The English Premier League reached the half-way point today. Everton won at Reading 2-0 and moved into eighth place. Andy Johnson scored one goal and assisted on the other. It was Johnson’s seventh goal of the year (a respectable number at this juncture) but also his first since late September.
Earlier in the week Everton and Johnson won a different kind of victory. They forced an apology from Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho who had called Johnson a “diver.”
Mourinho, who hails from Portugal, is probably the best club soccer coach in the world. A few years ago, he won the European Championship with Porto, an unfashionable Portuguese team. He then moved to England where he immediately molded Chelsea’s “foreign legionaires” into champions. At the same time, his abrasive style (coupled with his success) made him the least popular man in English football. Indeed, Mourinho seems to have running feuds with much of the league, especially with former reigning top-jerk coaches Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United and Arsene Wenger of Arsenal.
Until last Sunday, however, his relations with Everton were good. In fact, our left back (Nuno Valente) agreed to come to Everton from Portugal on the advice of Mourinho, his former coach.
But the “diving” charge changed all of that. Diving occurs when a player goes down under slight or no contact in the penalty box hoping to win a penalty kick. Such kicks are converted at a rate of maybe 75 or 80 percent. Diving is a form of cheating, but there’s a fine line here. If a player is fouled but not badly enough to make him go down, he may still lose a scoring opportunity because of the contact. But the referee will almost never award a penalty kick unless the player goes down. Thus, by staying on his feet after contact, the player may lose a legitimate penalty kick award on an infraction by the defense that has cost him the opportunity to score from open play.
Charges of diving, therefore, are not made lightly. And a reputation for diving can be near-fatal for a forward like Johnson who relies on speed, deception, and ball control in the penalty box for his goals. Referees will develop a presumption against awarding penalty kicks. Defenders will take advantage of the presumption to knock the victom off stride when he has a chance to score. At 5 feet 7 inches, Johnson isn’t going to score many with his head, so he needs some protection from referees when he has the ball at his feet.
Mourinho’s charge against Johnson was clearly erroneous. The tape showed that he went down legitimately and in fact was trying to avoid contact that might have won him a cheap penalty. Everton complained bitterly about Mourinho. It brought “charges” against him with the league and even threatened to sue.
After seeing the film, Mourinho made a full apology to Johnson. He also praised Everton. He praised the job our coach David Moyes is doing, as well as the club’s great tradition and the fabulous atmosphere at Goodison Park. All of this is music to the ears of Evertonians. It also happens to be true.
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