Every few months sports pundits get riled up over some new (or old) perceived slight to their collective manhood, gather up the pitchforks and torches and set off to burn down every village from midlands to the sea in order to wipe this threat to sport off the face of the Earth. A few months back it was the brandishing of imaginary yellow card. Before that it was diving. Then there was cursing. Diving. Imaginary yellow cards. Surrounding the referees. Cursing. Diving. Raising one’s arm “like a sissy” in order to get an offside. And on and on.
This week, it’s back to diving in football. It’s a scourge. It’s cheating. It’s something only foreigners do. It’s something foreigners invented. It needs to be stamped out of football. It needs retroactive bans. It’s worse than a stamp to the face by Robert Huth. It is, in short, the worst thing that ever happened in the history of mankind — this month.
It may or may not be all of those things but there’s one thing I can guarantee you, just like any other form of cheating, it’s never going to go away. But I have a proposal that may help ameliorate some of the heated rhetoric about what constitutes a dive, a foul, and whether or not a player should be labeled a cheat or whether he should be labeled a hero.
But first, let’s define a dive. For that, here’s a handy corporate-type four square dividing up the four main types of events surrounding a dive on a football field:
On the left side of the square we have the noble non-divers and on the right side of the square we have the ignoble dirty cheaters. On the top of the square are fouls and on the bottom are non-fouls. Simplistic enough?
The two items below the equator are almost never in dispute. Uhh… no contact, no dive is easy: Vermaelen foolishly sticks a leg out to stop Ashley Young but misses player and ball, Ashley Young miraculously stays on his feet. Play on! No contact plus dive is also easy because those of us in the television audience with access to instant replay get to see them re-run nauseum.
Here’s a great example of no contact/dive as Gareth Bale looks like he slipped on a banana:
I am firmly in favor of retroactive punishment for this blatant form of cheating. That is, of course, as long as all forms of blatant cheating are retroactively punished: leg breaking tackles, leg breaking intentional stamps on Sagna’s leg, elbows to the face, karate kicks to the chest, etc. All of which are forms of breaking the rules and all of which deserve to be punished after the fact in the way they should have been punished during the match: a yellow for diving, a red for breaking someone’s leg.
Perhaps a yellow card isn’t harsh enough for a dive? Fine, treat it exactly like a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity and make it a one-match red card then. Both are a similar form of cheating. Um, while we are at it can we also get the leg breaking stamps and karate kicks to be ramped up to at least a 5 match ban? Please?
Now that we’ve solved that little problem, let’s move on to the big kahuna: contact/dive. This one is a holy war of sorts with folks on one side who believe that any contact at all is a foul and those on the other who believe that any amount of simulation is a dive. It is precariously placed there between the two on our four square despite the fact that the people who believe it is a dive will never believe it is a foul and vice-versa.
I’m not sure when it happened but at some point the idea crept into football’s collective unconscious that any contact on a player “running full speed” is a foul. Thus, when a player does simulate the foul to be harder than it was, people on the “foul” side will argue that “there was contact” and thus the offensive player is well within his rights to go down. Meanwhile people on the “simulation” side will complain that the player “made a meal” of the contact and took a dive.
Here’s an example of Charles N’Zogbia doing just that against Arsenal and winning himself a penalty:
As you can clearly see, Koscielny’s right foot clips N’Zogbia’s left knee. As you can also see, N’Zogbia’s brain takes a second to realize the contact. He starts to plant his right foot but realizes that he could win a free kick and lifts his right foot off the ground and rolls like a judo champ taking a fall in practice.
What if we treated this just as it happened rather than letting one player prevail over the other? What if we gave the free kick for the foul and the yellow card (or red card) for the exaggeration? Is it not possible that it can be both at the same time?
Problem solved, world war 3 avoided, and no one could possibly complain. Except you, who will do so in the comments.