The referees in the Premier League now seem intent on trying to stamp diving out of the game based on the matches this weekend. The obvious examples were Fernando Torres and Antonio Valencia both being shown a yellow card for alleged dives in the Chelsea-Manchester United match, but Swansea’s Angel Rangel was also shown a card of the same color in the match against Manchester City.
I’m all for referees trying to stamp out diving, but simulation should only be punished with a yellow card when it’s a blatant dive (a la Ashley Young against Aston Villa last season). In the case of Torres, Valencia and Rangel, none of the three footballers should have received a yellow card for what the referee deemed a dive. In these three examples, referees Mark Clattenburg and Martin Atkinson went completely overboard with their decisions.
I don’t believe Torres dived. Jonny Evans kicked his shin, and Torres fell forward. With Valencia, it looked like he fell after making contact with John Obi Mikel. And in the case of Rangel, he got body-checked by the Manchester City defender when running toward the penalty box.
If it’s a debatable dive, I don’t believe the referees should be awarding a yellow card. Otherwise, if they do, the number of yellow cards referees will be awarding each match will quickly escalate. The game moves so quickly that the chance of referees correctly punishing simulation are few and far between. Unless, of course, it’s an absolutely blatant dive.
Let’s hope the Professional Game Match Officials Board quickly communicates to their referees (especially Clattenberg and Atkinson) that they need to simmer down.
Two more points I want to raise regarding referee decisions this weekend focus on offside decisions and tackling. First, with the contentious offside calls this weekend – especially in the Everton-Liverpool and Chelsea-Manchester United matches — I don’t blame the referees. Only with slo-mo replays from different angles were we, the viewers, able to pinpoint the poor decisions made by referees in both matches. Seen with the naked eye, it’s almost impossible to get decisions correct unless referees have access to the same video replay technology that we, the TV viewers, do.
Second, Jonjo Shelvey this past week discussed how soccer has turned into a non-contact sport, and he’s absolutely correct. Most tackles, even if they’re 50/50, seem to punished with a free kick these days. In the Manchester City-Swansea game on Saturday, referee Martin Atkinson seemed insistent on blowing his whistle at almost every mere point of contact between players, which completely slowed down the ebb and flow of the game and made it, at points, frustrating to watch. That’s just one example out of dozens of matches. But the point is that the game has changed so much just in the last few years as referees (often pressured by managers) are trying to crack down on aggressive contact.
In the example of this weekend’s matches, you could go through most of the cards that were issued and find that they were harshly given based on how the game used to be refereed. Referees are far more likely to flash a yellow card these days than to simply award just a free kick.