Despite the clamour to hang, draw and quarter those players who like to take a tumble at the slightest touch, you must have a certain degree of, well, maybe not sympathy, but understanding as to why they fall to the ground after a tackle.
Earlier in the season in a game poised at 0-0 against Tottenham, Everton’s Seamus Coleman was clipped in the box. He stumbled, fell to his knees, immediately jumped up and skewed a shot wide. It was a foul, and a penalty should have been awarded by the referee. It surely would have been if the Irishman had stayed down.
A couple of months later on New Year’s Day, when the Toffees were away at Stoke City, Leon Osman had his legs swiped in the box. The England man stuttered, but stayed on his feet. Again, if he’d gone down and stayed down a penalty would have been given. Nothing was awarded initially, but luckily for Everton, Jermaine Pennant hacked him down about three seconds later and a penalty was then awarded.
It seems referees are only looking to give these big decisions if the recipient of the tackle is felled quite literally to the ground. The two aforementioned players are honest professionals, but it has been to their detriment in these instances. If you were their manager, what would you be telling them to do next time they feel contact in the box? As a supporter, I’d certainly want them to go down and earn the points for the team.
And herein lies the crux of this whole diving issue. Would that then constitute diving? In the eyes of some, perhaps. The hindered player would be much more likely to get a penalty if he accentuated the contact and this only further clouds the boundaries that distinguish ‘winning’ a penalty and an outright dive. Boundaries that are already pretty blurred as it is.
With that in mind, maybe simulation is a part of the game that we just have to accept? Feigning injury is obviously something that needs to be eradicated and another matter entirely. But realistically, are we going to ever abolish simulation?
Even though there has been outcry from various corners of the media, some supporters are starting to develop a laissez-faire attitude to simulation. If their team gets a penalty with one of their players taking a tumble, do you think they’ll be bemoaning their player’s dishonesty and conning of the officials? Not a chance. Especially when other players are likely to do exactly the same against them given the chance.
Some have called for harsher punishments and a retrospective panel to potentially discourage players from indulging in it. But to label someone essentially as a cheat is a big, bold move to take and going down that road would give rise to a host of issues. Ones you imagine FIFA, the FA and any other governing body are pretty keen to avoid.
Remember in 2009 when UEFA tried to ban Eduardo for diving against Celtic? UEFA quickly recoiled into their shell and rescinded it under massive protestations from Arsenal.
In the wake of the ban initially being administered, Arsene Wenger had this to say (via BBC Sport):
“It singles out a player to be a cheat and that is not acceptable. We will not accept the way Uefa has treated this.
“I believe you can debate whether it is a penalty or not. But this charge implies there was intent and a desire to cheat the referee.
Most of these decisions are still contested by managers and players, not to mention pundits and supporters, after copious amounts of replays. How can anyone say with certainty that a player has taken a dive?
Branding someone a diver could have a major effect on their career, too. Think back to 2006 when Jose Mourinho harshly claimed Andy Johnson was a diver. Following those accusations, the then-Everton man was promptly battered by central defenders up and down the country, and some of the penalty decisions waved away were downright startling.
The same applies to Luis Suarez, who went weeks without getting a penalty – despite some blatantly obvious fouls on him being turned away – after David Moyes accused him of being a diver before last season’s Merseyside derby.
In truth, a yellow card seems like a suitable punishment anyway. Calls for a three game ban for diving – the same as you’d get for violent conduct or a reckless challenge – seem a little extreme.
For me, diving falls into the same category as other instances of gamesmanship that have become part and parcel of the game. If a central defender gives a striker a nudge in the back when defending a cross, almost by reflex you’ll hear the commentators wax lyrical about “shrewd play” or “experienced defending”. In reality, it should be a foul against the defender, but it’s a piece of deceitful play that has become integrated and in many cases lauded.
Then there’s the classic cynical foul; when a player drags an opponent back or intentionally chops him down when bursting through midfield and towards the back four. “A good foul to give away” we’ll often hear, but is that any less grating than a player going down easily? Is that not cheating or is it just “part of the game”? It’s certainly cheating viewers out of a fluid, end-to-end contest.
These are just two of a plethora of facets within the game have become accepted despite their illegality. Unless the something drastic is done to stem the flow of players going to ground easily, simulation will too. It’s inevitable.
For a culmination of the aforementioned reasons, no plan will be put in place. Governing bodies will keep a safe distance from labeling players as cheaters. Managers might put on a front against the issue, but internally they know that they’d be at a major disadvantage if their players are too honest. In the increasingly harsh landscape of Premier League management, you can’t afford to give an inch to your competitors.
It’s a shame, of course. In an ideal world players would do all they can to stay upright. But those who maintain those seemingly old-school values are starting to be hampered. And these kinds of characters seem to be increasingly on the wane in the modern game.
What’s your view? Leave a message in the comments section or follow me on Twitter @MattJFootball
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