James Lawton: Cole chooses to ignore issue of cheating by jumping to diving Gerrard's defence

Without being too presumptuous about his literary taste, it is reasonable to suggest to our potential World Cup hero Joe Cole that he might reflect on a saying of Samuel Johnson, who declared, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." It also seems fair to believe that the great man would have extended his argument to the currently virulent business of cheating in what are supposed to be the highest levels of football.

Cole is extremely cross with all those, including the former England captain Terry Butcher, who branded his team-mate Steven Gerrard a cheat for diving in this week's international against Hungary. "The pace of the game is so fast," says Cole, "and sometimes it is difficult to stay on your feet when a 20st defender is throwing himself at you."

This begs two questions. If the game is so fast how does it manage to harbour 20-stone full-backs? Does the difficulty in staying on your feet not become quite impossible while you are simultaneously diving to the floor? This was, any number of TV reruns will confirm, the extent of Gerrard's ambition when Csaba Feher, presumably sounding like a small herd of inflamed bison, hove into the Liverpool man's peripheral vision before making his unwise but utterly unsuccessful tackle. It was the kind of tackle that plays to the feet of adroit, quick players. Gerrard eluded all contact and would have been in position to score if he had stayed on his feet.

Perhaps we should make the point that no one is saying that Gerrard is a scoundrel, just that in one very easily identifiable moment he was a cheat. This is not exactly a rare condition in modern football whatever shirt you wear. What is hard to stomach, however, is the Cole implication that none of his England team-mates are capable of doing anything more heinous than protecting their bodies under the assault of monster full-backs, who suddenly emerge as though from a horror comic.

Joe, you may say it ain't so, but the fact is beyond argument. Cheating is endemic. It is part of the game.

In an unguarded moment the teenaged Michael Owen told the world that his England coach Glenn Hoddle, at least by implication, had suggested to him that he should not strive officiously to stay on his feet while taking a tackle in the opposition penalty area. Owen unquestionably dives, albeit with a little more subtlety than Gerrard displayed against the Hungarians.

When David Beckham scored his historic goal against Greece to ensure England's qualification for the last World Cup the dubious nature of the free-kick award was naturally forgotten in the celebrations - as no doubt they would have been if Arsenal had held on to the Champions' League final lead against Barcelona, one that came from a free-kick won larcenously, shamelessly by the diving Emmanuel Eboué.

Where will the cycle end? It simply will not, not at least until cheating ceases to become something the other guys do. And who supplies the lead? Not Gerrard, who was recently complaining so bitterly about the theatrics of Didier Drogba. Not Sir Alex Ferguson, who was the other day declaring war on cheating through the game while conveniently forgetting that his own Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo go down more frequently than pearl divers. Not Arsène Wenger, who railed against Wayne Rooney's "dive" against Arsenal while the nation was still recoiling from the memory of the shocking fabrication of Robert Pires when he went out of his way to collide with a Portsmouth defender.

Certainly not Jose Mourinho, who was unabashed after Arjen Robben's disgraceful descent after a mild nudge from the Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina.

The Gerrard incident was just part of the tide of chicanery and probably, given the universal scale of the problem, would have remained so but for Cole's rather insulting intervention. Insulting, that is, in the unavoidable inference that now we are close to the World Cup action all attempts at dispassionate consideration of what is happening before our eyes has to be abandoned.

It will never do. Patriotism, real patriotism, comes with certain moral responsibilities. One of them is the hope that your team wins for all the best possible reasons. This may be an idle dream, but it should not be abandoned completely. Twenty years on we still rail about Diego Maradona's hand, while conveniently ignoring the elbow of Terry Fenwick, which at one point was directed at the Argentine's face. To his credit, Fenwick recently admitted that had he not already been on a yellow card he would almost certainly have attempted illegally to prevent the scoring of arguably the greatest goal we will ever see.

Here, in the eyes of many, Maradona has long been regarded as a pariah, a cheat, a man to despise. But then it seems cheating is all in the eyes of the beholder. It is a moral dilemma Joe Cole, sadly, has done nothing to relieve.

Beckham's dream team lacks proper sense of own place in hierarchy

If you were invited to stage, say, a dream literary dinner you would be perfectly entitled to grant yourself a place on the table along with Evelyn Waugh, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and, who knows, Voltaire. Maybe there would be the odd self-imposed discipline, as in saying very little except something like, "Should I order another bottle of the good Montrachet?" It is precisely the same with David Beckham's chore of choosing the greatest World Cup team of all time for an official Fifa publication. He is quite entitled to say, as he has, "Right-wing is me because I want the chance to play with all these great players." The fact that you could think of a rather more appropriate list of candidates - Garrincha, Jairzinho, Sir Tom Finney, Sir Stanley Matthews, Sandor Kocsis are a few who spring to mind - is beside the point. It's Beckham's team so of course he plays.

But what about Gary Neville at right-back and his other mate, Roberto Carlos on the left? This is not a team of players who Beckham has played with or against. It is the greatest World Cup team of all time.

Right-back would seem to be the property of Carlos Alberto, the imperious captain of Brazil. John Carey, one of Neville's predecessors at Old Trafford, might just have a claim, along with today's Brazilian veteran Cafu. So too George Cohen, a World Cup winner, of wonderful athleticism who admitted to being perturbed by only one winger, the extraordinary Cliff Jones of Wales. On the left Giacinto Facchetti, a profound influence on Franz Beckenbauer, would be a strong candidate and Ramon Wilson, Cohen's World Cup partner, might have been worth a shout.

Beckham's midfield choices Lothar Matthäus and Zinedine Zidane were both formidable operators in their primes, but what happened to Johan Cruyff, Raymond Kopa, Ferenc Puskas and the great Brazilian Gerson? Maradona makes Beckham's team, but not, astonishingly the greatest player of all time, Pele, or his rival Alfredo Di Stefano.

We all pick teams and it's an excellent way to while away a little time. But if you are the captain of England, and possibly the most celebrated player in the history of the game, you are entitled to show a little respect to the memory of players who occupy a rather higher status in the game, if not a separate planet.

Is Big Sam really a major player?

Whatever prize Sam Allardyce eventually wins, we can take it will not be one for modesty.

Frustrated in his belief that he was the natural successor to Sven Goran Eriksson, he now proposes to revive the again sliding career of the immensely talented Lee Westwood. During the England-Hungary game the golfer's manager confided to Big Sam that he was worried about Westwood's confidence.

"Send him to me at Bolton for a week and I'll sort him out," Allardyce said.

This was no doubt a well-meaning gesture but Sam should know that he is not the first to take the challenge.

Some time ago in Augusta an admirer of the ability of Westwood and his friend Darren Clarke also volunteered. He said they had to discipline themselves, toughen up and they might just beat the world.

That was nine years ago. The would-be saviour was the multi-major winner Gary Player. If Big Sam succeeds where Player failed, maybe he should get a consolation prize. Perhaps he should get the Ryder Cup team.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower