Harry Kane’s a diver.
Mohamed Salah’s a diver.
Raheem Sterling’s a diver.
That’s what social media would have you believe.
All three players have won notable penalties in recent weeks; Kepa Arrizabalaga clattered Kane, Salah was bundled over at Brighton, and Wolves’ Ryan Bennett wobbled Sterling on Monday night.
In each case, the referee made the correct decision.
However, the officials’ wise judgement didn’t stop social media users – famed for their level heads and unbiased nature – labelling all three players as ‘cheats’.
Predictably, Liverpool fans who defended Salah’s street smarts in the box slammed Sterling’s integrity, and vice versa.
Such hypocrisy is to be expected; tribalism is blinding.
It seems some struggle with the distinction between blatant deception in the form of simulation and the age-old technique of drawing a foul.
In Kane’s case, he knew all he had to do was get to the ball before Kepa and that would be enough.
The Spaniard’s momentum was such that he was always going to make contact with the Spurs forward, it was just a matter of whether he played the ball beforehand.
Could Kane have vaulted Kepa? Perhaps.
But why would he do that when he has successfully drawn a foul in the box? He had every right to capitalise on Kepa’s mistake.
As for Salah, the Egyptian successfully got goal side of Pascal Gross and knew a foul from behind in such a position was likely.
In cocking his leg to shoot, he enticed a low-percentage tackle from the Brighton midfielder, which resulted in a foul.
Sterling was similarly successful.
The Man City winger had the run on Bennett and used his acceleration to nip in ahead of the Wolves defender and gain possession.
After that, it was inevitable that Bennett’s delayed response would take him into contact with Sterling, knocking the England international off balance.
Both Salah and Sterling could have made efforts to stay on their feet, but that doesn’t change the fact both were fouled in the box — a penalty being the correct outcome.
In December, Salah demonstrated he is capable of staying on his feet when a golden chance to score presents itself with his second goal against Bournemouth.
Sterling’s pace and instinctive body positioning have proven effective in winning penalties for Man City.
Only Jamie Vardy and Wilfried Zaha (12) have won more spot-kicks in the Premier League since Sterling (11) signed for City in 2015.
Five Liverpool league penalties have come from fouls on Salah since the winger signed from Roma in the summer of 2017.
Kane’s tumble against Chelsea procured the only penalty of his making in the same time span.
Knowing when to beat a man and when to draw a foul is an essential skill for any attack-minded players, particularly quick wingers like Salah and Sterling.
Eden Hazard and the aforementioned Zaha are masters at luring in opponents and tempting them into to a stray lunge.
Drawing fouls is a skill, so it makes sense that Sterling and Salah – two of the league’s very best player – are good at it.
It benefits the team and it certainly isn’t diving, so why the criticism?
Call it gamesmanship if you want, but not cheating.
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