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exclusive Mo Salah's penalty was not cheating, it wasn't diving and anyone who says it is doesn’t understand football

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MoSalah of Liverpool celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal against West Ham

MoSalah of Liverpool celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal against West Ham

MoSalah of Liverpool celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal against West Ham

MOHAMED Salah has come under fire after he made sure he won a penalty in Saturday evening’s game against West Ham and there are two sides to this story.

Graeme Souness led the chorus of criticism for Salah as he went down theatrically in the box and made sure the referee knew he had been fouled by Hammers defender Arthur Masuaku.

We cannot say it was a dive because Salah was clearly kicked by his opponent and there is no doubt that it should have been a penalty.

Yet it was the way he went down under the challenge that sparked a debate and as a former striker who has been in that position hundreds of times in my career, I know more than most about this kind of incident.

First of all, I’d say the defender is naive for kicking Salah in the box and he deserves to be punished for a challenge that was always likely to end in a penalty.

During my career, I won so many penalties due to the stupidity of defenders who continually lunged in on me and gave the referees a decision to make.

Now that VAR has been introduced into our game and gone a long way to ruining it for many of us, defenders have even less of a chance of getting away with fouls than they did in the past.

Yet week after week, we still see them ploughing into opponents in the box in a reckless fashion and so long as they do that, players are entitled to go down and take the penalties.

It’s not cheating, it’s not diving and anyone who says it is doesn’t understand football.

It’s part of the game and it has been for longer than any of us have been around.

You might argue it’s gamesmanship when you make more of a challenge than it might merit. But any manager would be quick to rip into his striker if he didn’t go down after being kicked in the box like Salah was on Saturday.

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Liverpool's Mo Salah scores his side's first goal of the game from the penalty spot

Liverpool's Mo Salah scores his side's first goal of the game from the penalty spot

Liverpool's Mo Salah scores his side's first goal of the game from the penalty spot

Look back to Jose Mourinho’s time as Chelsea manager and his players would always go down in the box when they were under a challenge. If they didn’t do that, I’m pretty sure their manager would have hammered them.

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Roll the clock forward and Salah is not alone in tumbling in the box when he comes under pressure from a defender.

Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has been known to take a fall, Tottenham’s Harry Kane is clever at tapping into the naivety of defenders and Bruno Fernandes is a master of getting spot kicks for Manchester United.

Are they all cheats and divers? No, they are using the laws of the game to their advantage and so long as they are clever in the way they do it, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Gary Lineker commented on this on Twitter after the incidents involving Salah and the penalty Kane won for Spurs in their 2-1 win against Brighton on Sunday - and he spoke a lot of sense.

Lineker insisted that trying to win penalties by drawing in defenders to foul you is not cheating. It’s part of the game and always has been and I agree with him.

The only issue I would have with Salah’s fall on Saturday is the over-exaggeration he indulges in at times and it attracts negative attention.

He would argue that unless he goes down under a challenge, the penalty may not be given and we have seen examples of this happening with Salah during his time at Liverpool.

It comes down to what his manager, Jurgen Klopp, thinks about the incident.

If he feels Mo over-played it, he needs to pull him aside and have a quiet word with him. Play-acting was not in the English game to the extent we see it now when I was playing.

Now everyone does it and even if we don’t like to see players tumbling in the box under minimal contact at times, that’s the way the game has gone.

For me, the Salah incident against West Ham was not as big a deal as some have made out. Yes, he might have gone over the top in the manner of his fall, but he was kicked in the box by a defender who should have known better and the penalty was justified.

In a season when VAR is threatening to destroy the game, fans are banned from grounds and players are getting short bans for X-rated challenges that could end careers, some perspective needs to be applied to the Salah and Kane incidents from last weekend.

Pool are back in Champions League action tonight and I expect lots of goals when they take on Atalanta.

The Italian side score plenty and leak more, so you can see Liverpool’s forward line getting a few tonight.

Likewise, you would expect Atalanta to score a few on home soil, with Liverpool’s defensive issues exposed at times by West Ham once more on Saturday night.

Nat Phillips did a great job on his Premier League debut, but the absence of Virgil van Dijk continues to be felt and manager Jurgen Klopp needs to be sensible in how he handles this evening’s game as a clash with Manchester City is coming up on the horizon this Sunday.

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