James Lawton: Wenger should stand up for his sport, not for diving Eduardo
Friday 28 August 2009
If only Arsène Wenger, English football's principal patron of the beautiful game, could have dragged himself a little further over the line of denial he has always drawn against outrages committed by his own players.
Then we might at last say that someone of great football significance, someone whose weight of achievement commands the widest respect, had finally spoken out with some real meaning against the scourge of cheating that has disfigured the game for so long.
Maybe football would smell a little sweeter today.
But he couldn't do it. He couldn't bring himself to say that his striker Eduardo da Silva had performed one of the more shocking pieces of deceit even at a time when such behaviour has become almost standard.
Some may say that we should at least celebrate the fact the Arsenal manager admitted that on this occasion he saw one of his players throw himself to the ground without contact from Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc. But what does this mean when you measure it against the rest of Wenger's statement?
Wenger suggests that the Brazilian-born Croatia international may have been avoiding any possible contact because of the legacy of his sickening injury from a late tackle at Birmingham the season before last. Wenger said, "I never asked in my life any guy to dive to win a penalty but sometimes the players go down because there is no other way to escape the tackling of the goalkeeper, sometimes they dive. I do not want a penalty which is not a penalty, but I will not go as far as to say Eduardo dived."
Why not, Arsène? Could it be that such an admission might add still more fuel to the utterly legitimate claims that your player should be banned for two games, and that of course would be to create something of a disadvantage for your club?
You will surely understand if such a conclusion is impossible to avoid after the merest glance at the video evidence. But then can you begin to grasp the disappointment that all your admirers must feel when it is so evident once again that all you brilliant instincts for the game seem to be inextricably attached to the fortunes of your players and yourself?
We are not talking about some shades of opinion here. What the whole world saw was one of the worst examples of cheating since another of your more celebrated and hugely skilful players, Robert Pires, went down against Portsmouth a few years ago in what many saw as an ultimate example of shameless diving.
After that incident some optimists thought you might just say that here was a trend that had to be stopped dead in its tracks. The hope surfaced again when Eduardo went down and then gleefully celebrated his success from the penalty spot. Here, surely, was a chance to say that not only do Arsenal play superior football they are also developing a superior ethic, a belief in what is most important in football and any sport – the decency to compete fairly.
When Eduardo was injured so badly Wenger made remarks in the heat of his first emotions that he felt obliged to withdraw later. This week he was discretion itself after agreeing that he had seen the incident and that, no, there wasn't a foul.
It was true that on this occasion there were no broken bones, only another sickening attack on the health of the game.
Once again Arsenal played some lovely football while extinguishing the challenge of Celtic and Andrei Arshavin's goal was a small masterpiece. Pity, though, it was painted in a studio that had been made so squalid.
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