Carry on diving: Brendan Rodgers claims going to ground is not cheating
Liverpool manager says players' simulation is part of the game and Luis Suarez deserves a break
Brendan Rodgers has argued that diving has become such an endemic disease in the Premier League it is folly to single out Luis Suarez for abuse.
Before last Sunday's Merseyside derby David Moyes said that those like Suarez who were prepared to fall over at the slightest provocation would drive supporters away from the game.
Moments into the fixture, the Everton manager was presented with the sight of Suarez flinging himself at his feet after Liverpool's opening goal. Just before the interval, his own captain, Phil Neville, was booked for diving.
"People now see it is an issue at every club," said Rodgers, the Liverpool manager. "You look at last weekend and see two players you would deem to be great professionals in Angel Rangel and Phil Neville.
"I worked with Angel and he's one of the most honest people I have come across in my life, but he was booked for diving against Manchester City.
"Phil Neville plays for Everton. He is 35 and over the years you would consider him to be an honest pro but he gets booked for diving after his manager has read the riot act to his players and to other people's players. And then you have Fernando Torres booked for diving against Manchester United.
"Hopefully, people won't continue to vilify Luis Suarez now because he was the easy target before. They should look beyond themselves and their own players to see that it is something that is now part of the game."
The Liverpool manager seems to accept Michael Owen's argument that, if you are touched by a defender, you have the right to earn a penalty by going down. Sir Alex Ferguson, by contrast, suggested that Torres could have stayed on his feet at Stamford Bridge, even though he was clearly fouled by Jonny Evans.
"It doesn't mean you are a cheat," said Rodgers. "People see it as part of the game, although of course we don't like it when it is blatant."
This might be the season in which Suarez's value is recognised beyond Anfield. There has been so much baggage surrounding him – the biting incident that ended his career in Dutch football, the handball on the line to deny Ghana in the World Cup quarter-final, the racist language directed at Patrice Evra – that it has obscured his qualities as a forward.
They have never been more needed by Liverpool than they are now. Given the folly of allowing Andy Carroll to leave for West Ham before securing a replacement and the injury to Fabio Borini, the Uruguayan is now Liverpool's only fit senior striker and has responded with six goals and two assists.
Goodison Park saw both sides of the man. Had not a perfectly good goal been disallowed, he would have won the Merseyside derby. However, the spiteful raking of his studs down the back of Sylvain Distin's legs ought to have led to his dismissal before he met Steven Gerrard's free-kick.
Nevertheless, Suarez has found support from a strange quarter in Alan Pardew, who tomorrow will attempt to become the first Newcastle manager since Kevin Keegan in 1994 to win at Anfield. Pardew argued that Hatem Ben Arfa, a similar player in many ways, should model himself on the boy who grew up near the "Big Jump Falls" of the Uruguay River.
"Suarez is an extraordinary talent, there is no doubt about that," Pardew said. "You just have to see how many chances he creates in a game, how many things he does. You could do a highlights show for him on his own."
Pardew's tactics are probably correct. There is, Rodgers said, no point in trying to wind Suarez up as Moyes may have been attempting to do before the derby. "Other managers have tried to use it as a psychological tool to put him off and to affect referees but it makes him stronger," the manager said. "It is best to say nothing.
"I remember reading something from a journalist in Holland when Suarez first came to this country saying he will always divide opinion. If he plays for your team, people will love him. If not, he'll get a bit of stick."
Going, going, gone: Infamous recent dives
1. Luis Suarez v Stoke
The Liverpool forward hit the deck several seconds after an attempted challenge from Marc Wilson last month.
2. Gareth Bale v Arsenal
Bale ensured he made contact with Wojciech Szczesny to win a penalty for Spurs last February.
3. Didier Drogba v Arsenal
The Chelsea striker's 2006 encounter with Jens Lehmann produced a prime example of theatrical behaviour in football.
4. Phil Neville v Liverpool
Neville fell under pressure from Dan Agger last week in the Merseyside derby and later admitted he dived.
5. Ashley Young v QPR
Shaun Derry was sent off after falling victim to Ashley Young's tumble at Old Trafford last April.
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