We, the football fan, hate diving. We all say it, we all moan about it. We argue that it spoils the game. Players are called out as ‘cheats’. Every season the question is asked, ‘how can we rid the game of this?’ Maybe we can’t, maybe we shouldn’t or maybe ‘us fans’ are all just hypocrites.
‘The best comeback ever’ they said after Barcelona’s record breaking victory over PSG. Social media was a constant stream of superlatives following the game. The great and the good of the footballing world taking turns to lavish praise on this most unlikely comeback.
Having watched the game again though, something stood out to me. Not the undoubted genius of Messi and co. Not the superb ‘never-say-die’ belief of the Barca team. Not even the amazing atmosphere and grandstand end to the game. But the fact Barcelona were helped to victory, in no small part, by diving.
This is not an anti-Barcelona/Suarez/Neymar article. The fact that a blatant dive was, in the main, overshadowed by the game itself intrigued me. The situation simply shone a light on something which I’ve long suspected. Many football fans are hypocrites when it comes to diving.
Is it cheating?
To the letter of the law, yes it is.
‘An attempt by a player to gain an unfair advantage by falling to the ground and possibly feigning an injury, to give the impression that a foul has been committed’.
It appears that diving, or simulation if you prefer the terminology, finds itself in a grey area. It is an offence punishable by yellow card. A caution however, balanced against an opportunity to score or reducing the number of your opponents, seems a worthwhile forfeit.
The word ‘gamesmanship’ is often used with reference to diving. Some may think it clever or skillful to trick a referee into awarding a foul. A win at all costs mentality is usually the reserve of ‘winners’ after all. Do the ends justify the means?
Is a dive when competing for the ball, as in the case of Suarez against PSG, not quite as bad as feigning injury off the ball? Laurent Blanc missed out on a World Cup Final after Slaven Bilic feigned injury to get the Frenchman sent off in the 1998 Semi-Final.
I suppose it all depends which side of the argument you fall. Some say it’s flat out cheating. Some argue that it’s a justifiable bending of the rules to gain an advantage. I think in order to move forward the games rule makers need to decide where they stand.
At a crossroads
The subject of diving remains at a crossroads. If the authorities want to get really tough on it they could. Lengthy bans or even point deductions may make players think twice.
To try and rid the game of diving now may well be trying to lock the barn door after the horse has bolted.
It’s not a new problem. We’re twenty seven years on from the Italia ‘90 World Cup. So much was made about diving in that tournament. Jurgen Klinsmann carried the reputation of a ‘diver’ with him for the rest of his career following that particular competition.
Nothing has really changed since then though. Players might be ‘better’ at it now. There are more cameras at games so players are certainly more likely to get caught.
As for Blanc in 1998. Robbed of a once in a lifetime game. Thanks to TV replays we all knew he shouldn’t have been ordered off before he even left the pitch.
Maybe then it’s time video is used to assist match officials. Many are resistant to this and I can understand many of the arguments against its introduction. Take that Barcelona game as an example though. The ref gives a penalty for a foul on Luis Suarez in stoppage time. Seconds later us armchair fans can see the footage and tell it was a dive. Surely someone watching in a booth could radio the ref and tell him? Surely that wouldn’t ruin our beautiful game?
It would however have robbed that particular beautiful game of its fairy-tale ending. So is diving acceptable if it adds to the entertainment factor?
Let’s try an experiment. Imagine your team in a huge match. A cup final, a derby match or perhaps a league decider. Imagine the game is balanced on a scoreless knife edge. It’s the last minute of stoppage time and as the ball goes into the box. Your striker takes a tumble. PENALTY! That same strikers gets up and brushes himself off to score the winner from the spot.
TV evidence shows that the striker clearly dived. What do you do? How do you feel? If you’re anything like me, and I’m willing to bet most of you are, you laugh/shrug/say that you ‘deserved it anyway’ or that ‘we were due one of them’.
What do the player’s team mates do? Speak out against his cheating act? Tell how their winner’s medal and memories are tainted because it should never have been a pen? I think we all know the answer.
So with that experiment over maybe the answer is to try a real experiment. How about saying diving is legal. If it’s spotted by the referee then he simply plays on. If the player cons the ref then it’s to his credit. It might seem a strange theory but surely it would be better than the current situation we find ourselves in.
To me it’s a simple crossroads. We either bring in more help for officials and stiffer penalties for offenders if we really want to rid diving from the game. The other road to take would be to remove all rules in relation to diving, accept that it’s part of the game and may the best divers win.
I’m not sure what the answer is but I know one thing. If we do nothing, nothing will change. One day a World Cup Final will be decided by a dive, do we really want that to happen?