by Chris Tobin

Tony Pulis, Stoke City manager and all-round football aficionado finds himself surprisingly as some sort of “Football” authority this morning; a protector of rules and fair play, a beacon for all in the war on diving. Two weeks ago Pulis was unhappy with Chelsea and in particular players going to ground with the ease of a sack of potatoes being placed on the floor from a height.

This week he would turn his attention to Luis Suarez as the Liverpool and Uruguay front man would once again find himself charged by media and football fans with diving. It is a charge that sticks like glue and not just with those outside the hallowed grounds of Anfield, remembering always that Liverpool fans are ultimately football fans, indeed custodians of “The beautiful game”; the intelligent ones, those not blinded by tribalism and Fergie-style indignation at anything seen as a personal slur on themselves or their club.

Luis Suarez is a fantastic footballer and a great showman. However, he lets not only himself down he also lets down those fans and supporters who seem to constantly find themselves having to defend their hero, at times in the face of what would seem to those outside of Liverpool Football Club, indefensible.  What Suarez needs to understand and perhaps appreciate is his standing amongst pundits, media and opposing supporters. It is “Public enemy number 1” and some will not be content until he is driven out of the English game and banished from these shores. They have indeed said as much.

Let us for a moment return to Mr Pulis and his Stoke team. Against Chelsea both Branislav Ivanovic and Oscar were guilty of equally poor diving on a par with this latest Suarez dive; the difference is the approach from the British media. Match of The Day had an approach of laughter and nothing was discussed by its pundits, the Pulis interview where he stated his anger and how they should be banned was not even aired, and as for the press the following day – nothing. Yes that’s correct, not one mention let alone a back page spread with the headline “BANNED” or “DIVER”. A quite different approach then when it is Luis Suarez.

Let me give my unbiased opinion. Ban them, ban them all and not only that if it is found that a player has indeed managed to con a referee, then those points must be deducted from the cheating team. It would soon stop. I can only really deal with Suarez as he is my team’s player, a player who has probably cost us four goals this season where he has been fouled for stonewall penalties, where his reputation has gone before him. Say what you want but he has rightfully earned that reputation with his previous antics of the Tom Daley variety. Referees have cheated him and the club on those grounds.

If we are to in some way deal with the problem of diving – a subsidiary of cheating – we must also look at those paragons of sporting fair play and all round pub team Stoke City and indeed the self- styled  protector of “The Beautiful Game” Tony Pulis.

A self-deflector of expert proportions Pulis is a man who perhaps should be looking toward his own team’s thuggery and what some would describe as cheating behaviour. Robert Huth’s display against Suarez was the worst case of cheating and rule breaking that has been seen on a football field in a long time. Tony Pulis should take a long hard look at his own player’s behaviour and his team’s approach before trying to confront the issues of diving. Suarez’ dive is inexcusable, however, if a player is constantly being dragged to ground, stamped upon, thrown around, kneed in the back and the perpetrator of such thuggish behaviour is not held accountable by referees – what is then expected in response to such little protection? Players are awaiting the next act of foul play with a knowledge that over reaction may well be the only chance of bringing this to a blatantly under-performing official’s attention.

You can imagine Stoke players going out with the intention of stopping such gifted players from indeed playing, led from the top from coaches and manager with a philosophy built around destruction and flagrant abuse of the rules. So is one cheating moment worse than 20 or 30 cheating moments? Defenders are seen as clever – “ He knew he had to stop him” – was a line used when Stokes Dean Whitehead chopped through Raheem Sterling. Should this type of behaviour be also banned Mr Pulis or indeed is it accepted because of the honesty in its brutality?

What type of manager is Tony Pulis when constantly we are told what a wonderful job he has done and continues to do at Stoke City – a falsehood in itself when you compare the resources he has had at his disposal over recent seasons. His ability to deflect attention away from his own record as a manager reminds me similarly of Sam Allardyce – both self-promoters with little substance when challenged or their actual records scrutinised and add to that list the latest amongst this type of manager – Alan Pardew, but I digress.

Over the last five seasons Stoke City and Pulis are the 3rd highest net spenders per season in the Premier League. Yes that’s correct with no fudging of data or figures. They are 3rd. More than Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham or Arsenal. So what have Stoke fans got for such spending? A side akin to a Sunday league park side, but this is “The Stoke way” and this band of supporters are compelled to defend such dross in the realisation of staying afloat in the Premier League whilst other mediocre mid-table clubs have fallen by the way side.

One only has to look at the Premier League Fair Play leagues from previous seasons to see the disparity from Pulis’ comments on cheating and his teams very own approach to this matter. Foul play, rule breaking, cheating whatever words you choose to use to describe what is known as; not being fair – Stoke City and Tony Pulis are always at the bottom or toward the bottom in this league. Indeed they’ve finished bottom of the pile three times in 6 years. Hardly filling the consumer with confidence that Stoke will give you an honest battle for your hard earned when having to watch them as an opposing team.

Tony Pulis quotes on Suarez –

“You have got Suarez falling over in the box second half, which was really, really disappointing,” Pulis said.

“I think that should be highlighted, as I have said before. I’ve been on about and banging the drum about people who fall over and in one incident in the second half, it’s an embarrassment.”

“The FA should be looking at this. Give him three games (of suspension) and he will stop falling over.”

He has also said in the past when Robert Huth was sent off at Sunderland last season – a decision he disagreed with suggesting again that David Meyler had simulated or dived in the incident that saw Huth get his red card –

“I think it is something we seriously have to look at. For me, when players do that, it is cheating another professional and they are all part of the same union”

I think Pulis is missing a very delicate point here, as a striker or attacker if you are aware that a defender is constantly going through the back of you or just constantly fouling you, what you do if you are clever, you await the next challenge coming your way. When lumps of wood like Huth attempt to intimidate you with strong challenges, and just before you get clattered one more time from him you jump out of the way to enhance the fact you have been fouled. However, if the defender does not go through with his intended thuggish behaviour – tough it’s still his intent that has him in trouble. If you don’t want this to happen Mr Pulis then ask your player to stop crashing through fellow professional’s intent on doing them damage and in return they may stop jumping out of the way, and your player being booked or ultimately sent off.

Interestingly he has no opinion on a fellow union member blatantly stamping on the chest of another member of such union, in the process leaving stud marks showing on that player’s stomach.

My overall advice for Tony Pulis and Stoke City supporters is this – If you live in a glass house don’t throw too many stones as there is a possibility you may break a window.

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