The days when diving, grappling at corners and urging referees to book opponents could be contemptuously dismissed as "the foreign disease" are long gone, as Sir Alex Ferguson reminded the Football Association yesterday when he claimed disillusionment with the English game could spread unless draconian punishments are introduced for those players who are now more simply referred to as "cheats".
The Manchester United manager joined the latest debate over the rise in unsporting behaviour with a plea for referees to be given the power to dismiss players for diving instead of the mere booking that exists at present. Lest Jose Mourinho believe this was simply another attack on Chelsea, however, after Didier Drogba's weekend omission - later retracted - that he indulges in the theatrical, Ferguson's proposal formed part of a review of disciplinary procedures in which he also dismissed the FA's Compliance Unit for having "no real purpose".
Both Ferguson and Mourinho have defended their players from accusations of diving in the past, the United duo Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo being two obvious examples while, more recently, the Chelsea trio of Drogba, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Asier del Horno have all been criticised for going to ground too easily. Yet the United manager insisted: "There have always been players who would try to win penalty kicks but what you've got now is consistent attempts to win penalties and to get players sent off. The difficult thing is how to stop it because a referee cannot give a red card for diving. They can only give a yellow card, and that gives the diving player an advantage over a guy who makes an honest tackle. He can receive a red card if he gets the tackle wrong but the player who cheats can only get a yellow, which is amazing."
The United manager's call for improved authority among referees was tempered with an acknowledgement that match officials may be powerless to prevent jostling between players at corners and free-kicks, an issue Keith Hackett, the head of the élite referees' body, is anxious to address ahead of next season.
"This has come from Italian football where it is like a wrestling match," said Ferguson. "You can't have a free-kick or a corner now without having an absolute mêlée. It is an impossible task for referees because all players are at it."
He added: "I'd also like to see an end to players waving imaginary cards in front of referees. There are so many things happening that are contrary to the way we play football in this country and this is not what people pay to watch football for."
Ferguson's dissatisfaction also extended to the existing disciplinary system, however, with the compliance unit - a body that reviews incidents that have been missed by the referee - coming in for renewed criticism. The United manager has not disguised his contempt for the unit since Gary Neville was fined £5,000 following his reaction to Rio Ferdinand's late winner against Liverpool in January, while the decision not to punish William Gallas for gesturing towards Fulham supporters has strengthened his ire.
"The Gallas one was obvious," said Ferguson. "I just don't think the compliance unit has any real purpose because they don't do anything unless the press report it. The press did not report [Stephen] Jordan's horrendous tackles on Ronaldo and Rooney [during the last Manchester derby] so the compliance unit did nothing."
Three untested youngsters - Markus Neumayr, Darron Gibson and Ritchie Jones - have all been drafted into Ferguson's squad for tonight's match against West Ham at Old Trafford.Reuse content