It’s the subject that simply refuses to go away within English football at the moment and for Tottenham Hotspur winger Gareth Bale, he’d do well to pick up a couple of newspapers of late. In a series of weeks that have seen the issue of diving hop straight back up to the top of football’s agenda of malaise, you would have thought that the Welshman would have the nous to avoid a complete PR disaster.
Indeed, while the actions of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has catalyzed a whole catalogue of fierce debate over the practice of simulation, Bale has played his own part in ensuring it continues to produce column inches. And a further contentious tumble on international duty against Scotland, has shot Bale straight into the spectrum of chief suspects.
But the issue for Bale isn’t one of personal integrity. It’s one that has the ability to cause both himself and his side some serious problems later along the line this season.
The issue of diving isn’t anything new on these shores. As with so many other issues in football, there is something very topical about the way it manages to creep up onto the footballing radar. As the fickle finger of the Premier League spins round on a never ending basis, talk about top flight thespians will usually subside and make way for the two-footed tackle debate or the flailing elbow argument.
But things feel different this time. For many people, Spurs fans included, there was a sense of poetic justice in seeing Luis Suarez get planted over by Norwich’s Leon Barnett for a stonewall penalty, only for referee Mike Jones to wave his claims away. The proverb “you reap what you sow”, has been wheeled out often in the past few weeks and in fairness, it certainly rings true to a certain extent.
But as the Suarez debate rumbles on, it seems to have reopened another and the school of thought that Premier League referees are beginning to judge the Uruguayan on reputation, rather than an incident on it’s own merits, is one that should cause equal cause for concern. And it’s one that Gareth Bale in particular, should give more than a moment’s thought to.
Fans of teams who have been on the receiving end of one of his tumbles (Villa and Arsenal supporters, take a stand), may be happy to dispute this, but Bale bestows a more polished public profile than Luis Suarez. A modest, humble talent, there are no bans for racial abuse or red cards for blatant hand ball on his resume. But if he continues to fall to the ground under little to no contact, that will all count for diddly squat.
Bale has already faced several allegations of diving and despite his claims to the contrary, his justifications for going down easily, hardly endear himself to a wider audience.
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Following critique over his penalty winning dive in the 5-2 defeat against Arsenal last season, Bale responded that his art is more injury prevention, than diving:
“It’s annoying. You have people flying in at you, it’s not really diving, you’re trying to get out of the way of the challenge if anything,” the Welshman said last year.
“It’s a difficult one. You can see why people say you’re diving but at the end of the day I’d rather dive than get hurt.”
While Bale’s viewpoint maintains a certain amount of gravitas, it’s impossible to skirt round the viewpoint that he has more than a tendency to go down to easily. The wider debate surrounding simulation can be extended to very specific and technical instances and whether by launching himself over a full-back’s trailing leg at regular intervals is any better, is highly disputable.
But the stonewall acts of cheating are simply unforgivable and his fall in Spurs’ 2-0 victory over Aston Villas was totally unacceptable. The sight of watching Bale go down under thin air as he pre-empted a kick from Brad Guzan that never came, was really quite hard to watch. It gets worse every time you see it and if anyone was still to doubt the Welshman’s tendency to dabble in football’s darkest of arts, they can surely be in no doubt now.
Although, it’s not just his own morality that he’s damaging by going to ground like that. If Bale waltzes into the penalty area and is hacked down against Chelsea this weekend but the referee waves him away, then Spurs fans will be left with a Luis Suarez situation all of their own. Premier League referees must stay subjective, but does human nature dictate that when they see him go down, his fall against Villa will come into their head? It shouldn’t, but it could well do.
Even if referees are wrong to not judge each situation on their own merits, but Bale shouldn’t even be putting them in a position for that to become an issue. If he goes down in the penalty area against Roberto Di Matteo’s side on Saturday, you can bet your mortgage that his side will be screaming dive regardless of what happened. Bale’s behavior has only played into their hands.
Regardless of whether Shaun Maloney has claimed that his feeble contact with Gareth Bale constituted a penalty last week, it remains a woefully soft decision. And the problem is, with every ridiculous tumble the Welshman is taking, he is subjecting himself to forensic scrutiny in each incident.
Fans who frequent White Hart Lane love watching Gareth Bale for his barnstorming runs and his gifted ability – not for his acting skills. And when his behavior is set to put his side in jeopardy of getting a fair run, fans have the right to demand he cleans up his act. And fast.
What do you think about Gareth Bale’s antics for Spurs and Wales? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and let me know if you think it’s time AVB sorted the Welshman out.