Why "He had a right to go down" is the worst phrase in football

Is football becoming too soft? Tom Hancock delves into why this phrase has become popular within the footballing world - and for all the wrong reasons

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"He had a right to go down."

Of all the nigglingly infuriating clichés that litter the language of modern football, it’s got to be the worst. And it’s in danger of becoming normalised to the point that it’s genuinely believed – that is if it hasn’t already.

Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Cardiff in April brought Mohamed Salah under the spotlight once again, as he won a penalty under the hapless manhandling of Sean Morrison. There was little doubt that the Bluebirds skipper had committed the foul, but it took Salah’s going to ground in expertly theatrical fashion for Martin Atkinson to point to the spot. Neil Warnock described the Egyptian’s dramatic finale as “a 9.9 Tom Daley job.” He wasn’t far off.

David Preece – the former Aberdeen and Darlington goalkeeper turned coach and writer – was straight on the case, tweeting: “Daft by Morrison. Dive by Salah. Both can be true.” Try telling that to most of the respondents, whose replies ranged from politely but firmly opposed, to “Are you on crack?”. Granted, some did agree with Preece, but the reaction mostly offered up a snapshot of wider sentiment regarding the issue.

Among the more common arguments in cases such as the Salah incident is that referees don’t blow if the fouled player stays on his feet. As generalisations go, it does have some foundation, but does questionable officiating give players the right to unashamedly fling themselves to the turf?

No. Advocating that kind of behaviour is the start of a very slippery slope. Suggesting that someone has the right to go down implies that they’re choosing to do so. Going down by choice is, by definition, diving. Simulation. Cheating.

See, if a player blatantly goes over without being so much as brushed by an opponent, they’re rightly berated – by the incensed defender standing over them, critical commentators and pundits, and apoplectic fans alike. So why is it then, seemingly, totally fine for them to embarrassingly hit the deck the moment there’s the slightest touch involved?

What’s more, contact plus tumble doesn’t automatically and categorically equal foul. Fouls and dives are not mutually exclusive, and it’s reassuring to see some referees punish the latter rather than just let the former take precedence. Turning attention away from the top flight and looking at League One, Peterborough’s Marcus Maddison and Wycombe’s Scott Kashket were both yellow carded for simulation in such circumstances during the 2018/19 run-in.

Few will never have seen the sight of Argentina star Claudio Caniggia at Italia ‘90, determinedly trying to remain upright as Cameroon players took lumps out of him, only falling under Benjamin Massing’s borderline assault of a kick. They don’t come as resolute as that anymore, but if they did, one can imagine the outrage. Far more than just having a right to go down, any Caniggia of today would probably be lambasted for having the audacity to stay on their feet. That’s where this ‘right to go down’ nonsense is heading.

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