Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday October 5 2006
A worrying epidemic is sweeping football and it's got nothing to do with falty paultry. Diving, or the FIFA approved term 'simulation', has been brought into media focus of late. Partly because of yet another awful international tournament, which was blighted by histrionics. Though in truth I do not think diving is any worse now than it was five years ago, it's just that our sensationalist media decided that the gamesmanship of Cristiano Ronaldo was to blame for the thugishness of Wayne Rooney. Therefore diving is something that has been used as a scapegoat for the perceived failures of the national team.
Of course, prior to the World Cup Steven Gerrard's tumble over thin air was largely condoned and applauded by the same tongues that savaged the Portugese national side. 'It's part of the game, innit?' They shrugged. This is really the focal point of my article. In the cut throat world of top flight football and the financial rewards it reaps, most pros will do anything to win, if that means cheating this is what they will do. The crux of the issue is what can the governing bodies and we as supporters do to eradicate this problem?
The latest to be caught in the eye of the diving storm is Tottenham's Didier Zokora. With Pedro Mendes trailing a leg in the Tottenham penalty area, the Ivorian threw himself to the ground and conned the referee into giving a penalty. Of course, since much debate has ensued and what has disappointed me is the attitude of a large section of the Spurs fans (what else is new?) So often the self appointed moral crusaders, pointing their fingers and sharpening their knives every which way, I honestly expected them to apply the same etiquette towards their own player. (How naive). However, widespread condemnation was not forthcoming. Over on the Tottenham site, white hart wrote an article chastising Zokora and explicating his discomfort with the issue. But the comments thread attached unfortunately did not contain the same laudable objectivity. A plethora of excuses were provided, 'oh well we've had bad luck with decisions.' Quite why that is Portsmouth Football Club's fault I don't know. 'Well Drogba, Robben, van Persie, Eboue, Pires, Gerrard, Rooney etc, etc, etc do it.' A salient point, but does this mean it is o.k for your players to commit similar folly? If we are to apply a sociological metaphor, is it acceptable to mug a pensioner because, well it's 2006 now and everyone is doing it so why shouldn't I have a piece of the pie? A hyperbolic metaphor, I grant you, but a poignant one nonetheless. By far the worst attitude demonstrated in a number of cases was one of, 'who cares? we won.' Of course, these fans will elucidate the same fact next time they are on the receiving end of a distasteful piece of gamesmanship.
Let us not pretend that as Arsenal players are precluded from the act of simulation, far from it. Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Eboue are divers, and it sickens me. I'm going to have to do an Arsene Wenger here and confess to partial eyesight. I did not see van Persie's dive in Hamburg or Eboue's in Paris at the time they happened (in my defence, both incidents occurred at the opposite end of the ground to where I was sitting). But upon returning home from each match, I was sickened when I discovered these offences. The sense of satisfaction or the delight of Tomas Rosicky's super goal in Germany were completely removed when I got home and saw van Persie's dive. Be honest, in his time at Arsenal, every time Jose Antonio Reyes collapsed to the floor clutching a limb, did you not think, or even say, 'here we go again?' My impression of Reyes's mercurial talent is sullied by his histrionics and as a result, he never really ingratiated himself with me. Then of course there is Robert Pires, awesome talent that he is, he did himself no favours with his own pirouhette against Pompey. The upshot was that this detestable piece of cheating cost Bobby in the long run, many times thereafter he was genuinely tripped in the box, only for his reputation to deem him unworthy of a penalty. That was his fault, and he deserved to be victimised.
What I am getting at here, is that we as fans have to let our players know that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable. Failure to do so exacerbates the problem. If we give our players the moral legitimacy to dive, then we are as bad as the offenders. We also propagate the issue further as youngsters are encouraged to do likewise. My esteemed editor wrote a piece in lament of Mr. van Persie following his 'professionalism' against Hamberg, and rightly so. Even over on the Chelsea site, they have written numerous articles criticising the likes of Drogba and Joe Cole. The Chelsea fans even went so far as to boo their own player, Didier Drogba, because they had simply had enough of his histrionics. Consequently, I have honestly not seen Drogba dive since. Remember the goal he scored at Blackburn earlier this season? Andre Ooijer attempted to wrestle Drogba to the ground in the area, but Drogba used his physical attributes to stay balanced and blast home a quite superb goal. Last season, he would not have done that. Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'there is no such thing as moral phenomena, only moral interpretation of phenomena.' If we as supporters interpret the misgivings of our own players as satisfactory, the current diving phenomena will only multiply.
However, we as supporters can write articles and condemn our own players, but that is not sufficient. The real tone must be set by the governing bodies, who, not surprisingly, are loathe to do anything other than smoke cigars and feel their backsides grow. Many have pontificated on the prospect of retrospective punishment and I just cannot see why this cannot be implemented. The Football Association have passed the buck, saying that FIFA laws prohibit them from doing so. Hmmmmmm. We cannot heap more pressure on referees by determining diving as a red card offence, because the margin for error is too great. Why can't an independent four man panel watch every game retrospectively and identify divers? Personally, I would issue a six match ban to those who dive in the penalty area and a four match ban for those who simulate simply to invite trouble for others. It must be stressed that the panel should watch every minute of every game independently. We cannot allow the current trend in video punishment to reaman, whwereby bskyb and the tabloids (both of which are owned by Murdoch) create enough furore around an incident for the F.A to act. The current system allows for ulterior agendas to exist, players such as Gerrard and Rooney who are advertising whores are seldom accused for wrongdoing. bskyb screen a lot of commercials to a huge audience and the reputations of the players that endorse them are not allowed to be harmed. Of course video evidence can be viewed to stamp out this trend. Many argue that this will slow the game down intolerably, but I like Wenger's idea that each side is allowed three chances to query a decision and ask for video evidence in any one game. Sort of like a time out in basketball. This ensures that only really controversial incidents are viewed and the game is slowed down little. The time elapsed in viewing a video playback by the dugout surely cannot be longer than it takes for a referee to wave away the protests of a few rogue complaints?
Diving is now an issue that supercedes club loyalties. It is a problem for football in general and as such it is not enough to say, 'well so and so does it' or 'these things even themselves out.' It is supporters, as well as players, who are conned when simulation prevails. The governing bodies can neutralise diving by handing out stiff punishments by way of deterrent, for our part, we must change the perceptions of diving by ridiculing our guilty and hope we can alleviate this worrying culture. The gauntlet has been thrown down, but I don't expect our incompetent football association to take up the mantle.
Date:Thursday October 5 2006
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