Diving continues to be a major issue in the Premier League. You would do well to watch a game of football without some form of simulation taking place over the course of 90 minutes. That is not to say that diving is a new phenomenon to the sport. Manchester City’s Francis Lee reputation for diving earned him the nickname ‘Lee Won Pen’ in the early 1970s and Jürgen Klinsmann’s taste for theatrics in the 1990s has somewhat cast a shadow over the legacy of an undeniably fantastic footballer. It was the latter who many herald as opening the floodgates; setting in motion a change in the mindset of the attacker. Since the turn of the century, it has only become more common with the likes of Robert Pires and Cristiano Ronaldo bookending the popular art form of cheating in England in the 2000s and individuals like Arjen Robben and Jamie Vardy also getting in on the act on a regular basis.
Even that pales in comparison to what has become an unfortunate, but regular occurrence in recent years. No longer is it simply a case of players going to the ground too easily, simulation has become a much more grey area than that. Players exaggerating the extent of contact and even injuries themselves are all forms of simulation deliberately aimed at deceiving the officials in order to win an unfair advantage for their side. You only have to look at Phil Jones’ miraculous recovery after getting Sofiane Feghouli sent-off last season for evidence of this. With no end in sight, can the Premier League be saved from the diving pandemic?
The FA did make some strides towards tackling the issue in 2017. Following in the footsteps of their Scottish counterparts, a retrospective ban has been introduced when there is ‘clear and overwhelming evidence to suggest a match official has been deceived by an act of simulation’. Whilst many – myself included – were glad to finally see such a punishment introduced, it has so far failed as a deterrent. Whereas serial offenders like Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) and Dele Alli (Tottenham) continue to go punished, the unlikely duo of Oumar Niasse (Everton) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham) became the first to be punished for simulation. In Lanzini’s case, I was both disgusted and satisfied by his decision to go to ground so easily. Disgusted, because I have been a supporter on the wrong side of similar decisions and liked to believe my club were above such questionable methods; Satisfied, because it was a relief to finally be on the right side of such a horrific decision. After all, they do say if you can’t beat them, join them. Yet, I welcomed Lanzini’s ban, because he had committed a diving offence that deserved to be punished under the new guidelines. That was until it became clear that the FA’s use of the retrospective ban would be as inconsistent as that of the standard of refereeing. Since the ban has been implemented, Zaha and Richarlison (Watford) have gone unpunished for notable dives, but they are just two of many players who have been guilty of the ‘successful deception of a match official’ this season. What is the criteria for who gets banned? In the case of Zaha’s dive against Manchester City, was it because Palace then missed the ensuing penalty?
Clearly then, the much anticipated retrospective banning system is not working, despite many believing it to be the answer. Where do the FA go from here? Firstly, it cannot give up on ‘Successful Deception of a Match Official’ punishment, nor can it continue using it in the manner it has so far this season. They either have to go all in, or not in at all. The only way to salvage its integrity is to use it widespread, therefore punishing every insistence of blatant simulation. Only then will it become an effective deterrent. Unfortunately, the FA are unlikely (maybe even unwilling?) to do so. The most obvious issue with the current two-game ban punishment is that it is retrospective. That means that should a player win the game for their team with a dive, the points will still stand even after they are deemed to have deceived the officials. As Stoke fans will testify, a ban is of little consolation and arguably only aggravates the feeling of discontent.
I would also suggest a change in mindset from the officials, in a way similar to that of the offside rule, by giving the benefit of doubt to the defence. Increasingly, we are beginning to see defenders – particularly when challenging an attacker in the box – withdraw a trailing leg or feign a challenge in order to catch an attacker out. With defenders now wising up, the officials need to do the same. Many players are too eager to gain some sort of advantage for their team, so why continue making it so easy for them to succeed in doing so? Video technology could work wonders in helping officials in situations where it is not immediately clear if a player has dived, but such a big step is unlikely to take place in the near future. Until then, things need to change on the football and that all starts with the officials managing the players on the pitch as their current approach is clearly inept at dealing with the problem. It is time to move with the times to try and prevent diving from becoming part-and-parcel of the ‘beautiful game’, it is something that should not just be accepted.
What are your thoughts on the FA’s use of the retrospective diving ban? Can more be done to combat diving in the Premier League? Let us know in the comments below!