Dive right in
Mediawatch is not a fan of diving. Mediawatch is not a fan of a number of things in football that it cannot control. Mediawatch accepts that diving is an unfortunate part of the game, and that players from pretty much every team indulge in it in some way or another.
John Cross is not a fan of diving. But the difference is that John Cross will allow one instance of (admittedly terrible) diving to completely shape his entire coverage of a match settled by two clear goals on the night, and four clear goals in the tie overall.
‘What should have been a memorable win over a European superpower was overshadowed by a blatant piece of cheating,’ begins his Daily Mirror match report of Arsenal’s win over AC Milan.
‘Let’s not even try to excuse it or dress it up as anything else, the game will be remembered for Danny Welbeck’s blatant dive to win a penalty.’
Again, Mediawatch is not defending Welbeck; it was a terrible dive. But really? It ‘overshadowed’ the game? It ‘was the moment that decided the whole tie,’ even though Arsenal won 5-1 on aggregate? It ’embarrasses English football’?
It was a bad dive. A really bad dive. But this all feels like a bit much when even Gennaro Gattuso can brush it off as a player trying to “to take advantage of individual situations”. It’s almost as if this kind of thing is not an irregular occurrence, however regrettable that is.
Zero to hero
Cross does not stop there in his all-out assault. His player ratings from the Emirates Stadium are a sight to behold – and not just because Jack Wilshere gets the joint-highest rating of seven out of ten for ‘wearing the armband with pride’.
It is in his rating for Welbeck where Cross excels himself. The striker, scorer of two goals, only one of which was the result of a terrible dive, is given a 0/10.
‘The dive gets a big fat 0. Nothing can excuse it, embarrassing.’
Tell that to The Sun, who give Welbeck a 9/10. Don’t they know he just ’embarrassed English football’?
Neil on the head
It is 90 days until the World Cup starts – The Sun scream as such on a back page that informs us England will be taking their own chef – so Neil Ashton is understandably excited. Or not.
The man with ‘the inside track on football’s big stories’ foresees ‘more tournament misery for England’.
But his overwhelming joyousness and positive outlook extends to elsewhere in his column: Premier League clubs in Europe.
‘Those Nou Camp nights are something special.
‘The expectancy, the demands, the absolute obsession with winning the Champions League fills the night air.
‘It is the same with visits to Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
‘English football, so introverted and so inward-looking, does not share the same ambitions.’
Which sure is interesting, because someone called Neil Ashton wrote this in February:
‘OUR Big Five really have nothing to fear any more.
‘English clubs, boasting eye-catching results in the Champions League, tackled European football on their terms.
‘The pedigree, the history, the allure of Real can only take them so far, and only intimidate rivals so many times.
‘English football feels like it will soon be their equal.
‘Spurs proved, along with Liverpool and City, that English clubs can play fast and furious to get results.’
And someone also called Neil Ashton said that this is ‘turning into a golden period’ for Premier League clubs in the Champions League in September.
By March, they ‘have become far too preoccupied with winning the Premier League’.
Considering Manchester City are a) 16 points ahead of everyone, and b) still actually in the Champions League, it’s probably not their fault that Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham were all knocked out.
Ashton’s colleague at The Sun, Dave Kidd, might not have ‘the inside track on football’s big stories,’ but he follows very much the same theme.
‘Just nine days ago, the Premier League was puffing out its chest and lording it once more. After five years of underachievement in the Champions League, there seemed to have been a significant renaissance, with five teams in the last 16.
‘Could the world’s richest league call itself the best again?
‘No, not after English clubs failed to win any of their five second-leg matches.’
Just to clarify, is this definitive proof that English clubs are not back, back, back?
Martin Samuel has a long-standing issue with Southampton, which is absolutely nothing to do with those damages, and absolutely everything to do with something else that is not those damages.
His Daily Mail column on Friday gleefully declares that ‘the selling Saints can’t go marching on like this,’ the gist of which is essentially ‘I told you so’.
‘Southampton have been sleepwalking towards a reckoning of this nature for some time,’ he writes of a club that has finished 14th, 8th, 7th, 6th and 8th since their promotion to the Premier League in 2012. ‘A club cannot sell talent on an industrial scale as they have done, without consequence.’
Southampton have sold four players this season. One was a back-up keeper (Paulo Gazzaniga), one was a reserve defender (Jason McCarthy), and one was a forward who started nine Premier League games last season (Jay Rodriguez). Virgil van Dijk is the only first-teamer who was sold, and he left in January. This is perhaps the one season where you cannot point the finger of blame at their mass shedding of players.
Southampton’s problem this season has not been in the players they have sold, but the ones they have bought. Arsenal were the only club to sign fewer first-team players in the summer, and Guido Carrillo was the only January arrival. So to put their current league position solely down to ‘their aggressive pursuit of transfer monies’ seems generous – even for those with a vendetta.
‘Southampton overstretched when they sacked Claude Puel for playing dull football’ – Martin Samuel, Daily Mail, March 16 2018.
‘At a time when 17million saw a benefit to not being European, Claude Puel, the new Southampton manager, is taking advantage of not being British. If we knew more about him, we might regard him as we do, say, David Moyes or Kenny Dalglish. We might have the odd reservation; the conversations around his appointment would be better informed. British bosses can get talked out of a job even before they have got it. The owners take the temperature on Twitter and lose their nerve.
‘Compare Puel, for instance, to Michael O’Neill, coach of Northern Ireland. He has done an extraordinary job, given the resources at his disposal. A lot has been made of the minnows at this tournament, but O’Neill was not the beneficiary of UEFA largesse. Would O’Neill be considered for a Premier League job, though? Did Southampton give him a second thought?’ – Martin Samuel, Daily Mail, June 28 2016.
Southampton ‘overstretched when they sacked’ him, but hey, Claude Puel was only appointed in the first place literally just because he is not British.
On Thursday, Mauricio Pochettino used his press conference to praise Dele Alli.
“When you compare him, at 21 years old, with all the players in the world – not only in Europe, in the world – I think he is the best.
“Tell me one better than him, a 21-year-old, who has achieved as much.”
The Sun rise to the challenge, bringing us ‘5 others to rival him’. They include Gabriel Jesus, Marcus Rashford, Ousmane Dembele, Kylian Mbappe and Leon Bailey. So three players aged 20 and two aged 19.
The wait goes on.
‘Alexis Sanchez has risked the wrath of his Manchester United team-mates by boasting about being the Premier League’s highest-paid player,’ writes Oscar Paul in The Sun.
‘The forward earns a whopping £505,000-a-week at Old Trafford…’
No he doesn’t.
‘…but has scored only once since his January switch from Arsenal.’
Yes he has. Well done. Gold star.
‘He has also been slammed by United legends for his below-par performances.
‘But in an interview with Chilean TV, the 29-year-old gloated: “Being the best-paid player in the Premier League fills me with pride at being Chilean.”
The story is accompanied by pictures of Sanchez ‘with a supercar at a Nike event,’ Sanchez next to a luxury private jet, and another of Sanchez with the caption: ‘About time you spent something on clothes’. The entire thing is a bit bizarre.
But the strangest part is that the story on The Sun’s website has no pictures of him next to supercars or private jets. Nor does it try and incite anything by claiming Sanchez, who grew up in poverty in Chile, is boasting. Because he isn’t.
Compare the first paragraphs, for example:
Newspaper: ‘Alexis Sanchez has risked the wrath of his Manchester United team-mates by boasting about being the Premier League’s highest-paid player.’
Website: ‘ALEXIS SANCHEZ admits he loves being the best-paid Premier League player.’
And the presentation of the quotes:
Newspaper: ‘But in an interview with Chilean TV, the 29-year-old gloated: “Being the best-paid player in the Premier League fills me with pride at being Chilean.”
Website: ‘But in an interview with Chilean TV, he said: “Being the best-paid in the Premier League fills me with pride at being Chilean.”
When you find yourself praising The Sun’s website for not sensationalising a story, you know there is a problem. And that problem is their own newspaper.
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) March 16, 2018
That’s a strange thing to have to insist.
Recommended reading of the day
Hugo Greenhalgh on the fight for Dulwich Hamlet.
Henry Winter on England.
Jack Pitt-Brooke interviews Christian Eriksen.