Mo Salah was fouled by Ruben Dias, he had every right to go down
Until referees give these penalties without the dive, players will keep doing it
As Mohamed Salah raced behind Manchester City's backline after Ruben Dias mis-controlled a loose ball, Dias scrambled to recover the lost ground. The City defender, a pillar of their improved defence this season, resorted to tugging at Salah's arms, thus impeding him, and Salah went to ground. Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the penalty spot, VAR saw no reason to overturn his decision, and Salah buried the penalty.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 7, 2021
On live tweeting duty for the game, I tweeted from the FootballJOE account: "Dias takes down Salah in the box." Checking the replies, and the rest of my timeline, I was surprised to see Salah getting a virtual battering from fans of every club for apparently 'diving'.
As it turned out, the penalty was inconsequential to the result, as City ran away 4-1 victors. But the ferocity in the accusations of diving - cheating - at Salah ignored a key factor in the debate around simulation.
Referees do not give fouls if players do not go down. Dias had attempted to stop Salah getting his shot off by pulling at his arm, making no attempt to play the ball - a foul by any definition. That the tug on Salah's arms would not have sent him tumbling to the ground in other areas of the pitch is irrelevant.
It was a foul, and therefore Salah is entitled to go to ground in order to alert the referee to the fact he has been fouled. Honesty is never rewarded in football.
He's done it before, many times, notably against Cardiff in 2019 when I wrote a similar piece on this site.
But this does not make Salah a cheat, it simply shows he understands how football works. Until referees start awarding penalties for fouls that don't send attackers to the floor, players will keep doing this, and they have every right to do so.
I always refer back to an incident from the 2016/17 season, when Raheem Sterling ran through on goal against Tottenham Hotspur. Kyle Walker, then playing for Spurs, knew he could not get goalside to make a tackle, so shoved Sterling in the back. Sterling - who is never given any credit for this - just about retained his balance and got off a pea roller of a shot that Hugo Lloris easily saved.
Had Sterling gone to ground, as Salah did today, he would have got that penalty he deserved.
Yes, contact does not always amount to a foul. But staying on your feet does not always mean a foul has not been committed.
Until penalties are awarded for fouls that don't knock players to the ground, players will - fairly - keep going down.