Going to Ground
The art of diving to win advantageous free-kicks or penalties has been a thorn in the side of football for many years. I use the phrase ‘thorn in the side’ largely due to the controversial nature of the issue. Universally acknowledged as being an underhand tactic; diving, or simulation as FIFA prefer to describe it, has become more prevalent than ever.
Players who do appear to regularly throw themselves to the floor have been lambasted by the media (in the UK especially) and vilified by fans. However, such is the level at which football is played in the modern era, is it time that we concede that this is one evil that will never be eradicated?
Last week, the Premiership’s perennial pantomime baddie character of El-Hadji Diouf admitted to the media that he has no shame in partaking in simulation. The Senegalese international proclaimed, "Sometimes I need to dive to have a penalty. It's just football. The best footballer is very clever like that." There is a certain school of thought that Diouf relishes the reaction he receives from opposition supporters, and so would willingly court such controversy.
However, it must in some way be acknowledged that he is not alone in going to ground in order to ‘con’ an official. The Bolton man goes on to state that reputation could influence how certain players are viewed on this issue, "It's not just me who dives. If you see Wayne Rooney, how often does he dive to get a penalty?” Without obviously pointing any accusing fingers in the direction of Mr Rooney, it could be argued that it is not merely the vilified that dive.
It is without question that the art of pretending to be fouled is something that has come into the English game from the continent. This is further ammunition for the many sceptics that claim that our leagues have been damaged by the influx of foreign players, but regardless of ones stance on that particular ‘hot potato’, it is clearly a by-product of this infiltration.
When Tottenham Hotspur secured the signature of Jurgen Klinsmann in 1994 there was a whirlwind of press attention, not least because the North London outfit had, somewhat surprisingly, gained the services of one of Europe’s most respected forwards, but also due to the Germans’ reputation for feigning injury and diving in order to gain advantages for his team. Only the season before he had managed to fool a referee into dismissing AC Milan’s Alessandro Costacurta for an alleged head-butt that was later proven to have never occurred.
Klinsmann, clearly more than aware of both his own reputation and the English philosophy upon him, reacted by scoring a powerful header on his debut, and subsequently celebrating the goal with a self-mocking dive. Almost instantly, fans young and old were seen replicating the ‘Klinsmann dive’ on parks all over the country. To the ‘Golden Bomber’s’ (as he is known in his home country) credit, the stigma that he arrived with was soon shaken off and following a superb season won the English ‘Player of the Year’ award and more surprisingly, the hearts of many fans.
However, as well as being one of the first players to raise the issue of simulation, Klinsmann was also one of the pioneers in what became an avalanche of footballers who came to the Premier League from the continent. Whilst it is generally considered that the influx of foreign players has improved the English game as far as technique and ability are concerned, it is also considered that this has given rise to a darker feature within our top flight.
The diving of foreign players has caused angry reactions from many fans. David Ginola, for all his magical flair, was deemed by many to have purposefully dived to win penalties, free-kicks and (in one infamous incident) get Gary Neville red carded. Ginola’s compatriot, Arsenal’s Robert Pires, was roundly criticised for ‘leaving his foot out’ when rounding defenders (the idea being that the Frenchman trips himself by clipping a defender’s outstretched limb), and it has not just been the French that have been accused. The Chelsea duo of Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben were panned by many for hitting the turf under little or no pressure. Robben received especially strong criticism for falling down dramatically when lightly pushed by Liverpool’s Jose Reina. The examples extend far further than these few names and this can confidently described as being the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
In looking at this issue we must take into the consideration the bias at which it is viewed. For the English, diving is perceived as being cowardly and weak. It is far from the image that a stereotypical British male may see as being ‘masculine’. This, combined with the attitude on these shores towards cheating in general (in case you wondered, we don’t approve), means that simulating injury or foul play is generally frowned upon. To coin a great British phrase; “its just not cricket”.
However, on the continent this is not necessarily the case.
In many different cultures and countries it is considered to be a positive thing if one is to ‘cheat’ to gain an advantage. Rather than being considered as being underhand, it is deemed clever, as Mr Diouf has been quoted as saying. This especially the opinion of Argentineans, the finest example being, although at a slight tangent to the subject in hand, Diego Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal against England during the Mexico World Cup of 1986. Talking to a British journalist in 1987, the diminutive genius cheekily proclaimed, “It was one hundred per cent legitimate because the referee allowed it and I’m not one to question the honesty of the referee.”
Despite not being directly linked to the issue of diving, this example shows the obvious clash in cultural perspective of gaining an ‘unseen’ advantage. This leads us to the question of whether it is our own culture that makes simulation such an issue in this country. In Southern Europe we could also agree that the careers of players such as Filippo Inzaghi (Italy) and Nuno Gomes (Portugal) have prospered from their apparent inability to stay on their feet when challenged and it should also be noted that this is not as vilified in Mediterranean climes as it is further north.
It cannot be argued that, when all said and done, the diver is winning the battle at present. As the old adage confides, “if crime didn’t pay; there would be very few criminals,” and to this we can concur. Even if the player does get later ‘found out’ by one of the hundreds of cameras at today’s games, he will have still achieved his aim. In most cases, especially in the more controversial, the penalty would have been given, converted and the referee conned.
There is no better example of this than in the Premiership encounter between Tottenham and Portsmouth earlier this season. When replayed at various angles, it became clear that the penalty that Spurs’ Didier Zakora won going to ground due to the ‘challenge’ from Pedro Mendes was dubious to say the least. In fairness, replays showed that there was clear daylight between the pair. As Tottenham duly converted the kick and won the game, a somewhat embarrassed Martin Jol was forced to claim that his player was, “Off balance.”
When I set out on this article I was convinced that I would conclude with the argument that there is nothing that can be done about diving, that it is part of modern football and we should just accept this. That for the most part it is a hang up that us Brits will just have to get used to. I was going to suggest the argument that football is a game of ‘swings and roundabouts’, that where the physical approach that produced so much success for British clubs during the Seventies and early Eighties has been clamped down upon and we have not evolved sufficiently to a modern game that includes diving. Many do argue that the English should replicate their continental counterparts and start to dive, in an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach.
However, I have now come to the decision that I feel that diving should be clamped down upon. In reaction to the incident mentioned earlier, Portsmouth’s manager Harry Redknapp thought, as many do, that video replays would be the answer, he argued, "So why can't the fourth official, who is wired up to the referee, have a monitor by the side of the pitch and tell the ref what really happened?” The idea of instant video replays during games is an issue that is too huge to go into in great depth, but I feel that they would further slow down the sport.
My handling of ‘simulation’ would be dealt with by an arbitration committee. Similarly to the current FA video panel who view contentious issues, the panel could be extended to encompass this issue. The problem for referees, and an issue that is often over looked, is that football is a game where things happen very quickly, they have a split second to make a decision, a decision that will be instantly judged (and often jeered) by thousands of watching supporters. Due to the pace of the game, it is often very difficult to examine whether contact has been made in a tackle.
Therefore I would suggest that we continue as we are at present, but any player seen upon replay to have dived to win his team a dangerous free kick or penalty be given an instant two match ban. If this ruling was to take affect, how much longer will players throw themselves to the ground to gain an advantage, when they will know that they will miss the following fortnight’s football? Surely such a rule could help bring some honesty back to a sport that has been severely lacking sincerity in recent years.
Article written by David Hardy