I linked to this already on the Story So Far, but I think it’s worth a standalone post. There are a couple of interesting elements here. First, Gary is speaking in the situation not as a former fox-in-the-box striker, but a defender. Moreover, a defender, a first team right back for Manchester United for years.
Of course, Neville wasn’t six feet tall but a comfy 5’11″, and as a fullback, he would have well understood what it meant to run at a central defender with a good foot height advantage. He likely would have seen challenges in this context from both sides.
It’s also interesting in that it adds another layer of nuance to tackles, which are currently viewed as a simple dichotomy between “dive” and “foul” (and it can be both apparently, as many pointed out that Torres’ ‘decision’ to ‘easily’ go to ground rather than keep going despite being stepped on from behind constituted simulation).
Neville raises the point that perhaps “diving” may be in some instances a safety measure. That it may not be in a player’s best long-term interest to ‘ride a challenge,’ particularly if it sees him sandwiched all over the pitch at the end. How often have we seen a striker attempt to follow through a tackle, only for the ball to be expertly knocked away right before they’re upended by a defender flat on the field, upon which they writhe in pain for a minute before getting back up again?
If the player instead decides to go to ground come what may, does that make them any less intelligent a player? And when all of this is considered, how can we expect a referee to adjudicate the intent of both parties in a split second without the benefit of a slow motion replay from five unique angles?