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Culture clash

How perceptions differ in the Premier League and La Liga

Guillem Balague - Guillem Balague Posted 2nd February 2012 view comments

Thanks to everyone who took the time to leave a comment and get involved in the debate prompted by last week's blog on contrasting cultural attitudes to the game in England and Spain.

I'm delighted that so many of you understood, tackled and debated the essence of the points I was trying to raise: essentially trying to come to terms with our differing subjective opinions on the game and accepting that we all have different priorities in terms of what is good and bad about the game we all love.

Why are attitudes to diving different in England and Spain?

Why are attitudes to diving different in England and Spain?

It's disappointing that some people missed the point entirely and concluded that this was a debate about which league is better than the other - which in a roundabout way highlights the point made in the original blog about the fact that it's frustrating when individuals cannot just enjoy a foreign league while accepting that cultural differences mean that the game is played and governed by principles that differ from their own world view.

It's little wonder that some fans have been left with a negative view of what is one of sport's most fascinating rivalries

Guillem Balague
Quotes of the week

The high number of responses demonstrates just how much La Liga has become a part of the British football TV diet; while the quality and knowledge of so many of the responses shows the extent to which Sky Sports La Liga watchers have adopted the Spanish game as their own.

The world is shrinking and we're now able to settle down in front of our TVs and enjoy a live game of football from another country or continent with greater frequency than ever before. That's exposing us to different cultures and provides a 90 minute window on another country's way of life: what a wasted opportunity it would be if we simply saw it as a chance to argue about how much better 'our' way of doing things is.

So many of you grasped that and taught me a lot about your differing opinions. I'd love to respond to every single one, but that's impossible; so here's a few to keep the debate going.

I watched the Real V Barca game and was no more critical of Alves diving than I am when Drogba does the same; no more critical of Pepe's stamp than Balotelli's. I didn't think any less of Mancini for waving a card than I did of Rooney for demanding the same on the pitch. I think the problem is that some old English heads remember the days when diving wasn't the norm in England and wish it was still the same, but we have to accept that these days, English players are just as capable at this art as their continental cousins; much like card waving and feigning injury. It isn't so much the English fans that talk up the Premier League, but rather the British press. Paul W (Tottenham Hotspur fan)

GUILLEM REPLIES: I'm so glad you mentioned the press Paul, because I think we (the media) have all been guilty in focusing on the negatives, rather than the positives, in these recent clasicos. There have been some fantastic football matches played between Real Madrid and Barcelona since Mourinho arrived and, personally speaking, I have some wonderful memories of the cup final where Madrid offered a new more offensive version, or the Spanish Supercup when Messi played with "flip flops" as Xavi put it, having just returned from holidays.

But unfortunately, TV audiences are given an edited, 'constructed,' subjective view of the game that is very different from the view you would have had if you'd been at the actual match. The media's focus has been on the arguments and disputes between players and coaches, on the recriminations and bitterness between games, rather than on tactics and technique, for example.

It's little wonder that some fans have been left with a negative view of what is one of sport's most fascinating rivalries. Distracting us from Barcelona's brilliance, knocking them off their pedestal, was all part of Mourinho's strategy when he took over at the Bernabeu and he had a clear aim of shifting the focus from their virtues onto their fallibilities. We've all been guilty of being drawn into that game, but that's not to say that Mourinho is entirely to blame. The media have also played their part in highlighting the bad and the ugly and ignoring the good.


We do love our double standards in this country. When Eduardo and Ramsey had their legs snapped by English players, all we heard was essentially: 'he's a nice lad' - as if it makes any difference; the players had their legs broken by impact tackles, it shouldn't be about demonising people, but demonising these poor challenges is essential if we are to prevent it happening again!....No one likes diving, but why we are more concerned with stopping that than we are with stopping 'dangerous' tackles and even violence is beyond me. We care more about the hard-man image of the game than we do about fairness and the safety of the people participating. I'm quite sure a large proportion of English people would gladly accept it if one of our players dived to win a penalty in a world cup final - the question has been asked on a popular radio show a couple of years ago, and gained a largely positive response. David Jones (Arsenal)

Exactly how I've felt about this whole issue. It seems as if people only watch the clasicos and make their judgment on not just the two clubs, but La Liga as a whole with such a small sample size. Busquets gets one of the worst reps of any player I can remember in history. The fact that he's constantly grouped with Pepe, whose "cheating" is of a violent and possibly career ending type, is such a joke. Josep P. (Barcelona)

GUILLEM REPLIES: David makes some good points and highlights the cultural differences we've been exploring. I'd say to everyone who comments or tweets that they are sickened by the sight of a Spanish player diving or feigning injury, ask yourself if you've ever written something similar with regard to a dangerous tackle, or a cynical tackle designed to simply stop an opponent from completing a run or breaking through on goal.

A lot of people are horrified by diving, to the point where they say they cannot watch a game anymore - yet in Spain, there are just as many who might feel that way about players physically harming others; or players who use 'force' to prevent the more tactical and technical players from flourishing: as Josep's comment seems to illustrate.

As David says, the physical is prioritised in Britain - in Spain it's the technical. There is a very different cultural viewpoint in Spain that is tricky to explain, but it relates to that point. In England, dating back to a time when sports - including their rules and conventions - were developed on the playing fields of the nation's finest public schools, a strong sense of 'fair play' developed. Sport was a means of conditioning youth into being fitter and stronger - but also more disciplined.

In these environments, respect for the structure of society and an interest in maintaining the status quo was very strong - as you'd expect amongst the privileged classes. In Spain, we have a cultural tradition of the 'picaresque': folk heroes in literature who get by through living on their wits, lovable rogues who make their way up the social ladder through a bit of trickery here and there, subverting authority, challenging the dominant order.

For a whole variety of historical reasons, there is less of a respect for authority in Spain, less of an acceptance of hierarchy. It's partially because of that we are more accepting of the idea that it's ok to use a bit of guile and cunning to get one over the authorities and we aren't so critical of someone bending the rules to succeed. If that authority is the referee, so be it.

Of course, football is seen as a working class sport in England, but the rules we're written by the established order - and it's a respect for those rules that permeates fans revulsion at anything seen as subversive. Before anyone accuses me of defending cheating, I'm not - merely trying to understand differing attitudes. When Fernando Torres first came to England, he knew - and was advised - that he wouldn't necessarily have to eliminate what you call 'gamesmanship' from his game; merely that he would have to behave differently as in England 'going down easily is preferred to diving; where clutching you ankle and grimacing - while still appearing to 'take it like a man' is preferable to rolling around when you want the referee to know you've been kicked.

As David points out, British fans and players aren't averse to overlooking a bit of rule bending - or cheating - when it suits. The minute anyone accepts ANY form of cheating, you vacate the moral high ground.

Comments (42)

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Sam Stephen (Tottenham Hotspur fan) says...

Another well written piece Guillem. Most pundits dont look at the complexities behind football and modern day stature. Completely agree that is just a clash of cultures.

Posted 10:52 8th February 2012

Sam B (Chelsea fan) says...

I'm sorry but the EPL is much more entertaining. The Spanish league is too slow, yes the Barca vs. Real games can have a great tempo, yet they seem to be broken up by these petty fouls. We may not be as technical but we provide a good balance of entertainment and skill. I'd also like to highlight the fact that while you do see some diving in the EPL how many English players do you see diving? Paul W states he see's English players flopping about. I completely disagree with this comment, there are definitely players in the EPL that dive, but most of them are foreigners. Ultimately, neither league is perfect and everyone is allowed their own opinion. I do not enjoy the spanish league as I believe it lacks entertainment, I want end to end football with more liberal refereeing (after all this is a man's sport). How many games do you get in La Liga such as the 3-3 draw between Man U and Chelsea? One thing I have to say is I currently live in America and while the only Spanish team shirts you see here are Barca and Real Madrid I see Chelsea, Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham jersey's but also smaller teams like Everton, and Fulham. I think this speaks volumes about how the EPL is seen abroad.

Posted 07:39 8th February 2012

Mike L (Manchester United fan) says...

Nice article guillem, very well put indeed. Busquets is an idiot

Posted 00:27 8th February 2012

George James (Arsenal fan) says...

Guillem I completely agree with your synopsis on the differences between the spanish game and the english game. I must say i was guilty of thinking spanish football was full of foul play and boring to watch. But my opinion has completly changed in the space of a few months. I now preffer spanish football. The change started when I was sat in a bar on holiday with my spanish aunt in pamplona watching the football. I was astounded by her knowledge of tactics and the awarness of players positions and movement especially how the wider players creat so much space and time for the central players to keep the ball and poco poco (little by little) pass thier way throught the defence. She explained to me that when you watch the football in spain i must not watch the spectical or inividuals but look for formations, movements of the ball. How players make the pitch small when deffending and how they make it big when they have possession. As I sat with my cervaca at the bar on a warm night she spoke about much more complicated tactic but everything she explained was so simple to understand. I learnt more from one spanish woman than all the television pudits, coaches, freinds and my english father put together. Spanish football is about being smart. Spanish fans understand that being clever is better than being strong. Spanish football is defintly a reflexion on spanish culture. I can clearly see why spanish people are so passionate about their distinct way of playing the game. As an Englisman i enjoy the difference but I still love a good old meaty tackle.

Posted 18:10 7th February 2012

James Whale (Sunderland fan) says...

i think there is a culture where diving is accepted in places in south america and consider it an art. maybe parts of spain are the same i'm not sure but it's acknowledge it happens. in england diving is just as bad and alot of occasions it's worse. wayne rooney, steven gerrard, frank lampard, john terry, ashley cole and many many british footballers. i support an english team and i admit we have players who dive i.e sebastion larssen did one. but i think all clubs have them. british fans seem to overlook this and blame foreign footballers who make the league a better league. as well all know the british have a poor first touch and aren't dymaic enough to play free flowing football. the british bias is too much

Posted 16:56 7th February 2012

Neil Rutland (West Ham United fan) says...

Can we all just agree on one thing... 'gamesmanship' is a deliberate act to fool/mislead the referee. Cheating is a deliberate act to fool/mislead the referee. Therefore gamesmanship is cheating. No form of cheating is clever, and despite 'sympathising' with cheats because 'we'd all do the same' that doesn't make it any less immoral. If all cheating (or gamesmanship) was viewed in the same light then this debate would not be occuring. So this arguement isn't about cultural differences at all. It is about the world wide issue of of moral poverty. All cheating is cheating, just as all lies are lies no matter how big or small the instances maybe. Perhaps if everyone stopped tolerating these 'little' misdemeanours, whatever shirt the player wears, then the players wouldn't keep seeing how far they can push it and still get supported? Unfortunately for 60 per week to watch, everyone wants their team to win and for that they will excuse almost anything. When the boot is on the other foot they can see it for what it really is. Unfortunately the media perpetuates this myth of cleverly won fouls and intelligent cheating and the massses (not everyone) just plays along. If the world held itself to higher moral standards then this would be reflected in football. Unfortunately the 'win at all costs' mentality on show all over the world (in England and Spain) means that we can all turn a blind eye to a bit of cheating as long as it benefits us, but woe betide the person who perpetrates it against us! How would you feel if someone cheated you at work by saying you did something you didn't? There is no difference between the English and Spanish leagues. It's not cultural at all. They both suffer from the same sickness it is just easier to notice it in someone else than in yourself.

Posted 05:35 7th February 2012

Steven F (Manchester United fan) says...

I have to admit it makes me so angry when I see players dive, but I know as human beings we naturally respond to incentives. In this case the incentive being the 100k + a week that many of the players in the top flight earn or at least have this figure within reasonable reaching distance. Inevitably the higher the incentive to win or be noticed as a player which has had a deciding influence in a game, the more players will be inclined to "cheat". I may be wrong, but it seems to me as the years have gone by and the money involved within football has increased, the more "cheating" has crept in to the game. One of the only ways to stamp this out would also be something which would ruin football, take away how valuable it is for a player to get ahead by any means and this may take away his desire to cheat. This would never happen nor would I want it to happen, so unfortunately we will just have to accept it as part of the game. I couldn't imagine Drogba falling to the ground and risking embarrassment of a whole country, if he knew he was still only going to get 500 quid at the end of the week.

Posted 00:42 7th February 2012

Simon Harrison (Nottingham Forest fan) says...

Hi Guillem There used to be a manager called Brian Clough I'm sure you would of heard of him, well refs used to line up to ref games when he managed Forest simply because he installed a level of respect in his players that when the ref made a decision you do not question it you respect it keep your mouth shut and carry on. This in turn made the refs job easier as he had a level of trust in the players also. i would add in fairness that in those days you could clatter players a little bit more but the point i make is the manager was responsible for instilling respect for refs and themselves and there opponent which i think has been lost throughout football in Europe/World(Uk included). As for Barca /Madrid well i watch most classicos and a fair few in-between and to be fair they tend to be niggly affairs and i would not judge La Liga on those games but there are a couple of the present crop of Barca players who do themselves no favours i recall last season Mascherano going down holding his face when Adebeyor touched his back and this is what most people are talking about when they say he would not of dreamed of doing that at Liverpool which is upsetting that he did and he got the player booked. theres no need for that behaviour, going down easy is something all players in all leagues do but there has to be a limit where you cross a line. any way thanks for a great debate.Simon in mourning for our owner RIP

Posted 21:07 6th February 2012

Dom Shannon (AC Milan fan) says...

Hi Guillem, I'm wondering what your opinion is on Barcelona's drop in form. Personally I believe that there is a lack of balance in the team and a lack of goalscorers. Normally Barcelona would play with three forwards Messi Villa and Pedro all of them being quick and can score goals. Now Fabregas plays instead of Villa and Pedro as a forward, Fabregas not being a natural forward drops deep into midfield and therefore the team has no width and congests the midfield, usually the forwards make diagonal runs in behind defenders but Fabregas has not got the pace to do this. I believe that Barcelona should have bought Rossi and not Sanchez because Rossi is a natural goalscorer and forward while all last year Sanchez played in behind the forwards for Udinese. Three years ago Barcelona had Messi Etoo and Henry a far better attack than now .The philosophy that you should play your best players regardless of the position of the player is ridiculous, the team should have balance which should be the priority.

Posted 19:04 6th February 2012

Jason Ryan (Real Madrid fan) says...

Hi Guillem, living in Ireland means that as a kid you automatically become a fan of one of the big Premier League teams so I've been a fan of English football ever since I started watching the beautiful game. The last few years I was a casual viewer of La Liga, watching the Clasico's and one or two other matches but this season I've made a concerted effort to watch La Liga every bit as much as I watch the Premier League. I've ended up becoming a big fan of the league to the point where I now prefer it over the Premier League. You hear constantly how it is noncompetitive but I've seen the so called "smaller teams" push the big two on a weekly basis, Barcelona's away form is evidence of just how competitive it is and the race for 4th spot and the relegation battle are intriguing. Most of all I prefer the standard of technical football on show, as you say, in England physicality is favoured but, in my opinion, sometimes at the expense of technical prowess. I still watch the Premier League and enjoy the exciting games and I appreciate the nuances that make both leagues and cultures different and I enjoy them both for what they are. I am very glad that I gave La Liga a real chance this season and I think anyone else who gives it a real chance would realise that the league is characterised by diving or fighting, rather it is characterised by technically gifted talents like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Ozil, Alonso, Ander Herrera ect. As you rightly say, if you look beyond the negative slant the media constantly put on the Clasico and instead look at the match as a whole you will see a game between two of the best football teams in the world, producing some sublime football, coached by two of the best managers in the world, constantly tinkering to get the best of eachother. Thanks Guillem for all the good work you do on Sky's La Liga programming.

Posted 17:15 6th February 2012

Mike Knight (Arsenal fan) says...

diving or 'going down easy' and feigning injury is cheating. its pathetic and disgraceful. the fact that commentators and pundits at all condone it is awful. these cheaters, predominantly in Spain, should be dealt with in the same way that others cheaters are treated. its as bad as taking performance enhancing drugs or the like. Ban them. P.S. i love to watch Barcelona as much as the next football fan but the way they act, they dont deserve to step out on the pitch let alone be an ambassador for the sport!

Posted 16:57 6th February 2012

Dan Pollock (Crystal Palace fan) says...

I think the biggest problem british football fans have with, certainly the most recent el classico's, is the use of deception to gain an advantage, something you yourself say is part of the spanish game. It's just pure dishonesty and cheating and I can't believe you would defend such a virtue. I'm talking about incidents like Sergio Busquets rolling around with the sole intention to get Thiago Motta sent off in the champions league two years ago, is that acceptable behaviour in Spanish football? I think most decent people in this world pride themselves on honesty, and when a player goes down in a heap and rolls around when hes clearly not hurt (which can only be with the intention to get another player into trouble) I find that absolutely despicable. And nobody in this country likes to see two footed leg breakers, but football is a contact sport and injuries such as that are inevitable... it's not only the premier league that has people getting broken legs. However deception and cheating should not be part of any game, it's not acceptable in any other part of life so why should it be acceptable in sport? Guillem it worries me that you seem to be advocating this kind of behaviour. Furthermore if a player commits a bad foul he is punished accordingly by the ref, those are the rules. At least a 3 game ban for a red card tackle. What is the punishment for busquets contriving to get players sent off? There isn't one and there should be! How hard is it to look at a replay and see that he was trying to con the referee, undermining his authority and the 'repsect' campaign, and then dishing out a ban/fine afterwards.

Posted 15:21 6th February 2012

Michael Brennan (Birmingham City fan) says...

To yop, although correct about english appearences in finals you forget that only two were won, and the three Barca have won in recent years all came against English opposition. Secondly and quite importantly the make up of this Barca side is mainly spanish, the same cannot be said of any of the "English" sides whove made the final recently. Dont confuse financial clout and success.

Posted 14:14 6th February 2012

Ernest Spacco (Arsenal fan) says...

guillem balague , why do u always talk about mourinho in bad ways? u dont like that man i have listing to u many times how do u always know what is in mourinho's mind? has he called u one day to tell u what is in his mind? u are making life hell for him in spane why? are u barca fan?u always since to be in surport of that club why? u should not be in surport of any team be a nice guy lol, thanks

Posted 03:42 6th February 2012

Yop Shleckle (Liverpool fan) says...

Andrew Spence (Real Madrid fan) - You consider the fact that an English team has been in the champions leauge final (the ultimate stage) - 6 out of the last 7 years and then talk. Spain numero 3 in that same time period. Also consider we had liverpool, united, arsenal and chelsea in the final - u lot only Barcelona.Aurevoir amigo. who are ya who are you.

Posted 00:23 6th February 2012

Hassan Majeed (Arsenal fan) says...

Im not saying which league is better because thats not the argument here but the reality is your not going to see arsene wenger poking Sir Alex's eye or Vermaelen rolling on the ground for half the match. Granted the PL has issues e.g. racism and the odd dangerous challenge but these are isolated incidents during the season. Every single El Classico consists of continuous stupidity whether it be Pepe kicking messi or Ramos squaring up to half his international team mates where he deems it necessary. Poor advert for the spanish game, fair to the EPL doesnt reflect bad blood in their high profile matches

Posted 20:50 4th February 2012

Ahmed Rakim (Espanyol fan) says...

Guillem, i have to praise your article week in, week out simply because your knowledge of football is second to none. As a fellow espanyol supporter, i wanted to know about your thoughts on one of our new loan signings, Coutinho. He was destined for big things at inter but never lived up to his hype. Still only 19, do you personally think he's a world-beater in the making, or one of those inevitable south american talents overhyped by certain sections of the media. i would really appreciate it if you can answer. Thanks Bro

Posted 18:43 4th February 2012

Jack Shepherd (Tottenham Hotspur fan) says...

all i have to say is count how many cards have been given against the teams barca are playing when the other team is clearly playing better then them. i watch as many spanish as i do english games , diving is equal , that is untill you watch a team start to get the better of barca then the players start to hit the floor like flies dropping. UEFA will never over turn a red card oh wait hasnt barca had that happen on a number of times. its not cheating when one team is allowed to do it.

Posted 10:06 4th February 2012

Simon Black (Blackburn Rovers fan) says...

i have played the game as a semi-pro/amatuer in the UK for 5/6 yrs & sometimes the attitude of people is ridiculous . Being a winger who's game relied on quick feet n pace, and I was often on the recieving end of hefty challenges. I dont mind this & am aware tackling is an art-form, but wot angers me is when people clip/kick or foul people on purpose thru wild lunges. This type of tackling is not an artform & I deem it pathetic that people resort to this & celebrate it. If i wanted to get my ankles or shins kicked I would have taken up Kick-boxing and not football. For me its a cultural thing & i dont think it is a coincedence that most of the Top premiership sides the most creative player or playmaker is a forigner.....Chelsea-Mata, Man City-Silva, Liverpool-Suarez, Spurs- Modric, Newcastle-Cabaye, Arsenal-Van Persie...the lack of out n out creative players is always a problem for us (England) at the Major tournaments

Posted 17:46 3rd February 2012

Marco Blanco (Barcelona fan) says...

I have lived in Spain and have followed the Premier League for sometime, so I have been able to appreciate both leagues from different perspectives. I am from Sydney, Australia so I have grown up following many sports. I agree that cultural differences affect the way people preceive 'cheating'. I abhor both forms of cheating that have been detailed in these series of articles, being 'diving' in Spain and general 'violence' in Britain. Nevertheless in my opinion, 'sportsmanship' has vanished from football. There are countless examples of unsportsmanship that occur every match that could be argued as 'cheating'. How often do players admit to kicking a ball out when claiming a throw in? How often do players accept that they have committed a foul in general or a bookable offence? How often to players seek to wind down the clock towards the end of the match, by laying on the pitch, being escorted off the field for treatment and then running straight back on the field!? Now while these examples may not be clear examples of cheating for football supporters, for a rugby fan - these are examples of cheating. Whenever a player purposely seeks to deceive the ref, in any form, that is cheating. In addition, how often to players scream at their own team mates in a selfish manner? How often do players celebrate a goal by pushing away a team mate? How often to players walk off the field without even shaking the opponents hands? Whilst these are not examples of cheating, they reflect the nature of football. Football is a great sport and my favourite sport. I accept the good with the bad. However football supporters are deluded if they think there is any semblance of sportsmanship left in it. Here is an idea. If players owned up to when they kicked the ball out, or when the commit an obvious foul, would that not alleviate so many errors being made by refs? Of course this would never happen.....but it exists in other sport

Posted 17:26 3rd February 2012

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