Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible form has left even his haters lost for words, nobody able the challenge his status as currently the greatest player in the sport. If ever there is a case of “mud sticks”, then it is ever present for Ronaldo in relation to his twinkle toes past. Gracing the Premiership stage aged just 18 years old, Ronaldo quickly earned a well deserved reputation as a diver. Even the Old Trafford faithful tired of his continental style of throwing himself to the ground whenever the slightest bit of contact was made by an opposing player.
It was the World Cup 2006 that elevated him to a national hate figure, with the Portuguese winger incredibly being blamed for England’s exit from the competition. The fact England had been dire throughout and saw three of their four penalty takers miss was quickly forgotten. Rooney was sent off and for some reason, this wonderful country of ours deemed it to be Ronaldo’s fault. Why? Because he was one of four Portuguese players complaining to the referee about a supposed stamp from Wayne Rooney on Carvalho in the quarter finals.
I imagine how this country would have reacted if Ronaldo had seemingly stamped on John Terry’s balls in this same game, and Rooney, one of the closest English players to the incident, stood back and let his England colleagues complain to the referee. I wonder what the press would have made of Rooney putting his club team mate ahead of his country team mate when wearing the England shirt. The fact that Ronaldo is lambasted for being one of four players surrounding the referee, putting his country, whose shirt he was wearing, ahead of his club, borders on hilarity. Regardless, the incident resulted in Ronaldo considering leaving England because of fears for his safety, following his home, and the home of his family, being vandalised in the aftermath. Fortunately, the boos of our opposition fans only spurred Ronaldo on to achieve the greatest form of his career so far, resulting in a Premiership medal for the young winger.
Despite cleaning up his act, Ronaldo is tarred with that brush to this day. He was the most fouled player in the Premiership last season and features within the top five this season, with referees allowing disgusting challenges to be committed against him week in week out. However, whenever Ronaldo goes down in the area, immediately the assumption is he’s dived.
To be quite honest, this is not something I feel we have much room to complain about. Ronaldo is the boy who cried wolf, and whilst I am happy to see him ploughing through his fouling opponents these days rather than hitting the deck, I understand that is going to take longer than a season or two of fair play, for the most part, to see this judgement leave him, if it ever does.
However, my problem lies with the fact there are several players in this league who continue to dive and cheat whenever they are given the opportunity, yet seem to slip under the radar of hatred and criticism. For example, was Steven Gerrard’s face all over the back pages with “CHEAT” emblazoned over the top following his theatrics at the weekend against Blackburn? This was certainly the case for Ronaldo when he won a penalty against Middlesbrough last season, after tripping in attempt to avoid the charging keeper, who made no attempt to win the ball. Gareth Southgate cowardly singled out Ronaldo, fanning the flames of hatred towards the player, in a similar manner to Steven Gerrard after the World Cup, only to admit months later that upon seeing replays he conceded Ronaldo did trip, and didn’t dive. After all, Ronaldo had an empty net to fire the ball in to if he’d successfully skipped past the keeper. Instead, the ball was put on the penalty spot for Louis Saha to tuck away. That common sense left Gareth Southgate, raging Boro fans, and all the rags, the following day, instead opting to perpetuate the hate campaign against yet another United player.
Whilst Ronaldo’s diving title is still upheld by the press, Gerrard quietly goes about his business, throwing himself to the ground in the box, and nobody bats an eyelid. Let’s take a closer look…
Gerrard leaves his foot in so that Friedel will make contact, which occurs, minimally. Jamie YSB Redknapp raises the point that if it occurred anywhere else on the field, it would have been given as a foul. Interesting. I’ll raise the point that if it had been Ronaldo tearing in to the box and leaving his foot behind, Redknapp would have been the first to call him a diver, looking for the penalty. Andy Gray goes on to say Gerrard being clever by leaving his foot in. Again, would Ronaldo be branded “clever” or “a cheat”? The fact that the ball is running out of play anyway doesn’t seem to be mentioned either. With the clock ticking down and the game all but wrapped up at 2-0, Gerrard throws himself to the ground again, and again under minimal contact.
Now, this would be a pretty weak argument if all I was basing it on was a couple of dives against Blackburn. So let’s delve a bit deeper. Take a quick look at Gerrard breaking in to Marseille’s penalty area earlier this season.
Seen enough yet? Nah, me neither. How about this dive from the World Cup when racing alongside Ronaldo to win the ball?
Then there’s his dive last season against Andorra when England were leading the game 1-0.
After the game, Ian Wright came out in full defence of Gerrard, saying, “Other teams will do it against us, so why don’t we? It will happen to us again, so we should.” If Ronaldo was to dive against England, would the same attitude be taken? Well, Steven Gerrard does it, so it’s only fair Ronaldo returns the favour. I won’t hold my breath.
My all time favourite has to be his dive in the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan, which helped guide the dippers to lifting the trophy.
And these are just the ones I happened to come across on YouTube. God only knows how many other times Gerrard has had his banana skin boots on.
If people want to brand Ronaldo a diver and boo him wherever he plays, then that’s not a massive concern of mine. However, I object fiercely to the way he is singled out, when English players, like Gerrard, who “should know better”, throw themselves to the floor like big girls whenever a player comes close to making a challenge in the box. I’m not for one moment excusing the dives of foreign players in this league, but it is without question that it is a style which is associated more widely with the continental game, and is certainly much more accepted in mainland Europe. If they have any sense, when coming to the Premiership they should cut it out of their game, as Ronaldo has more or less done. But what excuses does Steven YSB Gerrard have?