By now everyone must have read Theo Walcott’s apology for a ‘dive’ against Leeds. The reaction that I’ve read has been mixed. Some people just needed an excuse for Arsenal bashing, others including yours truly thought it was a silly thing to say, but there were also those who found this act praiseworthy.
I can understand all three opinions. The first one is asinine and doesn’t deserve any consideration. For the third one, it’s not difficult to see why someone might think Walcott did the right thing and should be appreciated. Hardly anyone likes cheats in football so when a player comes out and says sorry, it can be seen as a positive step.
My problem was that it was an unnecessary statement that will just complicate matters in the future (that’s assuming the FA won’t take any action right now). It could be argued that Walcott was unhappy with what he did and had to get it off his chest. Some might even say that it could help him in future penalty decisions but I have my doubts.
While watching live I thought there was contact and a penalty should have been awarded. The defender did touch Theo and this can be seen in the image below.
I’m guessing the Theo felt the touch and went down even though the contact wasn’t strong enough to knock him off balance. And in his opinion that was a dive so the youngster apologized for it. In some ways that’s even more commendable as we have seen many blatant ‘zero contact’ dives but that’s beside the point.
I have heard some players say if there is a slight touch go down and it can work both ways. It was one of those things.
That line from his apology confirmed my hunch that there was contact but if the ref had given the spot-kick it would have been what is called a ‘soft penalty’.
Over time, people will not remember the details or the fact that there was contact but just that ‘it was a dive by Walcott’. Worse still, they might, based on the line I quoted above, think that many Arsenal players go down softly. This could work against Arsenal who don’t get many legitimate penalties as it is.
I’m all for honesty but many issues in professional football are grey areas. Under the guise of tackling plenty of thugs go out to deliberately kick the Arsenal players. It’s not a surprise. Most recently, Sagna has been at the receiving end of some deliberate and extremely dangerous assaults, leave alone tackles.
Rio Ferdinand jumped for a header but left his leg extended to ensure that he kicked the opponent. His excuse was simple – eyes on the ball. Everyone bought it. Those who do watch football closely knew it had nothing to do with ‘eyes on the ball’. When players jump up they don’t have to have their foot extended in that manner. Some goalkeepers do it to make sure strikers don’t come and challenge for a ball they’re trying to catch but hardly any outfield player does it. They all know the opponent is going to go for the ball and is going to come from the front. Extending the leg in that manner is a sure shot way of hurting the opponent.
You can get away with it if the referee is in your pocket or is an idiot. Most pundits won’t give it too much thought either, especially if you are an England international.
Similarly, contact in the penalty box is probably a ref’s worst nightmare. We’ve seen players grappling on set-pieces without being punished, we’ve seen the likes of Gary Neville upend strikers without conceding a penalty, and we’ve see others like Rooney, Bale, and Gerard win penalties even when it was just the wind that knocked them over.
Undoubtedly, a share of the blame must fall on the football administrators for not putting in better rules and stricter retrospective punishments but that is a separate discussion.
For now let’s just look at this video of the penalty won by Berbatov against Liverpool hours after the Walcott apology. Listen to the commentary in the first 10-12 seconds and then the highlights and commentary from 34 seconds onwards.
There is contact but Berbatov makes a meal of it. I don’t like it but that’s how the game is played these days. Ideally this should not happen. But in an ideal world there would be peace, everyone would have food and shelter, and happiness would be easier to find than stress, pain, or suffering. Clearly, we don’t live in the ideal world.
The commentator summed it up accurately,
In the 21st century, the modern footballer has said, “why should I stay on my feet?”
The post match reaction was not surprising at all. Dalglish called the decision ‘a joke’. Fergie defended his striker,
It was a penalty. Dimitar says he was definitely clipped. The replay shows he slightly touched him but the momentum is enough to bring the player down.
There is no reason for him to go down anyway. He is not that kind of player.
The last line was quite funny, but the ones before it imply that it’s alright to go down when you’re ‘slightly touched’.
The Bulgarian’s response was quite predictable as well.
Of course it was a penalty. There was enough contact for me to lose my balance and people know I do not go to ground easily.
United got the result they needed. Both sets of fans will have contrasting views but it won’t matter in the long run.
We have two similar events involving high profile teams on consecutive days. One guy wins a penalty and, along with his manager, defends his actions. The other comes out and labels himself a diver even when no one else was calling him that.
Coming from the land of Gandhi, I understand Theo’s sentiment, but this isn’t a freedom struggle. This is modern football. To me, this incidence highlights the naïveté displayed by Theo.
In the future he can try staying on his feet. I have no problems with that. But releasing a public statement even when the focus is not on him just highlights a lack of ‘professional intelligence’!
The thugs will not stop their assaults on Gunners, players will dive, they will commit professional fouls, and everyone will argue a ‘gray’ decision their way. It’s the referee’s job to get the calls right and Theo hasn’t done himself or Arsenal any favours.
While on the subject I’d also like to share this video of the Berbatov incident. I don’t agree with the analysis at all but the effort is worth appreciating. The dramatic effect from the music, quotes from various sources etc. make it an extremely serious or absolutely hilarious video depending on your point of view.