Manchester United’s Ashley Young and the one-sided reaction to diving 1


Will Quinn looks back at Ashley Young’s latest loss of balance last night, but highlights the need to scrutinise the less-than-pure behaviour of the defensive players as well…

Ashley Young’s latest dive in the box highlighted an unusual feature of British footballing culture: it condemns cynical forward play much more strongly than it does cynical defensive play. Young definitely dived. He felt a slight touch and threw himself to the floor hoping to win a penalty. But Markel Bergara was equally creative with the rules - he reaches out to impede Young, and pulls his arm just enough to ensure that he can’t get to the ball. It’s as much an act of gamesmanship as what Young does.

This is something that’s learnt very quickly even at amateur level: defenders do exactly as much as we can get away with. Ideally, the opposition forwards will never go down, giving licence to make the game so physical that any technical football becomes almost impossible. British fans generally have a lot of time for these types of games, and I do too, but we can’t expect small, technical forward players to simply consent to it. Going down easily on purpose is cynical, but it’s a natural response to cynical defending.

The point isn’t that diving is OK, but that it’s only one side of the coin. It ruins the game as a spectacle, but so do tactical fouls that stop promising counter-attacks, and these rarely provoke the same levels of outrage from fans or pundits. The game might need to adapt to an era in which players are determined to push rules to the limit, but judging attacking players by a much harsher moral standard won’t make the game any better to watch. Any call for tougher treatment of divers must surely be accompanied by a call for tougher treatment of cynical defending. No ‘neutral’ ever wants to see the defenders win.

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