When Did Play-acting Become Fashionable in football?

Are we about to witness a cultural shift in English football? It would appear players are increasingly eager to gain Oscar recognition for their performances on the pitch, with an array of theatrics that wouldn’t look out of place in the WWE. You’ll often hear pundits and commentators yearn for the ‘good old days’, when football was comprised from blood, sweat and tears rather than snoods, alice bands and unfortunately, the replacement of sportsmanship with gamesmanship.

Queens Park Rangers’ midfielder Shaun Derry recently declared that play-acting was “very much in fashion at the moment.” His comments were perhaps designed to rile Didier Drogba ahead of their encounter on Sunday but aside from that fact his remarks still carry a certain degree of merit. It’s a sad fact of the modern game that players will resort to underhand tactics if there is even the slightest chance of gaining an advantage.

“It happens, it is part of the game. I really don’t think that footballers go out intentionally to get the upper hand on the opponents. What I do believe is that they try and get an advantage for their team and that is part of the game unfortunately, it is not nice to watch at times.” (Daily Mail)

Manchester United’s Ashley Young has found himself in the tabloid firing line after a series of flamboyant lunges in the area. This prompted his manager Sir Alex Ferguson to have a ‘word’ with his precarious winger, three words in fact, “well done Ashley” or perhaps simply “keep it up.” You see, although the guilty party may get stick from the crowd or rinsed in the papers, by the time the next set of fixtures roll around it’ll all be but forgotten. In fact, if you score the winning goal against the greatest club of the past decade, the 3 minutes 18 seconds you spent on the floor will be nothing more than a comical footnote, aye Didier?

Speaking of the Catalan giants, perhaps the fact that El Clasico has descended into a derisory drama performance has meant we now accept such incidents as normality. The encounters between Barcelona and Real Madrid are hailed as the pinnacle of club football and yet it quickly transforms into a competition of who can produce the best impression of a fish out of water, starring Messrs Pepe and Busquets. Lionel Messi is arguably the only player who retains any dignity during these matches, which is strange considering he spends the entire match trying to avoid a Galactico’s boot wrapping itself around his knee.

In foreign cultures, such as in Spain, Italy and especially South America, conning the referee is considered an art form. How often do we see players celebrate winning a penalty, as if it’s an achievement rather than simply the chance to regain your goal-scoring opportunity?

Perhaps this mentality is beginning to worm its way into the Premier League, with players striving to sell their phony performance to any nearby official. Arsene Wenger has spoken of his disgust that players often continue their pretence long after the supposed foul has been committed.

“When they roll down the sock, take the shin-pad out like he has been kicked like mad, it’s a bit overboard. Everyone who has played football can understand they try to win the penalty but what he does afterwards to get a bit more, we don’t need that.” (Daily Mail)

The stark reality reveals that officials can no longer trust players, making their difficult job almost impossible. If the incorrect decision is awarded than the blame often lies with the referee rather than the offending player. This leads on an increased amount of pressure to make the right call, meaning officials cannot help but suffer further lapses of judgement, especially when it’s so easy to be swayed by the hoards of incensed supporters.

One issue referees have managed to eradicate is this pretentious waving of the imaginary card. Howard Webb went some lengths to redemption in the eyes of many when he booked Gonzalo Higuain in their recent Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich. What strikes me is that players know how many cameras grace the average Premier League stadium and yet they continue to employ such drastic measures. Perhaps the pressure and expectation that weighs heavily on their shoulders compels them down such an immoral path, especially when they know the punishment of a potential yellow card is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

It must be time for the FA to inflict penalties (not the kind from 12 yards) in the aftermath of such blatant incidents. The moment a suspension is successfully implemented, players will perhaps think twice about throwing themselves to the floor. Otherwise if this trend continues, footballers will become more and more like jigsaws, not complex or interesting, but likely to fall to pieces once they get into the box.

Join me on Twitter @theunusedsub where this incident in the Australian A-League final would perhaps warrant a lifetime ban under my leadership.