Wilfried Zaha deserves protection not these absurd diving accusations

first_imgSome Arsenal fans behaved even more absurdly in October, when a penalty was awarded against Granit Xhaka after Zaha tumbled in the box. At Selhurst Park the away fans cried “dive” and wretches on social media later barfed similar claims – and threats and racist cant, according to the player – even after replays and an interview in which Xhaka stated: “It was a clear penalty, I came too late and I touched him. I touched him in the knee.” Some people chose to go with their imaginations instead. That can lead to all sorts of sordid places.Now back to Watford. Their fans have a particular beef with Zaha that dates back to the 2013 Championship play-off final, when Palace beat Watford thanks to a penalty awarded after an indisputable foul on the winger by Marco Cassetti. Except “indisputable” has become an obsolete word. Zaha has been barracked by Watford fans in every meeting since then – and in two of them he was booked for diving, which accounts for half of the four bookings he has received in his career for simulation. Given the number of times he goes down, and the atmosphere of noxious farce created around him, it is surprising referees have not interpreted his falls as dives more often. The forgotten story of … Di Jones and the footballers who died of tetanus Read more Share on Facebook Share on Messenger Twitter Watford Crystal Palace Topics There have probably been times when Zaha has gone down when it would have been possible to stay upright. But that is true of every player in the league, none of whom are subject to similar campaigns of mendacious vengeance. And there have been no occasions – even the four times when he was booked – when it can be said with certainty that Zaha dived, unlike the cases this season of, for example, James Maddison, Neeskens Kebano or Harry Kane MBE.Whether clipped or clobbered, Zaha often knows he is fouled not merely because he is too fast or skilful for opponents but as part of a deliberate strategy. Here is what Watford’s captain Troy Deeney told BBC Radio 5 Live in September about his team’s approach to dealing with Zaha in the previous month’s match at Vicarage Road, when Étienne Capoue was shown a yellow card for a foul that even the Frenchman admitted could have resulted in a red, although he insisted it was accidental: “You take it in turns kicking him. I know no one wants to hear that but you go: ‘you hit him this time, you hit him the next time’. You don’t have the same player tackle him because you know you’re going to get booked.” Wilfried Zaha Share on Pinterest Scarlett Johansson told recently of the difficulty, nay futility, of stopping people using artificial intelligence software to graft her head on to other people’s bodies in pornographic videos. In an interview with the Washington Post she suggested that although she finds these “deepfake” films disturbing, she knows of no legal way of preventing their spread. She partly consoles herself with the knowledge that at least most “people assume it’s not actually me in a porno, however demeaning it is”. Her main concern was to warn of the danger that such software – free and convincing, apparently – poses to more vulnerable people. It is a ghastly state of affairs. Share via Email comment Harry the Hornet was in hot water after twice diving on the floor at the final whistle in an attempt to mock Wilfred Zaha. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Share on LinkedIn Pinterest Read more As for what might be going through the minds of people who watch computer-generated porn of fake Scarlett Johanssons, there is no need to wonder about that here. But the thought process is similar to the one that many fans have involving Wilfried Zaha.Every week supporters get their metaphorical kicks pretending they are watching Zaha acting when they know full well he is not. Usually, in fact, Zaha is receiving literal kicks, on top of verbal abuse. He will probably be subjected to both with particular relish on Saturday, when Watford visit Selhurst Park.Zaha is one of the Premier League’s most persecuted players, partly because lots of people pretend he is not persecuted at all. Eden Hazard – and only Eden Hazard – is fouled more often than Zaha, who, in the last four seasons, has been booted, shoved, pulled or whacked 387 times in the Premier League, nearly 100 times more than the next most assailed (Alexis Sánchez). And that only includes the times the referee has spotted the offence. Yet every time Zaha hits the ground he is accused of making something up, even when fans know their man has attacked him. They just pretend, for titillation or for illegitimate gain, that they are watching something other than what they are watching.At Molineux last week Zaha was booed after being taken out by Ryan Bennett, who became the 66th Premier League player since 2014 to be booked for fouling the Crystal Palace winger. Wolves fans became so fixated with jeering Zaha’s every touch that they did not seem to notice when Palace’s James McArthur perpetrated an obvious piece of theatre in the same game. Share on Twitter Nonetheless, we can be sure Watford fans will shout “dive” every time Zaha hits the grass on Saturday and the player will be jeered if he shows his anger. Maybe he will even be goaded into being sent off, as nearly happened at Huddersfield in September, when he was booked for an angry barge into Florent Hadergjonaj after a late tackle by Matthias Jørgensen went unpunished. Match of the Day pundits said earlier this season that Zaha should just get on with it and consider himself lucky he did not play in the 1980s, which is about as helpful as saying one should never complain about a bad car mechanic because back in the day people only travelled by mule.It is sadly fitting and quite funny that the only person reprimanded for making accusations against Zaha is a man dressed up as a giant insect. Harry the Hornet, the Watford mascot who stood down after being upbraided for twice making mock-dives at Zaha, will not be at Selhurst Park this weekend. But various other clowns probably will. One day Zaha will be seriously injured – on or off the pitch – and maybe then the laughter will stop and folks will accept he deserves proper protection. The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email. The best young players in the Championship this season Facebook Share on WhatsApp Reuse this contentlast_img

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