Eduardo steamed into the box. He shot past two Celtic defenders. Boruc charged out from his goal and slid to the ground but quickly realized he couldn’t get to the ball. Boruc put on the brakes. His foot slid behind Eduardo and his arm bent back, clear of the striker. But Eduardo’s body jerked forward as if shot in the back by a sniper. His legs went out from under. He thrust his hands forward and flopped to the ground. The ref blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. The converted goal quickly transformed Celtic’s uphill slope into a Himalayan mountain range.
I was devastated.
Now, I’m not a Celtic supporter and I’m no Arsenal hater. But ever since this tie was announced, I’ve wanted to write an article speculating on what would happen with Arsenal getting knocked out of Europe before the transfer window closed. (Obnoxious title nominee: “Wenger Is Fabregasted”.) But the own goal and the deflection after the free kick in the first leg made this look unlikely. Still: I held out hope for a miraculous Celtic comeback. That’s fodder for two articles. Two goals were doable. Maybe. But Eduardo’s dive completely thwarted my plans.
Now Uefa plan to investigate the incident and may respond with a two-match ban.
We shrug and change the subject when it’s our own boy doing the dive. We accept whatever rewards come to our side from the cheating. When Gerrard goes down with no contact, I tell myself he’s too fast for his boots. Arsene Wenger’s response to Eduardo’s dive: “I do not go as far to say Eduardo dived. He went down, for what reason I do not know.” (Reasonable explanations: Polish goalkeepers are famous for being able to tackle players with their minds. That wacky prankster Bendtner tied Eduardo’s bootlaces together before the play. Tottenham fans snuck in during the night and released a pack of rabid gophers. Eduardo was doing an airplane impersonation to remind people to Fly Emirates.) But when we are honest we’d rather see our own player stay up and earn the goal. Diving is an ugly cancer and should be surgically removed from the beautiful game.
Retroactive punishment is the best answer. I don’t want to see in-match replays introduced. Ever. The fact that football matches keep moving is a bragging point over sports that have countless stoppages for replay and call review. Extra officials can help (already being tested in the Europa league), but they will still miss some angles and they will still be as fallible as the officials already calling matches. Retroactive review should be introduced on a regular basis. This is the best way to fight the problem without stopping play. Combined with extra officials, it can stifle the power of simulation.
It should go like this:
After a controversial call, a manager requests a review. A panel uses all the video evidence avaiable. There has to be no doubt after video review for the on-pitch call to be overturned. Then, if a player is adjudged to have dived, he misses two matches. Add a fine for extra discouragment. And any bookings on innocent parties are lifted. (Getting a card after your oppenent dived is adding pure insult to feigned injury.)
It is that simple and it would be highly effective as long as FIFA introduce it universally. Make it the standard for football so it becomes entrenched in the culture.
Players use diving as a tactic. We hate to see it, but as long as they get away with it, players will dive. They are competative beings. If going down in the box means a penalty or a deadly free kick – if it means any kind advantage – they will keep diving as long as football culture and football officials allow it. But if we introduce regular suspensions and fines, the value of the dive will drop off. Would a manager condone Cristiano Ronaldo diving and risk losing an influential game-changing player for two matches? Absolutely not.
I hope they ban Eduardo. I hope they set the example. The next step is enforcing this concept for all the leagues and use it consistently. Only then will the punishment have the legitimacy to convince players to fight the invisible pull of gravity in and around the box.