. Invoking the late Nobby Stiles, he claimed Salah’s actions showed the game Stiles loved is disappearing.
Notwithstanding the utterly ridiculous and disrespectful action of dragging Stiles into the argument, so shortly after his death, the overreaction to the incident is ridiculous. Mo Salah has done what thousands of players have done before, he went down easily. Players have done it for decades and will continue to do it.
However, to claim that Salah is somehow the epitome of what is wrong with today’s game is insanity. It screams of something far more sinister, the type of stereotyping that needs to be eliminated from the game.
Only recently, Sky Sports was forced to apologise after Graeme Souness’ reaction to Anthony Martial’s sending off in Manchester United’s defeat to Tottenham. The former Liverpool midfielder described Erik Lamela’s reaction to Martial’s arm as ‘very Latin‘.
Souness went on to say that ‘the Brits do it differently’.
It’s not only on TV but in the wider public where you’ll hear views similar to these echoed loud and proud. Whether it’s Latin Americans, Italians, Spaniards or Portuguese, these stereotypes abound in football culture.
It’s hard to believe if it was Harry Kane instead of Lamela, or Henderson instead of Salah, Souness or Cascarino would have reacted in the same way. It should be made clear, there is no accusation of Souness or Cascarino being openly racist. However, giving stereotypes such as these a national platform such as the Telegraph and Sky Sports can be highly damaging.
From a more worrying point of view, this and other controversies are part of what allows the media to thrive. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ is a common cliche in the media and it basically means the bigger the drama, the bigger the audience.
Controversy drives much of the enjoyment of football and makes a big part of its story. Whether it be a potential red card or a dodgy penalty, it’s part of what makes football fun.
However, when controversy on the field becomes part of something harmful, it needs to be addressed. The longer silence and denial continues around this, the more harm will be done.