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Diving: A Cardinal Sin?


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.

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  1. Rory

    September 3, 2009 at 7:45 am

    UEFA have opened the door to something that could explode in their face. In light of the Eduardo incident, I have seen Ibrahimovic launch himself to the floor in the Super Cup final, Eboue farcically fall over on Saturday and they were just games I watched. How many other dives were there across the footballing weekend? Are they going to ban everyone? Absolutely not, that is why Eduardo’s ban has the feel of a witch hunt instigated by a reaction from the SFA and the media.

  2. GW

    September 3, 2009 at 5:02 am

    Patrick Barclay has some interesting points on this subject here:

  3. Gaz

    September 2, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    See I’m a fan of keeping football and the EPL as it always has been. No additional referees and absolutely no videos replay.

    If a player dives and is caught he gets the yellow that has always been given. That’s easy.

    As far as determining what a foul is… we can speculate all we want but the truth is that that each referee probably has his own criteria for a foul. Obviously, there are some basic principles that are across the board… but anyone that watches the EPL knows that Mike Dean is very different to Howard Webb. I’d argue that this is part of the allure of football! The most important part of a referee to me is consistency. Week in and week out does he continuously have the same criteria for making calls?

    If he isn’t caught, don’t you think that perhaps a natural consequence of not getting calls in future games comes into play? Referees watch the games afterward. They hear us yelling and screaming about bad calls. Don’t you think he’ll take that obvious dive that he missed into consideration the next time?

    It sucks when a bad call goes against you’re team. But just remember… next week you’ll be hardly thinking about it when your defender didn’t get called for an obvious tackle from behind in the box. Or maybe your star player took part in a little “simulation” of his own.

    Bad calls / good calls all seem to even out at the end of the season. You get a bad one this week and a great one the following.

    • ovalball

      September 2, 2009 at 10:14 pm

      In many ways I have to agree with you. The obvious answer to everybody’s bitching is to have your team stick the ball in the back of the net more often. Then what the other team does is irrelevant.

      Piece of cake.

  4. Dave S

    September 2, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Danger is the only criterion for deciding the penalties for cheating? In a game where three goals is a lot, cheating to generate a goal is borderline making a mockery of the game.

  5. HargosLeftKnee

    September 2, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    This Rooney dive stuff is ridiculous.
    1. I have no idea, watching it a million times in super slow mo how all of the Arsenal fans/ABU (and note that every single media outlet in the UK the next day said it was a penalty) come up with him diving. He might well have just been falling, stumbling or about to regain his balance. We don’t know because Alumunia took his foot out from under him. He was just at full stretch to get a toe to the ball, will have seen Alumunia coming and was trying to readjust. There is no way to tell that he was ‘diving’.

    Unlike Eduardo, who quite clearly leaps into the air and then kicks out his legs when there should have been contact, but none came. He also smiles at the result.

    2. Had the Eduardo incident not happened, no-one would say he dived, they would argue that since the ball was already in row K of the Stretford End, it shouldn’t matter. Which is true in common sense, but not in the rules of football.

    It really is pathetic that football fans are so desperate to forgive their own players that they project their failings onto other teams. Rooney’s dive to break up the 50 game unbeaten run was disgraceful. That’s a dive. Saturday’s was a penalty, everytime. The only people saying it isn’t are biased and bitter.

    • money

      September 2, 2009 at 6:00 pm

      What do you think is the specific foul called for Rooney’s PK?

    • ovalball

      September 2, 2009 at 7:57 pm


  6. ovalball

    September 2, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Those who think Rooney was fouled also probably scream “Hand ball!” every time a ball hits a player’s arm (& no, I’m no Man U fan).

    No matter how many times you look at the video there can be no doubt that Rooney was on his way to ground before any contact with Almunia. I think he was already off balance from his kick, others think he just dove outright. Either way it can not be claimed that Almunia took Rooney out of the play. Therefore, there is no foul. Contact, in and of itself, no matter where it occurs, does not constitute a foul.

    • ovalball

      September 2, 2009 at 4:52 pm

      Duh. I’m no Man U hater, either.

    • Dave S

      September 2, 2009 at 8:56 pm

      I agree wholly on the first sentence. Rafa complaining about that handball vs Spurs is purely idiotic. He better have a stronger offensive gameplan than “cross it into their arms and hope.”

  7. Toronto FC

    September 2, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    That is the Rangers Philosophy……..If in doubt……cheat ur way out!!!

    Com on u Irons!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Marc

    September 2, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Same old Arsenal, always cheating

    • money

      September 2, 2009 at 3:33 pm


      • Ford Prefect

        September 2, 2009 at 4:54 pm

        Same old Arsenal–Complain loudly that everyone else does it and gets away with it while poor old downtrodden Arsenal are always the only ones ever punished-Boo Hoo

        • money

          September 2, 2009 at 9:23 pm

          Of course Arsenal is loud about this, as one of their players has been singled out. Think if this was Rooney (and not Eduardo) that was in the middle of this, do you not think United fans would be upset?

  9. Grant

    September 2, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Because hand ball on the goal line prevents a goal, as does a cynical foul to stop a clear break away, and those are both red card offenses, I think it would be legitimate to punish dives in the box with red cards, but a two match ban for a non-violent offense is ridiculous.

  10. money

    September 2, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    so Fletcher should have gotten up after his tackle on Arshavin in the penalty box and pointed to the PK mark?

    • DaveMo

      September 2, 2009 at 3:43 pm

      Specious… while I think Fletcher fouled Arshavin, and Arsenal deserved a PK, no player calls fouls on themselves. But players can and do get up without making appeals.

      • Ari

        September 2, 2009 at 5:10 pm

        DaveMo, if you want a player to tell the ref to call off a PK after it had been awarded, then you should ask players to start calling fouls on themselves. Eduardo never asked for a PK, while Rooney multiple times in the past has dove and then asked for a PK ( and Eduardo, while he did cheat and dive, does not have a history of diving. I might have been fine with UEFA’s ban even without a history diving, had they said before the season that they were going to crack down on diving, but this punishment seems very arbitrary.

  11. Sam Hiser

    September 2, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Eduardo dived. Rooney dived.

    UEFA’s decision stinks because there is a Scottish presence in Switzerland. Accordingly, it cannot possibly be other than an emotive response.

    Otherwise, there’s no time like the present to eradicate simulation … at least in the box. But UEFA now must follow through.

    • Dave S

      September 2, 2009 at 8:57 pm

      Are they called Scottish-Switzerlanders? Scotzers?

  12. DaveMo

    September 2, 2009 at 2:40 pm


    The difference between Eduardo and Rooney is clear – the goalkeeper did, in fact, foul Rooney. Whether or not they both went into it expecting to be fouled, Eduardo was not, and Rooney was.

    I also considered that Eduardo may have lingering fear of injury (without having heard Wenger’s defense), but if that were the case, Eduardo could have stood up and waived off any action by the referee. He did not. Whatever made him collapse (fear of injury, anticipation of foul, or deception), he was happy to carry on with **deception** after the fact. What would Rooney, on the other hand, have done, had he gone to ground and not been touched by Almunia? We do not know. And without knowing, you can’t accuse Rooney of cheating – because it is the acceptance of the unearned penalty award that is cheating (not inviting the foul).

    AND I AM SICK of hearing that UEFA should not dish out a two match ban for what would have earned a yellow card in the match. IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE – the difference is the goal! Eduardo dove, deceived the referee, and claimed an unearned goal via PK. Had the referee spotted the dive, there would not have been a goal. It may not have made much difference in a tie that Celtic was already down by two away goals, but in most cases, those unearned goals make all the difference and should absolutely be penalised HARSHER after the fact than an event spotted in match that has no bearing on the outcome.

    • hank

      September 2, 2009 at 2:52 pm

      Almunia did in fact *touch* Rooney. Players touch all the time. Whether its a foul or not depends on whether that contact unfairly impeded Rooney’s progress – from the replays I saw, it looked like Rooney was heading to ground before the contact – most likely in a deliberate attempt to convince the referee to give the foul. In my mind, that’s “simulation”, the only difference from Eduardo was that it was successful, rather than being embarrassingly poor.

    • Ted

      September 2, 2009 at 3:21 pm

      I think we DO know what Rooney would have done, Dave Mo; he’s done it in the past…2004-05, ending the unbeaten run?

  13. hank

    September 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Good article. I have to disagree with one point though – I don’t think that because a yellow card is given on-field for a simulation, that the fair retrospective punishment should also be a yellow card. In the retrospective case, the player has already benefited from the dive (i.e. by being awarded a penalty) – since there’s no way to retrospectively rescind the benefit, in my opinion the punishment should be worse.

    To make a bad analogy, its similar to the difference in punishments between attempted murder and murder.

    • hank

      September 2, 2009 at 2:41 pm

      No, I don’t mean to suggest that diving is analogous to murder 🙂 – just an example where we punish differently based on the success of the crime.

  14. money

    September 2, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    well said

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