Another Tottenham Hotspur match, another round of breathless exhortations from pundits and football fans suggesting that Dele Alli is a cheating diver. And honestly, it’s getting harder to fully refute them.
Dele went to ground twice in the box today in Spurs’ 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, within minutes of each other. In the 71st minute he went down after a tackle from behind by Patrick van Aanholt. Three minutes later he went to ground over Wayne Hennessey in the 74th minute while carrying the ball towards goal. Kevin Friend waved play on in both cases.
Dele certainly has a reputation in the league amongst football observers for diving. He’s already picked up three yellow cards for simulation this season, but there have also been a number of incidents where he was legitimately hacked down in the box with no call. That’s the dilemma posed by a player like Dele who looks for contact, and it makes defending him a little tricky sometimes.
Whatever you think of the two incidents involving Dele (and honestly there were at least two other penalty shouts for Tottenham in this match that Kevin Friend decided not to call), the managers of both Palace and Spurs have defended Dele against charges of persistent diving.
First, Roy Hodgson drew on his experience managing Dele for England to defend him against cheating allegations in pre-match comments.
“We do our team talk about Tottenham and discuss their players but we certainly don’t discuss Dele Alli and diving, because I don’t think he does. Simple as that. He runs with the ball and gets knocked over.
”In the time I was working with him, I saw no aspects to his play or to his character that suggested cheating in any way whatsoever.
“Yes, he will get knocked over in the penalty area, he’ll get fouled. Some will be given as penalties and some won’t be, and when the penalty isn’t given, people will say he dived, that’s the nature of football today.
”But he’s no cheat and he doesn’t dive, that’s for sure.”
Pochettino suggested that Dele has unfairly become the focus for diving in football right now because it’s simpler to just point to a player who goes down often and say ‘He’s a cheater.’
“He is an easy target for everyone, Dele. He is an easy target and is surrounded. I think Roy Hodgson did very well in his press conference before the game, I think we need to stop to think too much about him, or to help people who have this reputation.
“It is his game, he plays like this. He is so competitive but I think because he has this focus sometimes other players are worse than him and nothing happens because Dele is an easy target.”
So let’s look at the two plays that are causing all the kerfluffle. First, here’s the incident between Dele Van Aanholt in the 71st minute.
There’s definitely contact there, and to my mind that’s a penalty. You might be able to argue that the contact isn’t enough to warrant Kevin Friend pointing to the spot, but Van Aanholt does hook Dele’s left leg as he moves forward, and I don’t think Dele goes down on purpose here, nor is he trying to initiate contact. Cock your head and squint and it’s maybe not a foul, but it’s definitely not a dive.
Here’s the other one two minutes later:
LOL. That’s a dive, without question, and I’m a little surprised that Dele didn’t pick up his fourth booking for simulation. Dele takes a touch to try and poke the ball around Hennessey, but then immediately starts going over top of the keeper even before the contact is initiated. Yes, this is one of those situations where most players will probably try and get a call, but in this case Dele pretty much makes a meal of it. He’d have been better off trying to round Hennessey instead of looking for the contact. It’s totally simulation, and while Kevin Friend got the no-call correct, Palace fans are probably within their rights to be upset that Dele wasn’t booked.
In the end, based on the evidence put forth during today’s match, both sides are correct. Dele is a player who goes down in the box often. Often, it’s because he gets hacked, because he’s a very good footballer and not doing so means that he’ll probably score.
Too often, however, it’s because Dele goes down either softly or without any contact whatsoever. That is a problem if for no other reason than that this reputation will no doubt mean that when he is legitimately brought down in the box, there’s now an even greater chance that the match officials will swallow their whistles.
Look, I do think that the attention heaped upon Dele is a little unfair. Rightly or wrongly, he’s now become the poster child for diving in the Premier League, which will put every future incident under intense scrutiny, probably for years. And while there’s no doubt Dele has earned his reputation, it’s still a bit unfair when there are plenty of other examples of players going down easy to gain an advantage to choose from. Here, for example, is Jack Wilshire blatantly swan-diving in Arsenal’s League Cup final loss to Manchester City today.
Will the outrage to this be the same as if Alli had done that? pic.twitter.com/ExlJ0BIRQP— The Spurs Brain (@TheSpursBrain) February 25, 2018
The simplest solution would be for Dele to just stop looking for contact. The end result will be a lot of hard fouls, but at least it would be clear that he would have earned the whistles. Either way, as Spurs fans we’re going to have to live with Dele being in the news quite a bit in the future. He’s an enormous part of Tottenham’s offense, and Premier League defenders know it. They also know now that maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to put a little extra mustard into their challenges going forward. At least the matches won’t be boring.