‘You see him diving clearly and no-one is talking about it…’
These were the words uttered by a confused Virgil van Dijk shortly after the Dutch international watched his Liverpool side concede an 84th-minute penalty to a forward who was offside and dived.
There are different levels of diving. There’s diving when there is no contact, there’s diving when there is manufactured contact and then there’s diving when there is minimal contact. Harry Kane flailing over Loris Karius on Sunday evening was somewhere between option two and three.
There are those who will argue that Kane ‘had the right’ to go down, but surely no one will argue that the Spurs frontman was actually brought down.
Let’s be clear. Harry Kane saw the Liverpool goalkeeper coming and made the decision to fling himself to the ground. He was not by any means brought to the ground and that, by its very definition, is a dive. But as Van Dijk very correctly pointed out after the game, it was completely and totally ignored. No one is talking about it.
As the moment actually unfurled on Sky Sports, Gary Neville stated what everyone else was thinking as England’s latest Golden Boy sailed over Karius and plonked himself to the turf; ‘It was a dive’.
However, as Jonathan Moss shrieked on his whistle and pointed to the spot, Neville immediately reimagined his stance on the incident; ‘oh no, it’s a penalty.’
Neville’s disconnected logic was so baffling it is hard to even wrap your head around it. It was as if the Sky pundit believed that the dive and his own initial instinct on what he’d witnessed were somehow cancelled out by the fact that Moss had decided it was a penalty. Like the dive and the ruling on it were completely and totally unrelated.
There are two factors at play here.
First of all, the standards for what constitutes a penalty or a foul in football have drastically shifted in recent years. There was a time when a player actually had to be brought down or at least for his stride to be significantly impeded for a penalty to be awarded.
There was a time when the likes of Lionel Messi were lauded for staying on their feet in the face of hefty challenges in and around the box. Nowadays, Premier League forwards are likely to be castigated for staying on their feet in the face of even the slightest touch.
Take the second Spurs penalty on Sunday for example. In misinterpreting the bounce of the ball, Virgil van Dijk swung his leg in an attempt to make a clearance. However, at the last moment, he saw Erik Lamela arriving ahead of him and pulled out of the challenge.
His toe made fractional contact with the surface of the Argentinian’s calf and, after some discussion with the linesman, a penalty was awarded.
Again, Lamela was not brought to the ground nor was he impeded in any significant manner. He was barely touched and flung himself to the turf as if someone had just fired a razor-sharp bow through his leg. However, in analysing it, some pundits have not only agreed with the awarding of a penalty, they have called it a ‘stonewaller’ simply because there was the slightest amount of contact.
That is just madness.
Having said that, at least there was some form of debate that occurred around the Lamela and Van Dijk incident while in Harry’s case, well, let’s move onto the second factor.
Harry Kane is an English international and the latest in a long line of England’s great hopes that the media have essentially deemed to be infallible. There is no great mystery. Neville and countless others repeatedly refuse to criticise what the forward does or how he conducts himself because of who he is and where he’s from.
Imagine, if you will, that it was, say, Luis Nani, who had conducted Kane’s gazelle-like leap at Anfield? Would Gary Neville have balked at Moss’s whistle in the same fashion and immediately dismissed his initial reading of what he’d witnessed? Of course not. He would have assumed the ref got it wrong unless several replays proved otherwise.
It was only last month that Kane put in a potentially leg-breaking challenge on Raheem Sterling only for the media to brush it over and come out with the old ‘not that type of player’ garbage. And this is just more of it.
Of course many will sing the ‘that’s just the way it is’ song but they shouldn’t. Harry Kane’s expertly conducted contortion over Loris Karius should have been spoken about. We should question these things and the way that the game is going.
The tendency to tumble at negligible contact is simply wrong and the instances in which we ignore it due to a player’s status or nationality are even more so.
Harry Kane was not brought to the ground at Anfield, he made the decision to put himself there. Whatever twisted logic we use to justify that fact does not make it ok.