The modern game has become a tricky business – as the technical quality of the game improves, amendments to the rule-book have tended to favour the attacker, leaving the unwitting defender vulnerable to what is officially termed ‘simulation’, with former Manchester United and Arsenal players hitting the headlines for it. But is diving cheating?
If you asked Cristiano Ronaldo, possibly the most theatrical of football’s notorious thespians, he might claim it’s a form of ‘self-preservation’.
If you asked Sir Alex Ferguson, he’d say, as he did when questioned about Ronaldo’s tendency to go down: “Cristiano Ronaldo must be one of the most fouled players in the league.” And if you asked Arsene Wenger he’d probably say he “didn’t see it”.
But, in reality, ‘simulation’ is a bookable offence, which means that it is technically illegal. The traditionalists have been quick to blame an influx of foreign players for its emergence in the English game, which, historically, has been one of the most physically competitive in the sport.
It’s arguable as to whether foreign players are the root cause of English football’s diving epidemic but with players like Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney, and Steven Gerrard all the subject of diving scandals over recent seasons, it seems it is not a purely continental phenomenon.
Spain’s La Liga probably sees the most theatrics – the El Classico games played between Barcelona and Real Madrid are as much about the spectacle as they are the result – the dramatization of the games is often farcical.
There have been many calls for it to be ‘eradicated’ completely from the sport – something which UEFA President Michel Platini feels will come with a higher standard of refereeing, speaking in relation to an incident involving Arsenal’s former forward Eduardo:
"One day players will give up simulating because referees will see them. For years players have cheated because the referees were not of a good enough quality.”
But the referee’s job is surely hard enough and they can’t always be expected and, ultimately, the health and safety of the players must be the first priority. The aforementioned Eduardo had his angle snapped in 2008 by a gruesome challenge from Martin Taylor against Birmingham City.
The Brazilian-born Croatian international suffered a broken left fibula and open dislocation of the ankle as a result of the challenge which was deemed 'dangerous' by the officiating referee, who promptly showed Taylor a red card.
The player was out of action for a year, almost to the day, and sadly never fully regained his form at Arsenal. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who has seen a string of horrendous injuries to his players, including leg and ankle breaks for Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby, was quit to defend Eduardo’s apparent dive:
"It's funny in football because you can break the legs of players and it doesn't make a debate for anybody.” Wenger said in his criticism of UEFA’s investigation into the penalty incident,
"I'm the first to say that it doesn't look like a penalty but it's another thing to say that he went down with intent. I wish good luck in proving that having seen the pictures again."
In Spain, perhaps Eduardo’s penalty-area dive would have been seen as rather more pedestrian. Deportivo boss Miguel Angel Lotina claimed that his player had not practiced his diving enough, after the player was booked in successive games for ‘simulation’:
“The problem with Riki is that he doesn’t know how to fall over”
One is left, perhaps, with the only conclusion to be drawn – simulation is against the rules; it’s cheating…but only if you get caught.
image: © wonker