Claiming that players in this part of the world work to some higher ethical code is risible, says Tom English
IN THE wake of Neymar making a meal of a foul to help get Scott Brown sent off at Celtic Park on Tuesday night, Gordon Strachan had a few things to say that made you want to read his comments twice for fear that you took him up wrong the first time.
“You’ve got to remember in South America, that’s accepted,” he said of Neymar’s exaggerated response to Brown’s foolish kick. “In Britain, your mates say: ‘What are you doing, you embarrassed yourself’. I find that very strange, It’s not going to change now. With all that respect and handshake thing, they go through that, then they roll about on the ground. It’s the culture.”
Suggesting that diving and play-acting is more a part of the South American culture than the European – or British – culture is a moot point, but claiming that players in this part of the world work to some higher ethical code when it comes to calling out a cheating team-mate is risible stuff. How often have you seen British players diving? Very often. How often have you seen them admonished for it by their own team-mates? Very rarely.
That’s a cosy generalisation, but it wasn’t the worst of it, not by a long way. It was daft enough to talk in simplistic terms about all of these melodramatic South Americans (as opposed to, presumably, these fine upstanding Europeans) but there was also a bizarre denigration of a continent, whether it was intended or just plain clumsy. This stuff is not typical of Strachan at all, but he should have clarified precisely what he meant after the quotes appeared on Thursday.
“If you have been in South America, where these people come from, you will do anything not to go back there and you’ll do anything to make a living. It’s very hard to understand unless you’ve gone over there and seen where people come from. I hope it won’t come into British football.”
These people? Who are “these people”? Neymar, obviously. And Dani Alves. Adriano, Oscar, Paulinho, Thiago Silva, Dante, David Luiz? All Brazilians, all South Americans. These people? Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Pablo Zabaleta. All so desperate to make a living and to avoid the “horror” of having to return to Brazil and Argentina that they are prepared to do anything to avoid going back there? This is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. Imagine if Roy Hodgson, Strachan’s counterpart in England, had said something similar. There would be a diplomatic earthquake. And you can bet your life that there would be a grovelling apology very, very quickly. “These people” is an asinine catch-all and it is poor that Strachan felt it acceptable and justifiable to make such a sweeping statement.
Neymar behaved badly for sure, but, just because he made the most of Brown’s indiscipline, a whole football continent is written off as theatrical and unrestrained in their desire to cheat, to “do anything” to avoid going home to the impoverished towns and cities that Strachan was alluding to. Isn’t it grand that no such places exist in Britain? Isn’t it reassuring that “these people” who try to con referees with their hysterical over-reactions don’t hail from Scotland or England, Ireland or Wales?
“I hope it won’t come into British football,” said Strachan. The Scotland manager needs to get himself on to YouTube. Type in: “Football Cheat – Worst dive of the season, 2008-09” and see who the star of the show is, where he comes from and who he helps get sent off through his grotesque cheating.
Clue: He’s not one of these dodgy South Americans that Strachan seems to have such a problem with.