WITCH-HUNTS, conspiracies and agendas.
All have been suggested regarding the media coverage Luis Suarez has received following his dopey dive against Stoke on Sunday.
But Monday’s newspapers were business as usual – the media doing what the media does.
It’s an industry built on negativity, conflict and criticism; one party having a go at another. That’s the story, that sparks the debate and that makes people read (or so the theory goes).
A manager suggesting a player from the opposition should be banned for his actions in a game that has just taken place is conflict.
And that’s why Robin Van Persie’s elbow on Yohan Cabaye was the sports lead for The Times, The Mirror, The Star and The Mail. The Independent led on Ashley Cole and his latest Twitter row (more conflict).
Suarez was the lead on the sports section of The Telegraph (‘In the dock – again’) and the story got a two-paragraph mention on the back of The Mirror and a down-page mention on the back of The Star (‘Pulis blast at ‘diver’ Suarez’).
Judging by some of the comments on Twitter, it was easier to infer every newspaper had produced a Suarez-dive wraparound.
So what about Robert Huth’s stamp? And what about Gareth Bale’s dive? They were barely mentioned, certainly not with the same prominence as Van Persie, Cole and Suarez.
Why? Simple. No conflict. Brendan Rodgers has come out tonight and raised the issue with Huth and that will ensure the story will roll on in the media tomorrow.
But after the match on Sunday he told reporters he was unsighted for both Suarez’s dive and Huth’s stamp.
Bale, too, didn’t warrant much Monday coverage as there was no ‘storm’ to report on. Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert was too busy defending his decision to leave out Darren Bent (yep, more conflict).
In this instance, if there’s anyone to blame for coverage of Suarez’s dive, it’s two people: Suarez himself and Tony Pulis.
First Suarez. No dive, no opportunity for Pulis to tap the ball marked ‘diver’ into the the gaping media goalmouth.
Suarez should have known better. Yes, he’s frustrated. Yes, he was given a real battering by Stoke’s defenders, in particular Huth.
And yes, it does appear that, right now, when it comes to decisions in the penalty area, it’s one rule for Suarez and one rule for everyone else. He was given little protection by Lee Mason, who had a shocker at Anfield and let too much go with Stoke hell-bent on spoiling tactics.
But Liverpool had rammed home the point about recent decisions. The manager, the captain, Suarez’s team-mates – all had gone public on their frustrations that the striker was getting nothing. Even us fans – ‘We’re going to have a party….when Suarez gets a pen” – had made our feelings known.
It predictably provoked much mocking, but it also garnered some sympathy, especially after the laughable decision not to penalise Leon Barnett’s MMA move on Suarez in the penalty box at Carrow Road.
Sergio Aguero had also raised whether foreigners get a raw deal on decisions, and there were genuine signs that perhaps, narrative-wise, the tide, at least every so slightly, could be turning.
Suarez’s dive at Anfield was Moses-like in its effect on that tide and he deserves criticism for that. The dive was blatant. Many have said Suarez doesn’t regularly dive, and it’s true, he doesn’t. But what he does regularly do is add dramatic flourishes when contact is made – a neck turn here, a back arch there. That does him no favours, either, however it’s dressed up. The focus is on him, we all know it, he must know it, too. He HAS to stay on his feet, or the vicious circle will keep on turning.
And so to Pulis. For the second time this season, he was calling for three-match bans for divers after the game. Diving – or the ridiculously termed ‘simulation’ – ALWAYS sparks debate, especially if it’s a foreign player doing it against good old English up and at ‘em Stoke.
The first time Pulis leaned on this crutch, it deflected interest from a defeat to Chelsea. This time, it deflected interest from a blatant tactic to foul in the first half, Huth’s stamp, six yellow cards for Stoke and a £25,000 FA fine.
Diving IS a big problem in the game, but then so are all the other forms of cheating: stamping, blatant fouling, feigning injury, time-wasting, shirt-pulling, handballs, deliberate elbows and so on.
Is Pulis against all those things? You’d guess so, right? Last month, when Peter Crouch deliberately used his hand to control the ball before scoring against Man City, Pulis said: “If Peter’s got away with it, then brilliant.”
He also defended Andy Wilkinson after he received a three-match ban for elbowing Mario Balotelli in the face and was apparently furious when retrospective action could not be considered against David Luiz for a foul on Jonathan Walters. Presumably he’ll be less vocal about Huth’s let-off for studding Suarez’s chest.
If Puils was serious about his new role as a moral crusader in football, he’d be a hell of a lot more believable if he fined, banned or even criticised his own players for their indiscretions. That seems as likely as him realising he looks a prize tit in that cap.
Pulis knew on Sunday that there’s no way on earth that the FA would issue a three-match ban to Suarez for diving. It’s not in the rules. The referee saw the incident and gave nothing – no penalty, no yellow card for ‘simulation’. And that, like it or not, is the end of the matter.
Pulis’s suggestion doesn’t even stand up to scrutiny. Who would decide if a player had dived after the event? A panel? Who would be on it? What would constitute a dive? No contact? Some contact? It would be a minefield.
And why just diving? What protection does that offer the flair players? If there’s to be retrospective banning for diving, there should be retrospective banning for pulling shirts, flailing elbows and all the dark arts of defending, too, shouldn’t there?
Don’t expect to see Pulis backing that idea anytime soon. He can’t be taken seriously and not just because he wears crap tracksuits.
He was just playing to gallery and deflecting attention from the fact that his own player committed a sin every bit as ‘embarrassing’ – and more dangerous – than Suarez’s sky-dive.
But it still all comes back to Suarez. Pulis, the media, the radio shock jocks – their focus would have been elsewhere if he’d simply stayed on his feet.