Every now and again, the curse of play-acting – simulation, exaggeration – strikes the Premier League. It always mystifies me why any player would want to try to get an opponent sent off that way, be it James Tomkins clutching his face after Kevin Mirallas shoved him or Jan Vertonghen making the most of Gaston Ramirez’s kick-out at him.
Eric Harrison, and then later Sir Alex, taught me an important lesson as a footballer: show no pain. No matter how much it hurts, pick yourself up and walk away as if nothing has happened. It was not always easy. In the Euro 2000 play-off against Scotland, Don Hutchison went right over the top on me and raked his studs down my leg. I was in agony but I got up and walked away.
The rule at United was that you just needed to get to the dressing room and if you were still in pain you could do as much whinging and complaining as you liked. But don’t do it in front of the opposition. We liked tackling and getting stuck in ourselves, and we gave no quarter and asked none either.
I find the most appealing part of watching Salford City, or any of the other lower-league games I attend, is the attitude of the players. The tackles are flying in at times, but no one makes a big deal of it. Both sides go in hard and everyone gets on with it.
It is easy to say that foreign players are the biggest culprits, but there are plenty of British players who do it now, too. Having said that, I think it was an influence that came from overseas. At times at United, we had players who went down too easily, like Cristiano Ronaldo when he first came to the club. But Cristiano changed over time and there was no one who got kicked as much as him.
For Ashley Young it became a problem at times. Ashley went over too easily and you can see that in some players it is simply part of what they do. It is hard for them to change.
At United, we looked at what players at some clubs did to win penalties or get opponents sent off and regarded it as an embarrassment. We felt we were good enough to win games without doing that. Professional footballers have to ask themselves whether they are comfortable watching themselves on television exaggerating fouls or rolling around pretending to be hurt. If the answer is no, then they know what they have to do.Reuse content