Pedersen: 'We were 2-0 down. I feel something... and go down'
Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen was widely derided for his comical dive at the Emirates last weekend but, he tells Ian Herbert with disarming candour, he was tired, the pictures were misleading – and others do much worse
Saturday 21 March 2009
It is perhaps as well that he is sitting down at Blackburn Rovers' training ground because for the second time in a week Morten Gamst Pedersen does not seem to have a leg to stand on.
The first time was last Saturday when, with his side 2-0 down at the Emirates, he provided hints of some formative diving sessions in the fjords of his native northern Norway by hurling himself away from Bacary Sagna in the Arsenal area. The second time comes as he tries to explain what Alan Shearer defined, from the comfort of the Match of the Day couch that evening as "the worst dive I've ever seen in my life" and which will maintain healthy YouTube ratings for a player whose presence there used to be reserved for his fabulous left foot.
Pedersen's case is more complex than was revealed by the two BBC cameras, which obscured the way Sagna marginally clipped Pedersen's calf before the tumble. But it is the delayed reaction – the Norwegian's brain seemingly taking an age to compute the possibilities – and the glance over his shoulder before he fell which place it right up there alongside Robert Pires' acrobatics against Portsmouth's Dejan Stefanovic six years ago and Michael Owen against Argentina's Roberto Ayala in France '98. And then came the two arms Pedersen immediately threw up, suggesting an appeal to the referee. It would take a brave defence lawyer to pick this one up.
"I've seen it from different angles and it looks stupid from one of the angles – as if I just fell down," Pedersen agrees. "But there are other angles and things to consider. I was clipped, I lost my balance, my left calf hit my right calf and when I put my hands up it was more in frustration. If I had got a better ball I could have got alone [against] the goalkeeper. We were 2-0 down, they scored on the counter-attack. I feel something and go down. It's a mix of being frustrated and tired. I'm not famous for cheating. You get a lot of players who do much worse."
Of course, no camera can tell us whether Pedersen was actually looking plaintively at a team-mate as he stood, arms aloft, and, since he has suffered this week, let us at least say that there is a wider context for most things in football. Just ask Shearer, the man who, on his last outing for England against Romania at Euro 2000, admitted that he had dived for Queen and country in the fixture which brought elimination. "I did it in desperation, trying to do something and get something for my country," he said. "If that is a black mark on me, then so be it." Pedersen is too diplomatic to talk about stones and glass houses, save to say: "They can say it looked like a horrible dive or whatever they do, [but] if they had been in the same situation... There is always two sides to a case. I know they [the pundits] need something to talk about."
The Football Association has decided that public humiliation is punishment enough for Pedersen – a candid, open individual and notably one of the few regularly willing to stop and explain themselves as Rovers imploded under Paul Ince before Christmas. But those who made the extraordinary claim that he should be banned for 10 games will be gratified to know of his painful session in Sam Allardyce's Pro-Zone suite on Tuesday morning. Pedersen avoided Lineker & Co by virtue of the journey home from north London but, aware of all the internet traffic, he was straight up to view the footage. There were around six angles, which sounds like plenty of purgatory. There has been no talk on the subject with Allardyce, save from a tip-off by the manager on Wednesday that he planned to speak to the press (to concede that it was a dive, as things turned out.) "He told me he just wanted to put it to bed. There's not time to reflect around here at the moment," says Pedersen. Quite right. Rovers, regalvanised under Allardyce, have just emerged from the relegation zone – "a psychological boost to everyone here," Pedersen says, but the relegation dogfight continues at home to West Ham today.
Allardyce also said this week that dives will happen for as long as referees allow fouls against players who stay on their feet, though Pedersen's take on a controversy which has raged again all season – Sir Alex Ferguson relentlessly defending Cristiano Ronaldo, then censuring Wayne Rooney for diving in the Champions League at Villarreal – is that the self-preservation techniques which attacking midfielders take are often mistaken as dives. "People say Ronaldo dives a lot but I don't think anyone else in the league is tackled as much," Pedersen says. "How many times is Ronaldo tackled in the league compared to me? A lot. He gets tackled a lot more so the chance of him seeming doing what looks like a dive is far greater, I think. It's self preservation – not something people always want to think about."
It is hard to believe that Pedersen will spend much time fretting over Lineker's Morten "Gannet" Pedersen soubriquet. The bigger battle, holding on to a career at the club to which Graeme Souness signed him for a bargain £1.5m from Tromso, just inside the Arctic Circle, four years ago, is more important, though well under way. After a difficult start, Pedersen flourished under Mark Hughes at Blackburn in a way which prompted a serious bid for his services from Tottenham Hotspur and saw Arsenal reportedly ready to bid £7m. He clearly had a big game temperament, the two goals that secured victory at Old Trafford in 2005 doing much to fuel the speculation that United might see him as Ryan Giggs's natural replacement. But the departure of Mark Hughes, who always said there was "a bit of David Beckham" in the way he dispatches from set-pieces, brought problems, with Paul Ince seemingly less enraptured.
"When you're not in the squad, that's the hardest bit," Pedersen reflects of that time. "And you don't maybe get any feedback why – that was the worst thing. It was not the best period of my football life. I was thinking: 'is this the right thing for me here?" He did knock on Ince's door – "I ask, I always ask. I'm not afraid of asking questions" – but was seriously contemplating several offers, with Fulham reportedly interested, before Allardyce provided reassurances. "I don't want to punish [Paul Ince] but we didn't do so well," Pedersen says. "With Sam Allardyce, if you deserve to get a clap on the shoulder you get one but if he wants to tell you something, he doesn't care. He's fair. He can be angry with you one minute and the next minute smile."
Amid Rovers' resurgence, with 17 points from 12 under Allardyce, Pedersen is joint fourth in the Premier League assists table. He is quite high up the diving controversy league as well, with claims both from Ronaldo and Ferguson that he went to ground too easily when Rafael da Silva seemed to place a hand on his shoulder as he ran into the box with the scores 1-1 at Old Trafford last month. "Two hands actually," he says indignantly of that incident. "I don't want to go down at Old Trafford. I wanted to score a goal." But after the kind of week's he has had, there will probably be less inclination to go to ground in the future.
"You don't think about the media when you play," he says. "But you know you will feel it afterwards when they ask about it."
Duckers and divers: Footy's finest theatrics
Arsenal's French midfielder tumbled to the floor dramatically despite minimal contact with Portsmouth defender Dejan Stefanovic during a league match in September 2003.
Argentina defender Pedro Monzon flew into the blond bombshell on the right wing during the 1990 World Cup final, forcing the striker to fly into the air, crash to the floor and jerk his body upward. Monzon was dismissed as West Germany won the Cup.
The former Everton striker collapsed on to the Highbury turf after minimal contact from Liverpool full-back John Arne Riise to 'earn' Arsenal a penalty in a 2002 league meeting.
As England struggled to overcome the might of Andorra in Barcelona during a European Championships qualifier in March 2007, the Liverpool man was reduced to throwing himself dramatically in front of the goalkeeper Koldo Alvarez, earning himself a booking.
As a tense 1998 World Cup quarter- final against the Netherlands reached a conclusion, Argentine forward Ortega threw himself over Jaap Stam's knee in a vain attempt to win a spot-kick. The resultant head-butt on goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar earned him a second booking.
The 18-year-old Liverpool forward tumbled in the box despite minimal contact from Argentine defender Roberto Ayala during the 1998 World Cup second round game.
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