Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish has warned his players to be wary of their challenges on Manchester United’s Ashley Young – but it is Sir Alex Ferguson who should be doing the warning.
Opposition managers should not have to speak to their players ahead of a game to caution them that a certain opponent could make more of a challenge to gain an unfair advantage.
The words from McLeish come in a week where Shaun Derry of QPR was sent off at Old Trafford after making minimal, if any, contact with Red Devils winger Young, who went down as if his legs had been scythed form underneath him.
It earned Ferguson’s side a penalty and Derry subsequently had to serve a one-game suspension.
It got worse when the FA reaffirmed their reputation as hapless guardians of the game by upholding the ban, when it was quite clear that Young had dived.
They have indirectly been complicit in the proliferation of cheating, because that’s what diving is, by not having the conviction to act decisively on an issue that infuriates so many people.
Players that dive, and it must be stressed that Young is most certainly not alone in this, will now have an advantage going into games because they know that retrospective action will not be taken against them if they try to buy a crucial decision from the referee.
Defenders could even be reluctant to make certain challenges because they may believe they are at risk of creating a situation that an opponent could exploit by cheating.
Many defenders of Young claimed that there was contact between the two layers, which is true, but laying a hand on someone’s back is not usually enough for their legs to flail so.
It is easy to forget sometimes that football is not a non-contact sport; saying “there was contact” is not enough to give a foul, the contact between the two must be impeding.
Now Young has not been punished and Derry’s unjust red card remains, so the message for defenders is it might not be worth making certain tackles, while strikers think they may as well go down because they are unlikely to get punished for it afterwards and referees always seem reluctant to hand out yellow cards.
Derry was not best pleased with the FA’s decision and just could not believe it had happened to him.
“I have been sent off in my career a few times for different reasons. There have been times when I have erupted in there [in the dressing room] or sat in disgust at the way I had behaved,” he said in the week.
“For the game against Man United I just started laughing because I couldn’t believe what had happened.
“The day before the Swansea game, we did the team shape and I lined up. I thought it was a foregone conclusion that it was just going to be overturned and I was going to be available.
“Everyone assumed it would be. I was low anyway having been sent off but to miss out for the next game was just ridiculous really.”
So, McLeish should not feel obliged to warn his players about going near Young, Ferguson should feel obliged to warn his player not to do something similar to what the England international did.
It is easy to criticise someone when they get caught diving and are yellow carded, but the real test is criticising them when the outcome goes in your favour.
That is where the problem stems from; if you only want to make it an issue when it is detrimental to your chances of winning, but will say nothing when you benefit, then the perception is that you do not think it is wrong and you view diving like you view a shot from distance - fine if they come off.
Football is not in a good place when the Villains chief has to say things such as this:
“We will try to stay on our feet against all of United’s players. But sometimes it’s not as simple as that.
“Ashley is a quality player. He is renowned for his assists, but players have become clever. Sometimes the slightest touch can be enough for them to go down.
“I don’t envy the referees.”
Ok, Ferguson is unlikely to criticise his players openly for something like that and you would be hard pressed to convince any manager to chastise their own player after they have made such a decisive contribution in a victory.
However, unless we take an absolute stand on the subject of ‘simulation’, we will never be rid of it.
Managers must openly criticise players for diving regardless of the outcome, or never criticise another player for doing it against them, otherwise defenders and attackers are not competing on a level playing field.
There is a group of people that are supposed to deal with these sorts of problems but they do not seem to have a hold on it at the moment – yep, we're back to the FA again.
Shaun Derry has become the latest victim of their inability to act with real authority and their limp-wristed governance, so it should really be down to him to have the last word:
“The email we got back from the FA was one line. There was no explanation as to why it was not overturned or any indication of why I got sent off.
“The whole scenario has been quite bizarre. I don’t know what they do there at the FA but it’s not working.”