James Lawton: Cole chooses to ignore issue of cheating by jumping to diving Gerrard's defence
Saturday 03 June 2006
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.
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