Gary Neville and cheating in football

The Youtube clip shown above is taken from a Sky Sports segment in which Gary Neville discusses the issue of diving (ie cheating) in modern football.

Neville is an ex professional footballer, so it would be somewhat understandable if his views on this subject were nuanced.

However, as the piece develops, it becomes clear that not only does Neville think that diving/simulation is a grey area, but that it should actually be tolerated as part of the modern game.

Below, I summarise Neville’s arguments, and offer my own rebuttals. The idea that any form of cheating should be acceptable in modern sport is ridiculous. In fact, soccer is probably the only sport I can think of in which this debate is taking place.

The only other area is which this debate sometimes arises is in the area of performance enhancing drugs, where some commentators have argued for lifting bans on such drugs, so that a level playing field is introduced.

The fact that this view is held by only a tiny minority should indicate on far off the reservation football is when it coming to dealing with cheats.

Anyway, back to Neville’s arguments:

1. They’re not cheats

Neville reckons we shouldn’t called diving players cheats, because the practice is so “ingrained” in the game, that it would be unfair to label players cheats when everybody is doing it. Even the greater players, like Messi, do it, and they’re not cheats.

Wrong. To argue that cheating is not cheating if everybody is doing it is perverse. If a golfer took an air stroke, and knowingly didn’t count it, that’s cheating. If a cricket player dropped a catch, but this wasn’t seen by the umpire, and played on, that’s cheating. This is a simple matter of definition. If a player deliberately falls over, with the express purpose of obtaining a penalty, that’s cheating. It doesn’t matter how many other players are doing it.

2. If you don’t go down, you might not get the penalty you deserve

In the piece, Neville features a small number of clips in which players are fouled but who do not get penalties, and argues that those players were disadvantaged because they didn’t go to ground.

Soccer doesn’t feature televisions judges who can review decisions and plays on the field with the assistance of video playback. While this deficiency remains, there will always be an element of luck in the decisions of the referee, which most commentators, managers and players acknowledge will even itself out of the course of the 40-50 games a professional team will play during a season.

To extend Neville’s argument to its logical conclusion, every player should dive for every tackle, anywhere on the pitch, in case not doing so results in them not getting a free if the referee misses the foul.

3. You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t

This is actually a quote from a statement issued by the PFA, which features in the piece, and which Neville endorses.

The argument here is that with so much on the line, if a player passes up an opportunity to gain his team an advantage, even if that means cheating, the player is exposed to vilification from his club and the club’s fans.

That’s probably true, but its only true because cheating is accepted as part of the game. If clubs and players were to take a lead on this, and turn the tables, so that vilification arose from cheating, rather than not cheating, this issue would disappear.

Other sports seem to manage just fine in this regard. Has any rugby, GAA or cricket player even been vilified for not cheating?

4. Introducing retrospective punishment would result in chaos

Neville makes two points in relation to the idea that you could ban players retrospectively when video evidence clearly shows that they have cheated.

Firstly, he says that because the practice is so widespread, bans would be so numerous that it would undermine the League.

That’s complete pants. If players knew that it was likely they would get a ban for cheating, they wouldn’t cheat, so there would be no bans. Neville should look up the meaning of the word “deterrent”.

Secondly, Neville argues that if you punish players retrospectively for getting penalties they weren’t entitled to, you will also have to do something about players who didn’t get penalties they were entitled to, which is totally impractical, as you can’t re-stage games so that a penalty that wasn’t awarded the first time can be awarded.

Again this is pants. We already have a situation in which officials makes mistakes, and no action is taken, and as noted earlier, it is accepted that these erroneous decisions even themselves out over the course of the season.

Neville is simply creating a problem where no problem exists, in order to add weight to his general thesis.

As noted at the start, it is to be expected that ex-players will have slightly different views on this subject than fans.

However, when you see someone like Neville mounting a defence of what is self-evidently indefensible, it can be supposed that such views are not uncommon among players, managers and club owners.

If that’s the case, it leaves little hope that anything will be done about soccer’s cheating epidemic in the near future.

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