Saturday, 26 January 2013

When is a Dive not a Dive?

I love the whole debate around diving and Luis Suarez.  The subject has provided many article writers with much ammunition over the past few days and weeks.

What I particularly love is that Luis Suarez is physically attacked in the penalty area by a Norwich defender and no penalty is given and few people have written about it.  Suarez is then attacked several times by Stoke defenders, including being stamped on, and nothing is given his way.  He is tripped in the area, for which he stumbles, and then as he still cannot hear the referee’s whistle, he goes to ground – cue the headlines and articles and judgements.

Many players have made reference to the practice of ‘going down in the area’ so to alert the referee that a foul has been committed.  The suggestion is if they do not, then it’s unlikely they will be given the decision their way. 

Which brings me to the question, when is a dive not a dive?

Several people have called for action against ‘the divers’, and the suggestion is that an immediate ban will stop the practice.  But who is to decide whether a player dived or not?  Do we need technology to measure the strength of the challenge to determine if a dive occurred or not.

Consider the incident in Kenny Dalglish’s first game back as manager of Liverpool in the FA Cup at Old Trafford.  Dimitar Berbatov is running with the ball in the area, Jamie Carragher challenges him and his foot makes contact with Berbatov.  The contact is not enough for the Bulgarian to go down, but after taking a step he realises he has overrun the ball, so he falls to the ground.  Penalty awarded.  Had Berbatov been inches from the goal he probably would’ve stayed on his feet to score.  Is that simulation?

What do we do about shirt pulling? 

Now picture the scene.  You and I are running down the street and you’re ahead of me.  I pull your shirt, do you throw yourself to the ground or do you simply just stop running? 

Footballers throw themselves to the ground, but surely the ‘challenge’ was not enough to warrant it, so surely that is ‘simulation’?

On the subject of shirt pulling, at nearly every free-kick and corner-kick, players have their shirts pulled all the time, in fact many defenders physically manhandle an opponent to halt their movement.  Rarely is anything ever done about it.  Personally, I would prefer to see that remain in the game, it is a contact sport after all.  Some players will throw themselves to the ground, but it seems increasingly common for referees to ignore this.  So a player who has his shirt pulled and throws himself to the ground is less likely to gain a penalty if there are many other players around him, so he must wait until a one-on-one situation and then he is more likely to get the decision.  Doesn’t sound like much of a rule to me.

Consider an incident at Britannia Stadium last season between Stoke City and Liverpool.  Jamie Carragher and Jonathan Walters clash in the area and the Stoke player falls to the ground.  He managed to turn round so his back was to the goal, with Carragher behind him and the Liverpool defender had his hand on Walters’ hip.  Walters fell forward, but there was no push from Carragher so surely Walters was simply highlighting to the referee that Carragher had hold of him.  Was that a dive?

What about other actions designed to gain an advantage and fool a referee?  Go back to the 1998 World Cup and the Second Round clash between England and Argentina.  Six minutes in and Argentinian Diego Simeone is through on goal with only David Seaman to beat.  The angle is tight and as Seaman spreads himself to either smother the ball or stop the shot, Simeone deftly pushes the ball past him.  As Simeone goes to jump over Seaman, he leaves a trailing leg and as that connects with Seaman, Simeone falls to the ground.  Had Simeone jumped with both feet then the collision would never have occurred.  Did Seaman bring him down intentionally?  Did Simeone gain an advantage to fool the referee?

Another incident occurred at the Emirates Stadium last season between Arsenal and Liverpool.  Deep into injury time, Liverpool get a free-kick just outside the Arsenal penalty area.  The ball is cleared by the Arsenal defence but remains in the area, just close to the bye-line.  Lucas runs after it, pursued by Arsenal defender, Eboue.  As Lucas gets to the ball he ‘checks’ his run and as Eboue hasn’t realised, the Arsenal defender bumps into Lucas.  Lucas goes down and a penalty is awarded.  Lucas has engineered the situation so the only likely outcome is the defender will barge into him enough for Lucas to go to ground.  Is this cheating, or has he simply allowed the defender to be sucked into the situation?

Move now to an incident which occurred a few weeks ago at Anfield in the game between Liverpool and Manchester United.  Early in the second half, Liverpool has a corner.  Daniel Agger makes a run and intentionally or accidentally blocks Rio Ferdinand, allowing space for Steven Gerrard to score.  Difficult to judge Agger’s intentions and you could argue he was simply positioning himself under instructions in case the ball bounced near him.  This sort of thing happens in many games and is generally accepted as part of the game.  It is very difficult to create rules for this unless you can read the mind of the player making the block.

Back to 2003 and Highbury is the venue for a game between Arsenal and Portsmouth.  Robert Pires has the ball, runs into the Portsmouth area and pushes the ball past the Pompey defender to his right.  Pires then sticks out his right leg so that it catches Stefanovic as Pires goes past and the contact is enough to allow Pires to fall to the ground.  Why did Pires stick out his leg?  If he had carried on running in his normal way, there would have been no contact as Stefanovic had not made a tackle.  Is this simulation, or just one of those things?

Watch enough football and you see plenty of other incidents, such as the one where an attacker and a defender are running for the ball.  The defender puts his hand on the attacker’s shoulder and the attacker falls to the ground.  A similar one to the shirt-pulling episode, mentioned earlier, so was the challenge enough to mean the attacker went to the ground voluntarily or was it unavoidable?

My whole reason for highlighting these incidents is that some people are calling for retrospective action to be taken on diving.  For this to be done, we need to re-write the rules of football to determine when a dive is not a dive.  We will probably need censors on each player to determine how strong the contact was in order to facilitate the fall to the ground.  If players throw themselves to the ground to highlight to the referee that an earlier foul has been committed, then should we consider that to be a dive?

But the current rules are muddled for referees.  They are told to issue yellow cards for simulation.  So if a player goes down in the area and the ref waves play on, surely he feels a foul hasn’t been committed and therefore the only conclusion must be that a dive occurred. 

Is it just supporters who are irritated by divers?  Are the players concerned about it?  I think not.  They are when it happens to an opposing player, but when one of their own does it, then it’s just part of the game.  There is many a player who will admit that once they cross that white line they will stop at nothing to try and win a game.  So if you live by the sword you should die by it.

If we outlaw one form of ‘trying to gain an advantage over an opponent’ then surely we need to examine all other instances.  That could lead to the banning of rival supporters trying to put off a penalty taker when he is trying to score at their end.  Surely that is trying to gain an advantage, or is it part of the game.  Is it ruining the game?  Only for some, and personally I think they should just get on with it.  Diving is not a new phenomenon; just ask Rodney Marsh or Francis Lee from the 1970’s.  Just ask the Nottingham Forest players who were cheated by Anderlecht in 1984.  In some countries they admire players who are able to ‘get one over the opposition’, just ask Argentinians how they view the infamous ‘Hand of God’.  The problem of finger pointing at other people is often you can conveniently forget about your own teams misdemeanours.  Is there a team in the Premier League without a player who has dived at any stage in their career?

Of course the other problem we have is if we label diving as simulation.  Simulation is making out something to be something it is not.  So a player going down injured towards the end of a game to waste a few minutes is not simulation?  So a player requesting a drink of water when they aren’t really thirsty is not simulation?

Personally, I think we’re making far too much of this and too many people are getting hung up with looking for one type of incident rather than enjoying a game of football for what it is.

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