Armchair Pundit

Luis Suarez: Sympathy for the devil

Alex Chick

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Robert Huth, erm, unintentionally treads on Luis Suarez

It takes a lot to make me feel sympathy for Luis Suarez. But this week's unending torrent of anti-diving sentiment has done just that.

Brendan Rodgers has been mocked for describing Suarez as "vilified" and a "victim" - largely because it's fun to point and laugh when Liverpool press the 'conspiracy' button.

But what other conclusion can you draw when you see the bile aimed at the Uruguayan?

It is Suarez's misfortune that his ludicrous drive against Stoke took place before an international week, when the lack of real news caused this cycle to spin on and on.

(WATCH THE DIVE HERE - VIDEO IN UK ONLY)

On Sunday night, Stoke boss Tony Pulis rounded on Suarez, calling for a three-match ban to stop him "falling over" - he said something similar about Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic last month.

Rodgers' plaintive defence of his star man seemed only to increase the scorn, as Stoke winger Michael Kightly steamed in.

"Referees have to try to stamp down on it," he said without apparent irony.

If Kightly wants help stamping down on things, he might ask his team-mate Robert Huth, who left stud marks on Suarez's chest early in the game.

That the German escaped unpunished would seem to any sane observer a greater cause for concern than Suarez's antics. But football is not overburdened with sane observers.

Next up came FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce, who described diving as "a cancer".

Really, a cancer? Something destined to spread uncontrollably and ultimately kill the game? Nice metaphor, Jim, but not even remotely accurate.

Yesterday Michael Owen spoke on the subject at the Leaders In Football convention.

While he talked some sense, he did however come up with this old chestnut.

"It's worse than it was 10 years ago with the foreign influence of players coming from South America, Spain and Italy."

Yep. It's something the foreigners dragged in with them - like grey squirrels or syphilis.

Damn them for infecting Gareth Bale's mind! (Incidentally, Bale's dive against Aston Villa was just as bad as Suarez's.)

As Early Doors asked this morning - what's so bad about diving?

Suarez has tried to con the ref. True. So has the player who appeals for a corner when he knows he has taken the last touch. And the full-back who steals a few yards at a throw-in. And the time-wasting keeper who pretends he needs to get the mud off his boots before taking a goal kick. And the defender with a handful of shirt at a corner. And the Stoke forward who scores an obvious handball goal. And the skipper who is in the ref's ear every time the opposition get a decision.

Everyone is trying to con the ref the whole time. That's football. By and large, we all accept it happens and don't feel it does irreparable harm to the game. So why single out diving?

As Owen pointed out, most 'dives' simply involve making the most of existing contact - he reckons 75 per cent of penalties are won by players who could stay up but decide not to.

And why wouldn't you?

Danny Welbeck likes a dive, but kept his feet on Sunday when he took the ball past Newcastle's Steve Harper and failed to score. Had he gone down, he would have earned the keeper a red card and possibly won a penalty too.

It is hard to argue that Welbeck, who was fouled by Harper, made the right decision by playing on.

Diving is a game within a game. There is a skill in making it look like you have been fouled. Suarez plays the game very badly. So exaggerated are his falls that, even when he is genuinely fouled, it looks like a dive.

Suarez is already punished for diving - by never getting a decision from refs. If that is the consequence of crying wolf, so be it.

Perhaps he should have been booked for his dive on Sunday, as prescribed by the game's laws, but he certainly does not need further sanctions.

It is particularly unedifying to see Stoke leading the anti-Suarez hate mob, pitchforks and effigies in hand.

Pulis's side have themselves come under fire for refusing to play football 'the right way' by those who accuse them of burying football under a barrage of long throws and knee-high tackles.

Stoke's response has been to point out that the only right way to play is the one that brings results.

They have been a refreshing antidote to Arsene Wenger and Barcelona, who seem to believe short passing is not just an effective way to win football matches, but also a morally superior approach to the game.

Football is a sport. It doesn't really matter. You might deem one approach more aesthetically pleasing than another, but morals quite plainly do not come into it.

Pulis's stance on diving is unpalatable and hypocritical. He shrugged off Peter Crouch's handball goal against Manchester City with a chirpy: "If Peter's got away with it, then brilliant."

And if Pulis is about doing what it takes to win a football match, that's also brilliant. But he should shut up about Luis Suarez.

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Alex Chick  - follow @alexchick81

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