If you ask a group of football fans what annoys them the most about the modern game, there is a good chance that a many of them will say ‘diving’, or as the FA so harmlessly put it ‘simulation’. It is arguably the scourge of the world game, but what can be done about it?
Let me tell you about an incident from Italy. On the 24th of October this year, Juventus were playing away at Bologna and in the 34th minute of the game Serbian midfielder Milos Krasic won a penalty. Vincenzo Iaquinta missed the spot-kick, but the controversy after the game surrounded the way in which the penalty was won. It was clear from video evidence that Krasic had dived, and two days later the Italian FA gave the player a two week ban for ‘unsporting behaviour’, the sixth such ban issued by the FIGC.
Many who have just read the above story will have breathed a sigh of relief, happy that somebody is trying to tackle this problem. But equally, many will see the problems that this raises. A ‘dive’ is hard to define and where do you draw the line? One man’s dive is another man’s foul and when running at speed it can only a take a small touch to knock you off balance. Has a player dived if he jumps out of the way of a knee high two-footed challenge? The game has evolved so much that it is hard to define exactly what a foul is.
Marouane Chamakh won a penalty for Arsenal against Birmingham last month and his description of the event blurred the lines even further. “There was definitely a contact – the Birmingham defender touched me and then it was all about the ref, to give it or not. If they think it is not a penalty then they can be disappointed but for me I was definitely touched and I fell because I was touched otherwise I wouldn’t have fallen down in the area…But for me it was definitely a penalty”. This quote tells us two things about the mentality of the modern game. Firstly that a ‘touch’ is the same as a foul, and secondly that a referee’s decision can justify the means. So is a dive an incident where there has been no contact at all or where there has been an overreaction to the amount of contact received?
When UEFA tried to take a stand on cheating players by banning Eduardo for his dive to win a penalty against Celtic it was refreshing to see an instance where a governing body was actively trying to clean up the game. But after all the fuss the ban was over-turned when Arsenal appealed and produced a video of the incident where they could prove that there was ‘contact’. I imagine UEFA would have watched a video of the penalty decision before they handed out the ban, so if they didn’t know what they classed as a dive, so how could anybody else?
If the Premier League were to introduce retrospective bans for diving they would need a crystal clear set of guidelines regarding what they would issue punishments for, otherwise each decision would result in a farcically drawn out appeal process.
The idea of such a ‘Simulation Panel’ wouldn’t be to hand out fines or bans, but to act as a deterrent to players who cheat to gain an advantage. But if a player wins a decisive penalty through deception in the last minute of a game will he be booed by his own fans or criticised by his manager? Of course not. There is too much money involved in football nowadays, if a player ‘does his job’ and helps his team win the game, he knows that he will always have the backing of his club should the FA intervene.
I consider myself a football traditionalist and seeing players go down easily and feign injury really winds me up, so retrospective bans for diving is a fine concept, but one impossible to enforce. Has a ball gone over the line? It either has or hasn’t, it’s black or white. Whether a player has dived or not is the opinion of an individual and arguments could usually be made for both sides. Diving ruins the integrity of football, but unless players start to take responsibility it appears that little can be done.