Flint's Off on One

When Lucius Malfoy lead his family down the path to darkness, there were some mitigating circumstances. Enticed by the promise of power and threatened by an omnipotent, shapeshifting and almost immortal lord, anyone might crumble. The theatrical wizardry required no little skill that anyone on either side of the moral divide could appreciate, if not endorse.

In the end, of course, he caves in and scampers away to save his own skin, but only after nearly losing everything. Now I’m not saying Mauricio Pochettino is a servant for some Dark Lord, but there are elements of his character and preferences that are shadowy at best. Recently he moaned about the endemic English moral pontifications over diving after Dele Alli was booked for simulation. Nothing new there; for some time most of the world has been sick of a perceived English arrogance towards ‘the dark arts’.

Put the morality aside for a moment; the act of deceiving opponents to win a penalty is a skill. The technique of trailing a leg convincingly to draw contact, creating artificial momentum, energetically flailing arms – it is a talent. Pochettino is no different to hundreds of figures in the game when he openly admits he has practiced the skills. To be fair to the man, he didn’t dispute the awarding of the yellow card to Alli, despite his personal views.

What caused me Umbridge (yes, I did just intentionally use a brilliant Harry Potter pun) was how he played down the act. “The problem now is that we are so sensitive about the situation,” he was reported as saying in The Independent. “It’s too much sometimes.There is such a focus on this type of situation. I think it’s a minimal issue.”

In the same press conference, he accepted diving deserves a booking, but complained about the reaction. Distinctly sour grapes if you ask me. The fact is, Arsène Wenger was right when he said this week that English players “might be the masters now”. Alli is only one of many Englishmen who is expertly skilled in flopping to deceive. Ashley Young collapses if a breeze dares puff, while Wayne Rooney is smarter than he looks – not hard, admittedly.

The diving is bad enough, but it’s the crying about unfair treatment that pisses me off. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. It is, after all, a natural human emotion to react against opinions that aren’t favourable to yours. It is distasteful though when managers of such well-established powerful clubs whinge about fairness. Don’t even get me started on Pep “we don’t have enough money” Guardiola…

Pochettino has a lot to answer for. How he isn’t giving Dele Alli and his gang of merry idiots a blasting for their heinous crimes to hand greetings I’ll never know. What I will say is he at least articulates thoughtful ideas well, even if his opinions are, well, wrong. There’s another layer to this diving debate that really infuriates me though, and it’s the reaction.

Nowadays, anyone who dares criticise diving is hounded by gangs of online hipsters do-gooding ITKs. This strand of social media virus loves to chest-thumpingly roar in favour of controversial or unorthodox views, seemingly simply because they are ‘original’. Knowing full well they will incite a reaction on Twitter to gain some all-important retweets – “Like me! Acknowledge me! PLEASE!! – they espouse diving as an acceptable part of the game, and lambaste all others as dinosaurs who have lost touch of what the game is. OK, in case it wasn’t already clear –


There. I said it. Cast me in irons and chuck me into Azkaban. I’m all for opinions differing; it’s what makes the sport a universal and democratic one. On this there is no room though. Pochettino’s assertion that there is negligible difference between tactics and diving to trick an opponent has been regurgitated more in the past 48 hours than a Fresher’s stomach lining, and it is about as logical and comfortable too.

Does clinging on to a basic moral code make me a prehistoric relic? Does wanting to punish those who circumvent the spirit and rules of the game make me wrong? Does it hell. And what’s more, I’ll prove it. Watch any game, in any culture in the world, and when a player blatantly dives, what’s the reaction? Exactly – anger, vitriol, thirst of revenge. If Pochettino genuinely believes his words, then why is diving universally infuriating when it happens against your team? I’m pretty sure he himself was anything but accepting and calm when Michael Owen ‘fell’ over his leg in 2002.

I actually agree with the man on a lot of things, and I have a lot more time for him than others. His recent turn in front of the media, however, is in danger of lending him a touch of the Snapes, as a conflicting relationship with goodness and the Dark Arts begins to define him. There’s little hope for the self-righteous death-eating hordes though.