The Joe Royle column

Graham Poll may have outraged one or two with his opinions but I can see the sense of referees keeping a little black book mentally of players who dive – and we all know who they are – the fans know, the managers know and the referees know.

Graham Poll may have outraged one or two with his opinions but I can see the sense of referees keeping a little black book mentally of players who dive – and we all know who they are – the fans know, the managers know and the referees know. So until such time as they are stopped they will carry on.

His comments last week about simulation intrigued me as I have felt for a long time that referees should note players they see on television or in games diving and then not give them penalties when they are in charge of their games, unless it is tantamount to assault.

If a player has conned a referee once he will do it again. I know people will say you should not prejudge a player but until we rid the game of diving we might have to.

A lot of players are so good at it you don't know yourself until you have seen it again on tape, so what chance has the poor referee?


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If I saw players diving for penalties I would not give them one next time unless it was clear-cut.

Diving may not be new, my old friend Francis Lee was probably the founder and I can see him grinning now in his roguish way. They used to call him the new Chinese striker Lee Won Pen at Manchester City.

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But there is a new rash and we can't carry on complaining about it unless we do something to change it.

I would also like the PFA to warn players not to dive, though I appreciate that is not necessarily their mandate. They are there to protect players, not adopt a holier than thou attitude.

But we either accept it is part of the game or do something to stamp it out.

As a manager I would never encourage our players to go over in non-contact situations. If they are touched that is different, I'm talking about non-contact and trying to con the referees.

HOW wonderful to see the flags, the banners, rosaries and so many people praying for Diego Maradona in Argentina as he lays in hospital seriously ill. We have to hope he comes through this.

Equally it is always a shame to see such an idol in disrepair and it is no secret he has been abusing his body with drugs and alcohol for some time now.

The drug abuse started when he was playing in Italy.

We all wish him well and for anyone who has watched football over the past 30 years he would be in any top five of players, and for many people he would be No. 1.

He will always be reviled in this country for the 'Hand of God' goal but people overlook the other goal in that World Cup game, which was pure genius. It is a dying art to go past people with the ball the way he did.

The amazing thing to me is the contrast in attitude to celebrity in Argentina compared to this country. Over there he is still regarded as a God, for all that he has done. Whereas we see in England with David Beckham how it seems we can't wait to put people up on a pedestal so we can then knock them down.

We have had George Best with his problems.

George was the first football celebrity, before that footballers got on the bus with the fans to the ground. I'm not putting myself in Besty's category but on my debut I had to catch two buses before getting on the team coach to get to Blackpool.

When I was playing for Everton and England I lived in a house with a school-teacher one side and a bus-driver on the other and there was nothing wrong in that.

Nowadays footballers live in stockbroker belts.

There are great benefits but there are also dangers and we at Ipswich pride ourselves on guiding young players the right way, but equally you can see straight away who is likely to stray and who will take everything on board.

As the hand-ball showed there was something in Maradona and perhaps that meant he got into things that Gary Lineker or Michael Owen would not.

I will always remember Maradona for the shimmy, the change of pace and the fantastic left foot. That was the genius that is Maradona, so get well soon.

ONE of the most puzzling sales of the season to me was Real Madrid selling Claude Makelele to Chelsea. I'm not saying he is a totally world-class player but he was certainly a top-class artisan in a team full of artists and they seemed a lot more solid when he was prowling in front of their back four.

The make up of Real Madrid now is fantastic when they have the ball but being a back four member there now is tantamount to being in our back four.

They are a dream when they have the ball and a nightmare when they have not – sound familiar?

History will tell you that great teams are built on great defences and I did say the other week how I didn't think this Arsenal back four were the best at Highbury, but the statistics make a liar of me.

Chelsea's back four has been every bit as mean, apart from Tuesday, and perhaps Manchester United have slipped lately because they don't have a Pallister/Bruce partnership.

Like ourselves they have struggled with injuries at the back, and they lost Rio Ferdinand, but they have got Wes Brown coming back.

The reaction by the fans at Real Madrid is typical world-wide now where supporters expect their team to be the best and always do better.

The Real Madrid fans just want to see a team in all-white winning and to see them blow their lead in La Liga and go out of the Champions' League has all been too much for them and they have forced the team to the hills.

EVERYONE will be selecting their player of the year, at club or nationally and for me you can't look past Thierry Henry. The variety of goals (except headers) and the amount that he has scored is terrific and he is an exceptionally talented player.

He is truly world-class and I always feel world-class has a rider on it that says 'very quick' – and that is exactly what he is.

He is very clever about how he uses it and it doesn't matter if you try to defend deep or, as Leeds did, have a high line which was suicidal.

Frank Lampard has also had a fantastic season but the hardest thing in the game is to stick the ball in the net. I made a case last week for Frank and Steven Gerrard to be an England pairing and that would be a great foundation for an English-style football team that is high on technique and still has the old fashioned virtues of hard work and physical strength.

Not that I'm suggesting that to Mr Abramovich if he has not already thought of it.

But for me it has to be Thierry Henry.

WELL done to Francis Jeffers for going to Davis Moyes and saying sorry. You have to be a big man to say sorry but he has seen two doors close on him, at Arsenal and Everton, and has had a think about it and listened to whoever advised him.

And well done to Moyes too, after he put him on the bench immediately.

Personally I have never believed in a leper colony and believe that if you pay players you play them, but I have seen other instances at clubs when players have been put out to seed because they disagreed with the manager.

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