ASHLEY Young’s diving antics highlight one of football’s biggest problems – diving.
The winger cheated his way to another booking for simulation on Saturday before conning the referee into awarding United a penalty for a foul that occurred outside the box.
The diving epidemic that has flooded football is a growing problem that has leaked from primarily foreign players to England internationals.
Young has won 12 penalties in the Premier League since August 2006 – joint-most with Gabriel Agbonlahor – and has been criticised by ex-manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and his successor David Moyes.
The two most high profile examples over the last decade have been that of Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The ex-Chelsea forward was dissuaded from hitting the ground quicker than a sack of potatoes by his own team-mates. Young needs similar treatment.
Premier League spokesman Phil Dorward says the Premier League wants self-policing. “We welcome any comments from our managers that are condemning any form of cheating.”
Drogba left Chelsea more known for his big-game prowess – scoring in all but one final for Chelsea – rather than his diving.
Although Ronaldo matured, he also gained weight. Drogba has always been a powerhouse. Young is too skinny and too flimsy, and he’s initiating the contact himself.
Young is just 65kg, whereas Drogba and Ronaldo are 84kg. Young may feel beefing up could hinder his speed, as he is now 28 and on the decline regarding his pace.
Perhaps divers should be punished more severely. A booking – particularly for an attacking player – isn’t a harsh punishment for cheating. Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking the word ‘cheating’ is harsh.
In other sports – albeit for bigger acts of cheating, such as performance-enhancing drugs – athletes have been suspended and stripped of titles.
Among others, Young is influencing outcomes by cheating, and a yellow card – unless it is his second of the match – just doesn’t scare him.
The risk/reward still seems worth it. Why else would he do it?
Dorward insists less than 0.1 per cent of refereeing decisions were related to simulation. But like goalkeeping errors, we tend to remember the game-changing moments, no matter how infrequent they are.
Teams prioritise talent over behaviour, evident with Liverpool and Luis Suarez, and Tottenham (and Real Madrid when recruiting) and Gareth Bale, who has been booked multiple times for simulation.
In basketball’s most popular league – the NBA – players are fined for ‘flopping’, the basketball equivalent of diving. Since the introduction of automatic fines, the problem has decreased.
The dilemma the Premier League has is, players who are booked and fined for diving in England may wish to engineer a move to a country that isn’t as harsh on simulation.
Perhaps that played a part in why Bale was so keen to move to Madrid.
Young is being vilified as much as the aforementioned players, but is not in the same tier of quality, so even his own fans have been slow to defend him, unlike their backing of Ronaldo.
Maybe Young feels more pressure to make a big impact, now he’s at one of the world’s biggest clubs.
It seems being a big fish in a medium-sized pond suited him far more. He was a high-flying, fun-to-watch winger who could create something out of nothing.
He won penalties for Aston Villa, but was never vilified like he is now.
It’s possible that being at United magnifies his actions, but all the more reason for him to not cheat.
Referees, and sometimes linesmen, aren’t always exempt from vilification regarding diving.
Officials, who must make a split-second decision in the heat of the moment, have an almost impossible task of judging whether or not the contact was genuine.
The Premier League has spoken to Young. So should the FA. If a yellow card isn’t a severe enough punishment, omission from the England squad – particularly in a World Cup year – would hit him where it hurts.
Young’s saving grace is England’s lack of genuine wide-play talent.
Aaron Lennon has rarely impressed on the international stage. James Milner is usually used to track back away from home. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lack consistency, though the latter is young and improving.
Roy Hodgson doesn’t have a plethora of wide-men to call upon should Young be suspended from the England squad.
But instead of looking to others to help Young clean up his act, the winger must look in the mirror and acknowledge the fact that he is a role model for many youngsters who tend to imitate their idols.
And in the wake of Greg Dykes’ recent remarks, we can ill-afford England’s future to contain such antics if we want to genuinely compete in major tournaments.