The Antagonist - Defoe joins the ranks of footballing cheats

27 August 2010 06:41

As Jermain Defoe wheeled away after scoring Tottenham's second and decisive goal against Young Boys on Wednesday night, my thoughts turned to that emotional night in Paris last November when the Republic of Ireland were robbed of the chance to qualify for a World Cup Final place by the notorious 'Hand of Frog'.

Events that night led to a prolonged, vicious personal attack on the culprit, Thierry Henry, and even provoked an emergency meeting of the FIFA executive committee to decide whether or not sanctions against Henry or France were appropriate.

The link, of course, is that Defoe blatantly controlled the ball with his hand before clinically dispatching the ball into the corner of the Young Boys net and then guiltily eyeballed the linesman for several seconds before he realised he'd got away with it and continued with his ecstatic celebrations.

In a post-match interview, Defoe more or less admitted the offence but justified it by suggesting that sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't. This appeared to be light-heartedly accepted by the interviewer and glossed over by the ITV pundits in the studio.

No-one at the time, or since, has castigated Defoe for his transgression. No emergency meeting of FIFA has been called and the matter, no doubt, will be quickly forgotten amidst the excitement of Spurs progress towards the land of milk and honey.

The expression, 'double standards' immediately comes to mind.

The stakes on Wednesday may not have been quite so high as in Paris but tell that to the Young Boys board who will know that a place in the group stages of the Champions League would have been worth £20 million. It is hardly a case of 'it didn’t really matter'.

If you consider that Henry's handball was committed by the player providing the assist rather than by the goal scorer himself, it makes even less sense that the 'crime' was considered so much more worthy of outrage than Defoe's.

If we cast our minds back in time, this rather hypocritical, biased attitude towards cheating in the football arena throws up many other inconsistencies.

From an English viewpoint, perhaps the most vilified 'cheat' was Diego Maradona and his 'Hand of God' goal but what about Michael Owen's outrageous dive against Argentina in 2002 or Gary Lineker's equally dramatic plunge to earth against Cameroon in 1990? Both led to successfully converted penalties and, subsequently, England's advancement in those respective tournaments at the expense of their wronged opponents. Imagine the outrage in this country if the 'boot had been on the other foot'.

Cheating is endemic in the game just as it is in cricket, rugby and many other games where the stakes are high and winning is everything.

Of course, there are a few sports where honesty is still an inherent feature.

A snooker player will often own up to touching a ball when bridging it for a shot even though to the naked eye the contact was imperceptible. Golfers have a deeply ingrained moral code of conduct, the breaching of which would be considered unthinkable even at the highest levels.

These are, however, anomalies in a sporting world that tolerates deception as long as it furthers the chosen cause.

Unless football introduces comprehensive video technology, and/or retrospective penalties to discourage law breakers or, in the unlikely event that players, en masse, suddenly become born again evangelists, breaking the rules will continue.

We just have to accept it with the mindset that, 'you win some, you lose some'.

On Wednesday, Spurs were the benefactors of sharp practice. Next week they are just as likely to be the victims.

Defoe, Owen and Lineker were no less culpable in this hoodwinking culture than Henry or Maradona; it's just that we chose to condone them because their actions achieved the end product we craved.

After all, as W.C Fields once said, "Anything worth having is a thing worth cheating for".

Source: DSG

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