Walcott: Modern day pro or an idiot?

by Charlie Coffey

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

For anyone who might have missed it, Theo Walcott had this to say after Arsenal’s FA Cup third round match against Leeds:

“I want to apologise to the managers because I actually dived. I was trying to win the penalty.

“I had a little joke with the referee afterwards saying ‘that was my first dive, can you tell?’

“I don’t have to own up to it and I can’t speak for other players but I have just expressed how I feel. I hope people respect that.”

For those who saw the game, you will remember that there were two penalty appeals in the dying moments. When I heard the statement I initially thought the little scamp was referring to the second appeal that was granted, and from which Cesc Fabregas scored the equaliser. Instead, Walcott was talking about the first appeal, during which he hit the deck following a challenge from Alex Bruce. The referee first pointed to the spot but then changed his mind, apparently citing the offside position of Nicklas Bendtner (who, incidentally, was actually inactive when the challenge was made and thus irrelevant) as the reason.

This makes Walcott’s statement, while commendable for its honesty, as unnecessary as it was unexpected. It’s not as if the referee was cheated and an apology was necessary to save the player’s professional reputation, like Thierry Henry’s ‘hand of frog’ incident, for instance. He was not apologising to Leeds fans as in the end his dive had no effect on the outcome of the game. It seems Walcott’s words were driven purely by internal guilt.

After calling for honesty from players for years, many figures in the footballing world have treated Walcott’s admission with disdain, saying how it might undermine his manager. Andy Townsend argued that referees now know Arsenal players might be prone to taking dives, which might count against them in the future. The other side of that argument is that Arsenal players dive so rarely that when they do they apologise immediately!

In the same show (BBC’s FA Cup highlights on Sunday evening) the point was made that in Italy if a panel retrospectively finds a player guilty of simulation, they can be suspended, as happened to Milos Krasic of Juventus recently. Ironically Krasic, a Serb, was then vilified in the press in Italy, a country which almost invented diving, playacting, and many other types of ‘simulation’, and offer no apology when it benefits their cause. Arsenal have of course been in the same position following their Champion League game with Celtic two years ago, Eduardo Silva receiving a two-match bad for diving after he went down and earned a penalty after a challenge from ‘keeper Artur Boruc, but let’s not get into that again!

The thing to remember here is that people are shocked by the admission rather than the dive. I don’t agree with it, but I truly believe that most forwards would have gone over from the slightest contact if they were in the same situation as Walcott. That no longer shocks us, but a footballer being honest does. The usual, textbook response is usually the one given by Dimitar Berbatov after the penalty he ‘earned’ won the game for United against Liverpool. He said it was a pen but you don’t have to be a behavioural psychologist to see that his body language suggested he didn’t believe it.

So, was Walcott’s decision to issue a mea culpa the right one? Should it be commended? Will others now follow his lead?! There is also the question of implementing an Italian style retrospective ban for diving, but then that would surely make footballers even more dishonest than they are now, meaning that players cannot own up to simulation as Walcott did. Maybe more importantly, at least for Arsenal fans, is the question of whether Walcott will be punished for his honesty as Townsend suggested. With referees now knowing he has a record of diving, and as a consequence Arsenal have a record of diving, will they be hesitant to award penalties to him and his team in the future?

Read Charlie Coffey’s brilliant blog at my11.com.

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  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Mystical Mike

    I think the problem here is communication, do the officials actually bother to speak to each other after an incident?

    Howard Webb reckoned he talked to the assistant when he gave the Berbatwat pen, I think he’s talking b*llocks, he didn’t even look at the assistant!

    Walcott’s was different as the ref gave it, but the assistant over turned it.

    I think we are heading into times where a video ref is needed, the players are to clever, and coning the ref is second nature to them.

    It’s only a matter of time before a major final is decided by a dive. Then what?

  • Dave the Leeds fan

    Bastion of honesty or Arsenal traitor? he’s simply a cheat just like a lot of other players these days.

    Had the ref given the penalty would he have admitted it then – would he hellers like.
    Just because he admitted it and it didn’t have an effect on the result doesn’t mean it’s wasn’t cheating.

    By the way although we (Leeds) did play well i have to admit you looked like you were having an off day in front of goal, looking forward to the replay.


  • http://www.my11.com charlie coffey

    whoa there Davy boy, don’t go presuming I’m a gooner!!

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