Many believe there is no greater injustice in the English game than the act of diving, usually committed by a fancy foreign winger with too much skill for his own slender ankles.
Forget homophobia, racism or ghost goals – nothing grinds the gears of grown, 50-year-old white males more than watching an Iberian trequartista impersonate Tom Daley, by throwing himself to the floor the moment said slender ankles feel a molecule of boot leather brush against them, before rolling across as much grass as possible like they’ve just escaped a burning building, until the referee surrenders to the theatrics and controversially awards a penalty.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate diving too. It may not have as detrimental a long-term effect on a players’ career as a shin-shattering, studs-up from Ryan Shawcross, but it nonetheless sours the fundamental principles of the English game – the idea of men vs men, of playing hard but fair, of football being a ninety-minute war between rival tribes. It just doesn’t fit into how we view the beautiful game, not that too many complain when it’s their team benefiting from what can only be described as deliberate cheating.
Yet, with diving comes a great hypocrisy; a paradox, an oversight. Whilst Premier League referees have become increasingly aware of simulation from attacking players, parallel acts from those at the opposite end of the pitch continue to be ignored. Indeed, whilst we vilify forwards and wingers for such indiscretions, the ‘defensive dive’ is seen as smart, cute and strategic.
Take Chelsea’s David Luiz, the inspiration for this article. Against Southampton on Sunday, he took one touch of the ball, held his body back as far as possible, waited for the onrushing attacker to make the mildest of contact and instantaneously hurled himself to the ground. To say he was playing for it would be an understatement but without a split second of hesitation, referee Mike Jones duly awarded a free kick.
Of course, this is just one incident – and particularly extreme in its obviousness. But defensive dives happen in every Premier League match, on several occasions, and yet they’re accepted as part of the art of defending rather than an abomination within the game.
I’m not pointing fingers at specific individuals but it’s rather telling of how frequent defensive dives are that Bournemouth’s Adam Smith is the second most-fouled player in the Premier League this season, whilst Tottenham’s Danny Rose, Stoke City’s Eric Pieters, Crystal Palace’s Joel Ward and Burnley’s Stephen Ward – who I haven’t even seen leave his own half this term – are all in the top 30 based on per-game metrics.
To some extent, the oversight is understandable. After all, you wouldn’t expect a 6-foot-plus defender who heads balls and sticks his foot in where it hurts for a living to go down under the pressure of a pint-sized winger without due cause. It’s almost unnatural to suspect otherwise, especially in the Premier League.
Likewise, there’s arguably more pressure to award a free kick in a team’s defensive third than a spot kick at the other end. Whilst fans begrudgingly accept referees must be certain to issue a penalty, without any doubt, the same convention doesn’t apply to free kicks. And if a goal came from what proved to be foul, the backlash would be enormous.
At the same time, awarding a penalty is essentially choosing to have an active potential impact on the score line, whereas giving the benefit of the doubt to a defender upon being challenged by an attacker is far more passive. It simply maintains the status quo of the match.
But the double standard is impossible to deny. How can we expect attacking players not to partake in simulation when defenders are getting away with it every week, simply because they look like brutes? The FA’s current target is grappling in the box, something Mike Dean has all-too-typically championed. Well, eradicating defensive dives should be their next crusade to clean up the English game.
Call me a maverick, call me an anarchist, but I have an unconventional method to eradicate diving, defensive or otherwise – the introduction of a third card. The orange card.
The orange card has a dual effect; firstly, it’s a booking, in the same way as a yellow card, but also carries a one-match suspension for the following game, a pretty strong deterrent in itself. Furthermore, however, it also doubles up as a dunce hat – embarrassing its recipient and making clear for all to see exactly what he’s being accused of.
No doubt, it’s a radical suggestion, imprinting new laws in the FA rulebook. But the stronger stance taken against diving, the sooner it will disappear from our game.