Much has been said about Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva’s dive against Celtic during last Wednesday’s 2nd leg of the Champions League pre-qualifier. One split-second incident has led to questions about Michael Platini’s proposed system of 5 referees, TV technology, retrospective charges and just exactly what is it that constitutes a dive. Ultimately the player has received, as expected, a two-game ban. Is this wise or fair?
Arsene Wenger even claimed that Eduardo did not in fact dive at all suggesting that, still mindful of the horrific leg-break he suffered during a challenge from Birmingham’s Matthew Taylor, the forward was merely jumping to avoid injury. But although I was appalled by that incident and can fully imagine that Eduardo still thinks about it, that explanation still rings about as true for me as the time Gerard Houllier attempted to vindicate Robbie Fowler’s infamous by-line sniffing goal celebration by suggesting that the player was merely mimicking the routine which Rigobert Song had introduced from his time at Metz. On both occasions you have a French manager making a slight fool of themselves with a rather absurd explanation of their player’s bad behaviour.
You only have to watch the video below to see that Eduardo clearly dived. Why? Because no part of Artur Boruc’s body made contact with Eduardo, yet his legs flew up into the air almost exactly as they would have done otherwise, and down he went. A classic example of what they now call “Simulation”. Certain replays even show the viewer that Eduardo allowed himself a little smile once the penalty had been awarded (but irritatingly I can’t find any online). To make matters worse for anyone watching in indignant shock, the diminutive striker then picked himself up to coolly slot home the resulting penalty kick, giving his side a decisive advantage in the tie. Cue an angry lynch-mob from all over the football community. UEFA officials, pundits, armchair supporters and fans of Rugby everywhere were only too happy to have another excuse to moan about diving.
Fast-forward 3 days to Arsenal’s next game which was against Man Utd at Old Trafford. Early in the 2nd half, Wayne Rooney runs onto a pass into the box from midfield. In catching up with the ball, his body weight is being propelled to the by-line, and by the time he stops himself he will not be in a goal-scoring position. In short he is going nowhere, but unfortunately for Arsenal, Manuel Almunia rushes out anyway and tries to take the ball off his feet. Seeing this, Rooney boots the ball into touch and falls over, and a penalty is given. Why? Because Almunia’s arms touch Rooney’s leg before he hits the ground. Does anyone complain about the award of a penalty? Only Almunia, and it’s a fairly feeble complaint. Upon seeing TV replays, pundits, journos and fans up and down the country are satisfied that Rooney did well to win the penalty, and showed grit and determination to step up immediately and score it himself. The difference between the two incidents? Boruc got his hands out of the way and Almunia didn’t. Both Eduardo and Rooney did exactly the same thing, namely kick the ball away from the keeper and fall over, then step up and score a penalty. Rooney is an excellent footballer, Eduardo is a cheating cowardly disgrace who has behaved so badly that UEFA are forced to break the habit of a lifetime and take retrospective action based of video replays (more on that later).
Not for the first time, I’m irritated and embarrassed by the football community. Let’s get one thing straight, diving is cheating, and cheating cannot be condoned. But is it worse than shirt-pulling, deliberate handball, a cynical foul or even putting your arm up for a throw in when you know you got the last touch? As far as I am concerned, it most certainly is not. It’s just another example of cheating, so why is it so reviled? I think the problem is it’s not very manly, not very macho and definitely not in keeping with that British bulldog spirit. A proper British player would stay on his feet until it became physically impossible, wouldn’t they? Well firstly, no they wouldn’t. The two most talented players of their generation, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard are actually prolific divers (as can be seen from a quick glance at Liverpool-Kop’s Football Cheats series), but nobody seems to highlight that fact apart from Arsenal fans. Secondly, on one occasion I can remember Scotland’s Kevin Gallacher staying on his feet and shooting straight at the ‘keeper having been fouled in the box (I wish I could remember the exact game, any ideas are very welcome). It was a tremendous show of sportsmanship, but it went down about as well as a rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot with any Scottish football supporter I spoke to afterwards. The fact is, most footballers will try and bend the rules and even cheat a little bit if they think they can get away with it, and diving is just one example of this. So rather than having what Arsene Wenger correctly describes as a witch-hunt, the only constructive thing to do is focus on looking at ways to limit the possibilities for cheating. Which brings me to UEFA’s brand new policy of retrospective punishment.
In announcing that Eduardo will serve a two-match ban for having been found guilty of simulation, UEFA have acted retrospectively. Ethan Armstrong recently put forward a decent argument for retrospective punishment in his article for EPL Talk, but I have to disagree. Ahead of last season’s Champions League final, Darren Fletcher appealed a red-card that was clearly shown to be wrongly awarded by television replays. At the time I argued on my blog Studs-Up that Fletcher’s ban ought to stand. Why? Because as soon as one refereeing decision is overturned via the use of television replays, suddenly UEFA will find themselves completely inundated with clubs appealing everything under the sun. Referees make half a dozen mistakes a game if we’re lucky, so if Eduardo pays the price for having been caught on camera, shouldn’t everyone else? I think in banning Eduardo for two matches, UEFA have just opened a massive can of worms. Secondly, why on earth give a player a two-match ban for an offence that would only receive a yellow-card if spotted by the referee? That just doesn’t make any sense at all. Either they have to change the rule so that diving is always punished with a red-card and a two-match ban, or they have to give Eduardo a retrospective yellow card. But to give him a two-match ban in near isolation is bizarre to the point of suspicion. I do hope Wenger’s suggestions of Scottish sympathies within UEFA are unfounded, and that UEFA are able to follow the precedent they have set consistently.
For me the challenge facing football’s governing bodies is to look at ways to curb any sort of cheating, and to strive for punishments that are proportional to the offence. Diving is hugely difficult to spot, and can lead to very serious consequences. In the video below Wayne Rooney dives to end Arsenal’s long unbeaten run, who knows how long they might have gone on otherwise? But is it dangerous? No. So therefore it ought to be punished in the same way that it and all other minor cheating offences are punished, with a yellow card. Much as we’d all like to see an end to the sort of cheating we saw last Wednesday, in trying to make an example of Eduardo, UEFA have inadvertently shot themselves in the foot.