Sergio Agüero’s match-winning, title-winning goal for
Agüero could have succumbed to the force of Taye Taiwo’s challenge, the Nigerian’s left foot stretching out and knocking the attacker’s right foot. Agüero knew what was coming. Taiwo had previous, having clattered the striker during a Champions League scrap between Atlético Madrid and Marseille at the Vicente Calderón stadium on Oct 1, 2008.
Armed with such knowledge, some forwards would have braced themselves for the inevitable impact, collapsing at the first hint of contact, playing the percentage game and the inevitable award of a penalty.
This is the accusation increasingly levelled at Luis Suárez of
This is not Agüero’s style. Interviewed for City’s raucous in-house review of the season, Agüero remarked: “A penalty? Yes, it crossed my mind, I thought about it; as I went past him I knew that he was going to get there late and I felt some contact with my foot, but I don’t know why but I said to myself, don’t go down, maybe because I was frightened it might not be a penalty, so I stayed on my feet. I kept going and then just hit the ball and luckily it went in.’’
The rest is history, medals, T-shirts, banners, glowing headlines and the eternal gratitude of the City faithful.
Agüero’s honesty was rewarded in spectacular fashion. It is, of course, a sadness that a quality that should be taken as standard, namely not stooping to simulation, is deemed worthy of celebration but such is the oft-nefarious nature of football.
Agüero is an antidote to the tumbling classes, his refusal to milk a challenge notable within minutes of his debut on Aug 15, 2011, when Swansea City’s Ashley Williams slid in at the Etihad. Agüero rode the challenge, bequeathing a positive impression to all observers present. One City executive refers to Agüero as the “Weeble” because he wobbles but he won’t fall down.
Chat privately to referees and they name-check Agüero as a scrupulous professional, as football’s answer to the batsman who walks, as a contrast to Suárez. Such respect does not always help Agüero.
He was patently fouled by Laurent Koscielny, a centre-half overrated by Arsenal fans, when through on goal at the Etihad on Sept 23. Again, as is his principled nature, Agüero resisted the tempting combination of an opponent’s misdemeanour and gravity’s pull.
He stayed on his feet, got his shot away but Koscielny had done enough. Agüero’s aim was scrambled and the moment was lost. Mike Dean should have intervened, awarding a penalty. It could have been a seminal moment, a reminder to defenders that they face double jeopardy, that the referee will take play back to the original foul.
Strangely, in recent weeks, Agüero’s image as the pin-up boy for the Corinthian set has been blurred by the steamed-up response to his comment that domestic players enjoy greater largesse from officials.
Sadly, an important discussion was dragged miskicking and screaming into the broader debate of foreigner versus English in the Premier League, a heated subject given the ramifications for the national team. Deliberations over diving should focus on principle, not passport. It’s not a question of overseas, over here and over they go.
Ferguson himself admitted that his England international, Ashley Young, “overdid” his reaction to a slight hand on the back from QPR’s Shaun Derry at Old Trafford on
April 8 (Derry received a straight red and Wayne Rooney buried the penalty). These are major moments in matches decided by cheating.
So let us ignore the Agüero-Ferguson dispute. Diving deserves condemnation whoever takes that cynical fall from grace. Referees must become more adept at dealing with those executing the dark arts; an education in the mentality of penalty-box predators would have come from listening to the former Scotland striker Andy Gray on talkSPORT on Monday. It’s about opportunity, body shape and suitable deterrent.
It’s also about managers like Ferguson at United and Brendan Rodgers having a quiet word with their versions of Tom Daley. Don’t do it.
Don’t get a reputation. Suárez’s theatrical response to a challenge by Stoke City’s Marc Wilson was embarrassing to Rodgers and Liverpool.
Whatever the Uruguayan’s galloping frustration at a lack of protection (and Robert Huth got away with a stamp that Lee Mason should have spotted), he will never win much sympathy from officials if he continues to react like this.
The Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, was furious with Suárez, creating further a culture of suspicion around Liverpool’s No 7. Suárez has an image problem inhibiting his ability to win games.
Almost an hour into Liverpool’s game with United at Anfield on Sept 23, Suárez’s speed foxed Jonny Evans, who caught his right instep. It was not brutal, certainly not worthy of the twist and roll by Suárez, but there was undoubtedly contact. As Mark Halsey waved play on, Suárez lifted his hands to the heavens in disbelieving protest.
Reputations count. On Sept 30, Suárez was unfortunate not to earn a penalty at Carrow Road when challenged by Leon Barnett. Suárez got ahead of the Norwich centre-half, who brought him down. “Stonewall penalty,’’ lamented Rodgers. Indeed. But it wasn’t given. Suárez was cautioned twice for simulation last season and features in referees’ seminars.
In defending Suárez, Rodgers mentioned an incident two minutes into the second half against Norwich. Nuri Sahin’s goal was created by Suárez who rode a challenge from Michael Turner.
“If he [Suárez] is a player who goes down he would have gone down in the second half,’’ said Rodgers, “because [it’s] a great bit of skill, defender’s caught him, but he stayed on his feet and we scored.’’ It’s called the Agüero principle. It’s one Suárez and others need to learn.