Playin’ English

Interesting article the other day in the paper about Michael Owen admitting that he’d fallen to get penalties.

What I found so interesting is not how his international career is over (whether he admits it or not), but that at the end of the article he discusses the unfortunate influence of foreign football players on the English game, especially with regards to diving. This is almost exactly the same thing said by Alex Ferguson less than a month ago. Interesting that in less than a month, and just before an international break that two prominent Brits (Sir Alex is a Scot) would discuss the bad influence these diving foreign players are having on the English game.

Xenophobia and soccer are good ol’ friends. Players and fans in England howled when they removed the limits on foreign-born players, and it was big news when Arsenal fielded a team of entirely non-British players a decade ago. In Italy, a team fired a South Korean player for scoring on them in the 2002 World Cup, and eight years later considered kicking foreign players out of the Serie A to let more Italians play. Spain naively declared they had no racism problems, and then this week the whole sad saga of John Terry and Anton Ferdinand hopefully, finally came to an end. As much as the players and managers play lip service to the Kick It Out message against racism for the fans, they have not kicked it out themselves.

The idea that the English don’t dive is hilarious – surely Sir Alex has had a glance at Ashley Young’s passport on one of their trips? Of course he may have just picked it up from Nani. And that Michael Owen would say that it’s just become a problem in the last 10 years or so is staggering. He’s been injured for something like the last 10 years! So maybe he’s the actual root of the diving epidemic sweeping Britain.

The whole idea that the Brits play a more honorable version of the game is something that I’ve been thinking about recently. In the history of the sport – back in the beginning, the Victorian ideals of sportsmanship and amateur athleticism dominated the English game, some clubs insisted on amateur status as it was unseemly to accept (up front) payment for the game. The English game was seen by the English as a game of toughness and virtue for the players. But then a funny thing happened, other countries found other ways to play and they beat the Brits at their own game. The South American game became about artistry and flair, the Italian about suffocating defense, the Dutch about Total Football, etc. Everywhere the game went it took on slightly different character and tactics, the English tough long ball fell out of favour.

England has it tough, as the inventors of the game they see it as their right to be a good team (totally understandable living in a hockey obsessed nation), but they are just one of many nation in the sport now.  And while their league is the most prestigious on the planet, it is so precisely because it has so many foreign players in it. Do players dive Рof course they do, is it something that was brought here by those insidious foreigners Рsorry, not gonna buy that one Sir A.

But then there is Suarez.