Search icon


23rd Apr 2019

Mo Salah didn’t ‘dive’ – if anything he helped the ref see the full picture

Mo Salah has received plenty of criticism for going to ground easily against Cardiff, but is what he did actually that bad?

Reuben Pinder

A Tom Daley Job. Embarrassing. Cheating p***k. Disgraceful. Disgusting. Laughable.

All of the above phrases were used to criticise Mo Salah after he won a penalty against Cardiff on Sunday, which James Milner converted to secure three crucial points for Liverpool in the title race.

This is of course not the first time Salah has been criticised for ‘diving’ or going down too easily. Rival fans, with their incessant commitment to winning an online war of morals, have gone to great lengths to compile all the available evidence that Mo Salah is a serial ‘cheat’.

But while the rage continued to rise – thousands of angry dads shouting ‘the game’s gone!’ at their TV screens as Twitter went into fury – it got me thinking: is what Salah did, in this instance or any other, actually that bad?

Is it rational for fans to view any player going to ground ‘too easily’ as a cardinal sin? Probably not, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves.

As tempting as it is to make the conversation around diving a binary debate – you’re either a ‘good, honest player’ or a ‘disgusting cheat’ – it is much more nuanced than that. There is a multitude of reasons for players going to ground when they could stay on their feet, most notably because there’s no reward for honesty in football.

What some fail to grasp is that an attacker can be impeded and thus fouled in the penalty area while retaining the ability to stay on his feet. Does that make the defender’s action any less of a foul? No. Will the referee give a penalty if he stays on his feet? Also no.

So back to Salah, who dropped to the ground while tussling with Cardiff City captain Sean Morrison on Sunday. Morrison undoubtedly fouled Salah – his arms were all over Salah’s chest as he prevented him from travelling with the ball – but it still took time for Martin Atkinson to point to the spot.

Anywhere else on the pitch, the referee stops this, brandishes a yellow card and we all move on with our lives. But given that officials are generally reluctant to regularly dish out penalties, Salah was left with no option but to draw the referee’s attention to the fact he was fouled.

It might leave a bitter taste in the mouth, but until referees start giving penalties for challenges like this before attackers go down, it will continue to happen and understandably so.

There have been countless other examples of the same thing happening this season – but Salah appears to come into the firing line because he understands the need to game a broken system more than most.

The problem around this debate stems from the tendency to instantly label any player who ‘dives’ a ‘cheat’. Is it cheating? It’s not exactly moving the goalposts, or deflating the ball, or bribing an official. It’s simply making it clear to the officials what is happening.

Where is the outrage when a defender disguises a cynical foul as an accidental coming together, and holds their hands up in a plea of innocence? Or when defenders give away a legitimate penalty and point passionately towards the ball, gesticulating in a circular motion despite the fact they were nowhere near it?

Are they not also forms of gamesmanship, trying to get one over your opponent when the stakes are at their highest? You might not like it, but let’s spare the outrage for things that actually matter.