As another Tottenham Hotspur game passed last weekend, along with it came another diving flashpoint for Gareth Bale. Indeed, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere of late, the Welshman’s penchant for taking a tumble has suddenly transformed from lingering suspicion to poster boy status.
His booking during Spurs’ 3-0 victory against Fulham on Saturday marked his second consecutive caution for diving in as many games, following the yellow card he received during his side’s encounter with Liverpool last Wednesday.
Naturally, while the neutrals have been quick to deride the Welshman for his perceived affection for a spot of footballing thespianism, Spurs supporters have been dismayed by recent events. And not wholly out of blind faith, either.
Because as the replays were wheeled out of Bale’s cautioned dives under challenges from Daniel Agger and Steve Sidwell respectively, amongst all the relentless scrutinizing, he appears to have in fact been caught in the tackle.
Although judging by the fallout over the past couple of days, unless you went looking for the evidence, you wouldn’t necessarily believe it.
The fallout from his dual sanctions over the past week has seen a toxic deluge of column inches, headlines and public opinion batted his way; despite there being an extremely viable case that Bale was in fact an innocent party in both incidents. And it’s within this public opinion, that the ex-Southampton man can perhaps apportion part of the blame for last week’s events. But the root of it, can be traced back to no one else but himself.
There is a school of thought that Premier League referees are being influenced by the stigma for diving that Bale has slowly accumulated over the past 18 months and for some, that’s a very uneasy scenario to buy into. If a match official cannot judge each incident on its own merits, surely that renders them unfit to referee?
We’ve been here before already this season, with the controversy that has swamped Bale’s perceived peer within the diving stakes. Liverpool’s mercurial Luis Suarez has of course also developed a damning moniker for diving, but there was nothing to argue about when Norwich City’s Leon Barnett as good as assaulted him in the box during their 5-2 win at Carrow Road. It seemed as clear a penalty you’ll see all season in the Premier League, but referee Mike Jones waved it away.
The decision produced fury in the red half of Merseyside and in his column for the Daily Mail, former referee Graham Poll suggested that top flight officials are liable to letting a player’s reputation affect their decision. Pointing to his treatment of Cristiano Ronaldo during his early days with Manchester United, Poll claimed that such an attitude was merely ‘human nature’ for a referee.
It’s a viewpoint that courted condemnation in many quarters and ultimately, if referees are unable to remain uninfluenced from public opinion, then the league is in a serious spot of bother. But there is an easy way to prevent this from even remotely coming an issue – don’t gain the reputation in the first place.
Right or wrong, Gareth Bale shouldn’t have got himself into this position. Some have called it footballing karma, others simply that referees are waking up to him, but the fact is that Bale’s reputation for diving hasn’t come overnight and it isn’t particularly unfounded either.
During last season’s North London derby, Bale won his side a penalty that was converted by Emmanuel Adebayor, after throwing himself to the ground in the face of the onrushing Wojciech Szczesny. Luck served him well on that occasion, as it did earlier on this season, in which he got away with a really quite pathetic tumble against Aston Villa, in which he seemed to collapse a good 5ft away from ‘keeper Brad Guzan.
He shouldn’t be doing it and even if we take him at face value with his argument that he’s allegedly avoiding injury from onrushing opponents, the manner in which he’s gone about his business is only making things worse from him.
Contact or not, the Steve Sidwell challenge that saw Bale booked for diving at the weekend, in no way necessitated a collapse to rank alongside Willem Dafoe’s in Platoon. No one’s suggesting that he needs to start riding every challenge thrown at him. Already this season he’s had some dangerous attempts to bring him down thrown his way and let’s not forget he’s suffered some serious ankle injuries already in his career from this type of tackle.
But by dabbling in a dive here and there and continuing to produce the theatrics, Bale’s costing Tottenham as a collective, as opposed to simply harming his own public demeanor. Again, this isn’t to suggest that referees should be influenced by reputation in the slightest, but for him to get unfairly booked for diving twice in one week, that argument now holds a touch of real gravitas.
If Bale goes steaming into the penalty area against Everton this weekend, only to be legitimately fouled but given a caution for diving, the onus will quite rightly be on the referee for making a terrible decision. But somewhere along the line, however small the proportion of blame may be, it is Bale himself whom must also carry some of the flack.
Gareth Bale has been unlucky this season, but as much as we shouldn’t be talking about referees judging him on reputation, he should never have put himself in a position for this to be an issue in the first place. Despite the wider issues of officiating that the debate may open up, what we are witnessing with Bale at the moment, is the biggest deterrent to diving you can wish to wave a stick at.
For Bale, repairing his reputation will be easier said than done. For those looking to follow in his footsteps, his fate should serve as a cautionary tale.