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Beautiful Dive or No Beautiful Dive

Adam Johnson yesterday all but admitted diving to win the penalty that started Manchester City’s convincing victory over Fulham. 

The penalty was despatched by Aguero and gave City an early lead and a good platform. They went on to win the game 3-0.

In Johnson’s BBC interview after the match he contradicted himself, firstly saying that he’d ‘felt the contact’ but then admitting ‘sometimes you anticipate contact’. He went on to say ‘there is a fine line between diving and anticipating contact’. In the end, there was clear acknowledgement that he wasn’t tripped, but he made no apology.

But what exactly does ‘anticipating contact’ actually mean? I would argue that it usually means anticipating possible injury and avoiding contact that could be damaging. If this is the case, then Johnson certainly wasn’t doing that by moving his right leg towards Baird.

 If, on the other hand, it means predicting a foul that hasn’t happened yet, falling over and claiming a penalty, then yes – Johnson was ‘anticipating contact’.

 In ESPN’s coverage of the match, Johnson kept his lips sealed. When asked ‘what exactly happened with the penalty?’ he replied, ‘I haven’t seen it again…. well, it’s a penalty isn’t it, that’s all I’ve got to say.’

Not sure if he needs to ‘see it again’, because the young winger knows exactly whether he was tripped or not.

The video replays do indeed show that he was not felled by Baird. This was missed not only by the referee but also by the Match of the Day pundits, who had the advantage of limitless replays and camera angles.

For a group usually so outspoken about diving and play-acting, they were remarkably relaxed about this instance. Alan Shearer maintained that it was ‘soft’ but a definite penalty, suggesting that Johnson had ‘every right to go over’. Lineker merely brushed it aside ‘comically’ in his introduction to the analysis – poking fun at Martin Jol’s accusation that it was a ‘beautiful dive’.

They made no comment on Johnson’s post-match interview whatsoever, despite its revealing nature.

You have to wonder – what if this penalty had been gained in the last minute to win the game? What if they had been at Craven Cottage? What if it had been a different City player, a foreign one?

Due to the timing of the event and its’ ultimate ‘insignificance’ because of City’s 3-0 win and complete domination, the seriousness of the matter was utterly lost. And God forbid a young English player from the North-East be guilty of diving or cheating.

English and British football must be rid of this kind of hypocrisy.

Like it or not, pundits serve an incredibly important role for football fans, and can help shape football culture. Kids will see Johnson’s dive, listen to Shearer’s support and go out and do it on the playground.

Yes, Johnson is an exciting young player who does not yet have a particularly bad reputation for simulation – but the people with influence mustn’t be scared to hold British players to account for cheating.

Nor should they get tempted into treating such instances as irrelevant due to the seemingly unstoppable nature of Man City. Although Fulham looked lacklustre throughout, the penalty settled City’s nerves early on and allowed them to push on effectively.

Agreed, most people will have expected City to win so comfortably – but that is not the point.

Diving is a form of cheating, and if cameras can clearly prove when a player has dabbled in this trickery, he must be held to account not only by the footballing authorities, but by the respected ‘experts’ that everyday football fans watch on TV – English or not.

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