With all the diving and controversial calls in the League and with public sentiment against officials at an all time high, it’s fair to say that the last two weeks in football have not been exactly great for the Barclay’s Premier League. Ironically, much of the furor started nine days ago as Chelsea faced Arsenal’s opponents today (Wigan) and the very next day Manchester United squared off against QPR. Two games which should have been somewhat easy wins for the top four clubs involved and which instead devolved into examples of the worst the Premier League has to offer.
First, you should know that I’m not an anti-diving evangelist. Diving is bad but is no worse than any of the other forms of gamesmanship we see day in and day out on the football field. If I had my way I wouldn’t “stamp out” diving, but rather, I’d start by stamping out disgusting tackles like the one Mario Balotelli somehow got away with on Alex Song last week. That the Football Association reviewed Balotelli’s “tackle” and chose not to do anything about it leads me to wonder if the real culprit isn’t the players but the association which supposedly governs them.
Two weeks ago, three events occurred which the FA could have ruled on but which they rather chose to hide from. The first was the review of Balotelli’s studs up challenge on Song, the second was Ivanovich punching a Latics player off the ball then in the same game Chelsea was gifted all three points when the sideline official missed not one but two offside goals, and the third was Ashley Young’s offside-blatant-dive to get Shaun Derry sent off and earn his team a penalty against QPR. The only one of those three things they dealt with was to drop the official who gifted Chelsea the three points. No similar dropping of the sideline official who also missed that Ashley Young was a yard offside. No similar dropping of the official who was conned by Young’s dive. And no similar dropping of the official who claims to have seen Balotelli’s tackle on Song’s knee and didn’t even think it was a foul.
Like I said, I can’t blame the players or really even the officials when it’s pretty clear that the real problem is the association which governs them.
None of the above is meant to absolve players for the playacting which is now as much a fixture of the game as overpriced beer and moving game times to accommodate broadcast television. It took Ashley Young just 7 minutes before he dove to win a penalty against Aston Villa. 7 minutes was all the respect that Young could muster for the club which gave him his career and for the fans who loved him for years as he struggled with the inconsistency of youth. 7 minutes was all the respect he had for the club which protected him in that youth as he started to earn a reputation as a diver.
Philippe Halsman and Salvador Dali, who once collaborated on Dali Atomicus, couldn’t have created a more surreal photograph than the one above which pictures Ashley Young in all of his flying glory, in the 7th minute of the match against his former team.
But let me show you something, let’s start with Young’s dive:
That’s a stonewall dive. Young’s defender attempts to remove himself from the situation and Young even actually plays the ball to the right before he takes a step to the left in order to try to draw contact. But there was no contact and desperately trying to draw something, anything from the defender, Young kicks out his left leg. And there still is no contact. How on earth does this get called a penalty? And just as importantly, how on earth is this player allowed to get away with blatant dives two weeks in a row?
Now look at Charles N’Zogbia’s penalty that he earned for Wigan against Arsenal in their miraculous 2-2 draw last season:
Here we see that there is minimal contact, Koscielny brushed N’Zogbia’s knee, and the Wigan player then takes a step on the leg ostensibly effected before pulling his other leg up off the ground and then executing a judo roll. If that’s a foul, I’m a Smurf.
And if that’s a foul, then can someone please explain how Balotelli planting his studs into Alex Song’s knee is somehow not a foul? They can’t. No one can explain any of this because it’s inexplicable.
The fact is that no one knows what any of the rules are any more and that’s clearly exactly how the FA want it to be. The problem is that having the rules and their interpretations clouded in mystery, having an association that is supposed to govern those rules refusing to implement technology which would expose the inconsistencies, and having the players exploiting those inconsistencies threatens the very product that they are charged with protecting.
Unless what they are charged with protecting is something akin to the World Wrestling Federation — where outcomes are predetermined.