Such an obvious statement, given everything that has happened in the game over the last 20 years or so. And yet, it is a statement that so many football fans up and down the land find so hard to accept.
I'd like to start with this. Barcelona seem to pride themselves on the fact that they are much better at building and creating teams than Real Madrid, even though they've still spent approximately €700 million over the past 10 years. This idea that people should respect Barca because they're 'the ethical team', is ludicrous. Here is a video of Barcelona players diving. I found it quite painful to watch, but it has helped me understand that players will do anything to gain any sort of advantage for their team. This is the stark reality of elite football.
When Gareth Bale or Luis Suarez dive, it creates a media circus and becomes a main discussion point on Match of the Day. I don't mind pundits talking about whether it was a dive or not, but those who constantly, obsessively, slate the players for diving will never be satisfied. Until FIFA or UEFA stamp out cheating, it will always be an unwelcome part of the game. There's zilch that, as fans, we can do to change that. Therefore, we'll only be having the same conversations over and over again, i.e.:
"Was it a dive?"
"Should he have dived?"
And if you're utterly disgusted by a player diving, you simply shouldn't follow football. You should follow a sport like golf or cricket, where there's no aggression or charge to games. Because I am sure, that underneath most footballers and managers, are bastards who couldn't care about anything other than money and winning. There are clear reasons why this is.
In their upbringing, footballers have obviously spent more time focusing on their football than their education. Very few footballers say anything interesting in interviews. In their professional career, they have a 'win-at-all-costs' mentality ingrained into them by managers and coaches. This means they have very little grasp of ethics. Therefore, if the majority of footballers see an opportunity to gain an advantage for their team, they will take it. They won't consider the moral implications, they won't hesitate as to whether it's the right thing to do, they'll dive instantly, without thinking.
I'm not sure I buy the rule about, being 'entitled to go down if there's contact'. It's all diving. If a player is poked in the back, they'll look to fall over. What's the difference between light contact and no contact at all? The player has more than the capability to stay on his feet, but chooses to fall over. Diving is diving, and there aren't different levels of it.
Adding to this, it's not just Bale and Suarez who do it. I've seen one of my favourite players at Birmingham City, Chris Burke, diving on several occassions. And going back a few years, Blues played Preston at home in December 2006. It was a top of the table clash, and we were 2-1 up in the last 10 minutes. Our player Gary McSheffrey was dribbling inside the box, but not in a shooting position, so he held the arm of the Preston defender and tumbled over, dragging his opponent with him. He did this in a way that made it look like the Preston guy had hauled him to the floor, from the referee's viewpoint. McSheffrey took the penalty, completed his hat-trick and we won 3-1. I could recall a number of examples. Players dive.
Another aspect of ethics in football - or lack thereof - is player wages. On how many occassions have you seen a player disrespect their club, to get a bigger pay packet? Twice, Wayne Rooney has handed in a transfer request at one of the biggest clubs in the world, Manchester United. Alex Ferguson showed enough faith in Rooney to part with £30 million in 2004, when he was 18. Most people in that situation would be unceasingly grateful to Ferguson, for giving him the opportunity to become one of the best players in the world.
Yet 'most people', aren't like footballers. In October 2010, Rooney handed in a transfer request. But in a matter of days, he made a dramatic U-turn a signed a new 5-year deal with United. He obviously gained a pay-rise, and I can't help but think that his transfer request was merely a ploy to get more money. And that's the way he repays someone who showed so much faith in him as a teenager!
In May 2013, Ferguson announced that Rooney had handed in a transfer request, and had asked not to play against Swansea. Rooney's antics in the title celebrations seemed to confirm this. My own opinion on Rooney is that he doesn't love Manchester United, or any club now, he loves money and has become entirely ego-driven.
The root of the problem is, footballers are paid far too much money, far too young. They don't know how to deal with it, and they let money take a hold of themselves, losing sight of what they value. I find it interesting that if you are one of the select few talented enough to play football in the Premiership, you are considered a very lucky person.
To some extent, I can understand it because of the idea of becoming rich and famous, for doing something you love. But I would question just how lucky footballers are, in a personal sense. Firstly, they are taught to pathetically dive and con referees, which would look extremely childish and almost sad to an outsider. They play in front of fickle fans who will love you one minute and slate you the next, they're desperate not to be the one that makes a mistake and becomes the target for opposition supporters. Finally, they are paid more money than they can handle. It's clear that too much money and power changes people.
This is perhaps the most important point. Premiership footballers are known to develop expensive lifestyle habbits, simply because they can afford it, and people are in awe of them when they're spotted in public. This inevitably gets to their heads eventually, and they begin to think they can get away with anything. It's difficult to argue with the number of nightclub incidents and cheating on girlfriends that footballers do, which normal people wouldn't. Because a lot of girlfriends will stand by their footballing boyfriend if they're cheated on (probably for the money and fame), footballers get dragged into thinking that it's sort of okay.
Of the footballers who are initially good people, very few manage to stay humble. They get dragged into feeling that winning at all costs and money matter more, rather than fair play and people they're close to. Because TV companies will pay Premiership clubs more and more money, these clubs pay players bigger and bigger wages, as well as encouraging cheating, to try and stay/get into the top flight. Because of this, footballers gradually lose touch with reality.
This is an unfortunate facet of how our game is, and will continue to be until something is done about it.