WE ARE not supposed to refer to players as cheats in the written press. Ever. But I am going to anyway….
Partly we don’t call players like El-Hadj Diouf cheats because it is the culture of the press box to assume a mantel of world-weary hard-bitten resignation about even the most unappealing aspects of the game. There is a cynicism that, for instance, routinely describes the chopping down from behind of a player through on goal not as ‘dirty’ or ‘outrageous’ but as a “professional” foul, thus elevating it above the ordinary hacking of everyday parks football and into a superior skill that is desirable to attain for any budding footballers out there.
Partly we are not supposed to call players like Ronaldo cheats no matter how frequent or how spectacularly staged or how embarrassingly transparent their dives, irrespective of contact or even the presence of an opponant anywhere in the same postcode; nor call players Alan Shearer or Ben Thatcher dirty no matter how freely they wave their armour plated elbows because you never know when they will be wearing a Boro shirt. Football is a fluid game and you can’t afford to paint yourself into a moral corner on individuals when there always the possibility that next season they may have to interview them neutrally if not sympathetically.
Partly we don’t call players like Drogba, who appeared to have opted for slip-ons as he stumbled and sprawled around the Riverside in the opening week, cheats because to point to the deliberate, systematic attempts to fraudulently win free-kicks and penalties raises the possibility of a quick counter that, well, your lot do it too. And that is true. John Hendrie was one of the finest practioners of the dark arts, hard as nails George Boateng once appeared to be laid out by a waft of scrawny Nobby Solano’s wooly glove while a while a crucial moment on the road to UEFA Cup glory last season came as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink waited for the Roma keeper to come before collapsing to win a matchwinning penalty in the 1-0 home win.
Partly too it must be said that we don’t call the likes of scuba-diving soccer ace Robert Pires cheats because thin skinned rich footballers have agents who do their ego-surfing for them, and also have expensive lawyers and between the two can turn even a casual derogatory aside into a costly legal action. You can’t imply a professional sportsman of impeccable character systematically cheats. Alright, it is unlikely but perfectly possible and to be frank there is plenty written on sites like this that would raise m’learned friends’ eyebrows and even if much of it is perfectly justifiable, given the cost of High Court barristers they would not be worth defending so the paper would pay out quickly (believe me, I know stuff like this!)
And don’t expect even the national press, who have better lawyers and enough money to take the hit of any defeat, to call players cheats either because they rely on the big clubs and the star names to fill the acres of pages. And News International is a stable of papers that also have a cross-ownership with Sky Sports so it would be commercial suicide to attack the players in any way that could impact on the product.
It is a profitable symbiotic relationship that no sports editor or owners would jeopardise lightly. They will only take a calculated risk on monstering a player when there is a public outrage that they can cash in on. For instance, the tabloids spent most of the Summer hounding Ronaldo for his persistent diving and cynicism against England in the World Cup, hoping to create a story about a rift between him and Wayne Rooney and unsuccessfully trying to build a bandwagon to drive him out of the country. But Manchester United are a big club and have stood by ‘the Portuguese winker’ so all is forgiven and despite no discernable change in his behaviour he now escapes any censure. In fact, despite a blatant dive against Boro he was made Man of the Match in most of the papers.
So don’t expect the written press to label any players cheats. Even if they are.