It’s all Jürgen Klinsmann’s fault. Before Klinsi joined Tottenham, the English game was as clean as a whistle. Before Klinsi, no English player had even entertained the idea of diving. Yes, our game had problems before the mid-nineties. Our stadiums were some of the most dangerous in Europe, our hooligans were so violent that our clubs were banned from European competition, and the football our teams played had regressed to an unprecedented extent. But by jove, we could rest easy in our beds, what? Not like those bloody foreigners, diving all over the place.
The Englishman cheats honestly. If he is to break a rule, he will break a leg with it. If he is to commit a cynical foul, he will do so gloriously, in the name of professionalism. If he is to blow the centre forward’s head off with a shotgun, he will at least do so in full, clear view of the referee, the crowd and, hopefully, the police.
The Foreigner on the other hand, (for they all belong to one, big, conspiratorial nation), uses cunning. He dives and simulates. Even worse, he has taught the Englishman to accept and imitate such gratuitous chicanery. So now, after years of harrumphing contentedly from the moral high ground, the English game is just as polluted by diving as any other nation’s.
Take Ashley Young. He is a player who, realising that his actual footballing talent is probably insufficient to hold down a place in the Manchester United first team, has taken instead to winning games for his side through dolphin impersonations. As a player, Young has pace, a good touch and, occasionally, a beautiful shot. He also has a lack of tactical and mental zeal which, more often than not, sees him disappear into the shadows.
What he lacks intellectually, though, Young makes up for in his acting capabilities. Not the cynically charming bundle of limbs that is Thomas Müller, nor the standard bullet-to-the-chest-end-of-Platoon belly drop, Young takes diving to a new level. Nudge him once and he will leap twenty feet into the air, perform a triple backflip and slide along his belly for the full length of the pitch, out through the tunnel eventually coming to a halt in the car park. His friction burns are a sight for sore eyes, poor fellow.
There has been a spate of recent offences. Against Crystal Palace in September he tumbled into the penalty area to facilitate the sending off of Palace defender Kagisho Digakcoi. Then only last week he pirouetted elegantly to the ground to win his side a penalty against Real Sociedad.
The real tragedy is not that Young dives. As far as simulation goes, his Royal Ballet School leaps are no less preposterous than the colossal frame of Didier Drogba being knocked flying by a diminutive Fulham youth player. The tragedy is also not that David Moyes has refused to outwardly condemn Young. That is a shame, given Moyes’ reputation as someone who does not shy away from such things, but it is understandable given the pressure he is currently under not to cause civil war at Manchester United.
The real tragedy lies, as it so often does, with Roy Keane. After the game against Sociedad, Keane was blunt in his condemnation of Young. “He’s conned the referee” the Irishman flatly declared, before obtusely farting that “we’re in a foreign country here, and it’s always more accepted”.
Bloody foreigners. If only they punished Ashley Young more for diving, then he wouldn’t do it so much. If only a few Real Sociedad fans had had the Great British decency to run onto the pitch and give him a good kicking. If only they, like us, would labour under the delusion that English players do not dive. Then we wouldn’t be in this irritating situation where we have to explain why an English player has, in fact, dived.
Young presents English football with a dilemma. It can no longer maintain, as Keane does, that diving is worse in other countries. Now it is searching desperately for a decent excuse for Young’s very English cheating. Universal vilification has only gone so far, so we can now but turn to the old tactics. Do what we do so well. Blame Klinsmann. Without him we would still be living in a footballing utopia, where the pitches were muddy, the men were men and you didn’t leave the pitch until the blood loss became critical. Thanks to you Klinsi, that innocent, carefree world is gone.