Category Archives: World Football


Let’s talk about diving, contact, the rules, and cheating

I’d like to have a civilized conversation about… diving. Really this is about fouling and what constitutes a foul but in the end most of the arguments in the comments will be about diving.

I know, that’s like saying I’d like to have a civilized conversation about politics, or gun control, or religion. Diving in football has gotten to the level of religious debate but the conversation needs to be had because every week we see players dive and win their team an advantage. It’s not just diving though, there are a broad range of fouls that get treated with what seems like random punishment (or no punishment) and it drives fans crazy.

Let’s get some examples out there: this weekend in the Arsenal v. Chelsea game Diego Costa absolutely dived and won his team a red card. Was he touched? Maybe. But if you watch it close every aspect is textbook simulation.

First, his right leg is never touched:


His trailing leg receives minimum contact, perhaps, I’m not even 100% sure that his trailing leg is touched.

But he still plants his right leg just fine, and you can see him look off to the left and decide at that moment to go down. It’s a completely voluntary action which I can say definitively because he intentionally buckles his right leg. Here is the leg planted…


And here is him buckling the knee:


And then he does the classic dive pose: both legs akimbo. What kind of inhuman monster even can do that with his legs?


Many pundits will agree that it was a dive though they will call it “clever” or my least favorite phrase in the English language after “bags of pace”… “he made a meal of it.” He didn’t make a meal of it, he cheated. He could have easily carried on with the play, though he might have lost the ball to Cech or Kosielny, because he had kicked it so far out of his control that I doubt he would have been able to recover possession.

This is a stonewall dive. However, the rule is very clear:

Tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball.

If there is any contact, Mertesacker is deemed to have fouled. And the only way that Referee Clattenburg is made aware of the contact is because Costa dived. And that is why we will never get rid of diving: because this convoluted rule states that any contact, the smallest amount of contact, if they don’t win the ball, is a foul. And since the referees will never really be able to see that contact, players have to dive in order to “sell” the contact.

Ironically, these last four seasons has seen a rise in the number of yellow cards given for diving in the Premier League and Chelsea have the most, with 14. They have topped the Premier League twice, with 6 yellow cards for diving in 2012/13 and then 5 in 2014/15. They have been the most punished team in the League for diving and they still dive.

The thing that makes this play so predictable is that we see it every weekend in almost every game and it’s almost always called the same way, as long as it’s outside of the penalty box. You see this type of foul in every game: player on a team like Stoke, who thrive on set plays, is pressured when he has the ball outside of the 18 yard box, normally somewhere near the touch line. Player goes down, typically then handles the ball in order to force the referee to make a call, and the referee blows for a free kick.

How often does this happen? Well, I just went and picked a random game, Norwich v. Liverpool, and noticed this foul “clump”.


I see these “plays” (white triangles) being won by teams like Norwich all the time. They even created a shot from one of those fouls.

And what’s even crazier is that they win a set play off a tiny amount of contact, and when they take the resulting free kick it’s like MMA: there are men grappling each other in the box! That’s how weird the sport has gotten. You have officials giving away a set play over the tiniest contact (plus a dive to sell the contact) outside of the box and then inside the box you have players climbing all over each other, shoving other players to the ground, and generally just a free for all.

The other problem with these dives and this notion that “any contact = foul” is that not any contact always equals a foul! In the same Arsenal v. Chelsea match, Ramsey was kicked, the Chelsea player didn’t get any of the ball, so Ramsey fell to the ground and handled the ball. Clattenburg called him for handball.

And the same can be said for contact on a tackle in the box. I can almost guarantee that if Mertesacker makes that same tackle in the 18 yard box, Costa gets a yellow card for diving and Mertesacker stays on the pitch.

We all see this every weekend. The game is being called in an arbitrary manner at the moment. Dives are only dives when they happen in the box, fouls are only fouls when they happen outside the box, and at all times the amount of contact deemed necessary for a player to be called for a foul ranges from “any” to “hit by a Mac truck”. It’s crazy and clearly the cheaters prosper.

And don’t even get me started how players are allowed to get away with undercutting in aerial challenges. It’s going to take a tragedy like a player getting paralyzed before that rule is changed.



Football: The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens is the perfect name for the latest Star Wars film. Like the generic food in the 80′s with labels which simply stated the contents within, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, uncolorfully describes the contents of the latest installment in this nearly 40 year old movie franchise.

Star Wars films have a tendency to be named like this: “The Empire Strikes Back” was about the Empire, striking back after the Rebels blew up their Death Star; “The Return of the Jedi” was about Luke Skywalker returning to confront his father and the Emperor as a full Jedi; and “The Phantom Menace” was about how George Lucas took his own much beloved story and nearly ruined it with Jar Jar Binks and Vader-Christ analogies. As the British would joke, “maybe Star Wars 8 should be named: it does exactly what it says on the tin.”

Without giving away any spoilers, “the force”, the unnamed energy that runs through all life in the Star Wars universe, indeed “awakens” during the film. But “The Force Awakens” also seems to have a double entendre because with the raging success of the reboot, the force of Star Wars as a brand for marketing and selling things has awakened.

Disney paid George Lucas $4 billion for the rights to Star Wars. No one has ever paid that amount of money for the rights to six old films, three of which are the filmic equivalent of Jaws 4,5, and 6. It’s a crazy amount of money but $4 billion might turn out to be a good deal for Disney because the true value of Star Wars isn’t the films, it’s the marketing.

Disney paid $4 billion for the rights to make the films that will sell the action figures, Lego sets, juice boxes, candies, plastic swords, flamethrowers, video games, and every conceivable toy or food item known to childhood. But Star Wars doesn’t stop at selling bedsheets, Star Wars has even be used to sell new cars to adults. There are several car commercials out there right now which play one of John Williams’ themes and/or have a voiceover which is instantly recognizable as a character from Star Wars and which then instructs you to purchase this new car and choose from the light side or the dark side of the dealer’s new sales force.

Very few things in our world cut across generations like Star Wars. I saw The Force Awakens in the theater with my mother and my seven year old daughter. I saw A New Hope with my mother when I was seven. And there is a good chance that my daughter will take her child to see a Star Wars movie when she has a seven year old, 30 years from now. I’ll probably still be around, 75 years old, and I’ll probably be there with a king sized bucket of popcorn.

See, Disney didn’t buy films, sure they are already in talks to make five new films in the next four years but the films aren’t the point, the films are just something to keep the myth alive and add to our understanding of the universe. They didn’t buy the rights to films, they bought a global cultural icon. They bought the next Mickey Mouse.


And so, the executives at Disney must have had a good chuckle when they saw the title of the film, the Force Awakens. It’s not a coincidence that the film opened at Christmas. Disney’s force, in the global marketplace, re-awakened just in time to coincide with America’s most religious shopping holiday.

I hope this isn’t really a surprise to anyone. I mean, Mel Brooks in his film Spaceballs nailed the true meaning of Star Wars: Merchandising. The question isn’t whether this happened, the question is whether it’s a good thing. In other words, has Star Wars lost its soul?

Sure, of course it has. Nothing can top the first Star Wars film. Empire Strikes Back gets better critical reviews and was a bigger film in terms of box office but it was the originality of Star Wars, the uniqueness of that first experience, which can never be regained.

The latest film is ok. I didn’t hate it, though my daughter was quite bored. She found the seats in the theater (we sat in one of those modern theaters with the recliner seats) more interesting than the film. Throughout, she fidgeted with the motorized seat backs, sat back, lay forward, brought grandma popcorn, and so on. She didn’t laugh, cry, or get scared at any moment in the film. There was very little emotional investment in this movie for her. And after I asked her what her favorite parts were and she basically just liked a few of the more cute scenes (I can’t say more without giving something away).

But did it lose its soul?

This is a similar question we get as football fans. Football, like Star Wars, cuts across generations and has a longevity and deep cultural impact and so it was ripe for corporate appropriation. Football is much, much larger than Star Wars and much more meaningful to many cultures in many different ways than Star Wars will ever be. If Star Wars is Mickey Mouse, Football is Michael Thomas, charging through the midfield.

But the question of football’s soul remains. Football has been radically changed by Jabba the Hut and Boba Fett in FIFA and UEFA and by the Trade Federation that is the Football Association and the Premier League. The image has been smoothed over and football’s lovable scoundrels of the past, the Cantona’s and Maradona’s, are encased in carbonite and paid for by Coca-Cola, VISA, and Budweiser.

I hope football never loses its soul but I can’t say that it won’t. There’s too much at stake now for these massively wealthy men and when Adidas mentioned that they didn’t like the way van Gaal’s Man U played football it was the first sign that the corporate masters are trying to Jedi mind-trick the game in an unprecedented way. “These are not the results you are looking for, Louis.”

But I guess if there is a saving grace it’s that once the big money gets involved they do eventually give the people what they want. Star Wars, like FIFA, was a franchize on the verge of failure. Lucas had script 7 in his head and was ready to start production when Disney stepped in and bought the rights. They then made a film which was slick, took no chances, was full of nods to the past, and judging by the box office results, a huge success. They gave the people what they wanted. And with five new films in the next four years, including a film dedicated just to Han Solo‘s lost college years, they are going to keep giving the people exactly what they want.

And so will football.


Bonus: Who are your favorite players/managers/owners turned Star Wars Characters? Only-One Arsene Wenger (“That mad old wizard?”)? Darth Mou? Pep Guardiyoda? Sith Blatter?

Players need to sue to stop tackles like the one that broke Luke Shaw’s leg

Here’s the article I’d much rather be writing this morning: Arsenal face a tough test in Zagreb to kick off their 16th consecutive Champions League campaign . But events yesterday forced my hand and now here I am writing about yet another young player who had his leg broken playing football.

When I woke up yesterday the news was starting to spread that Jack Wilshere required surgery to fix a hairline fracture in his “good” ankle. This was the ankle which was nearly broken last year by a poorly timed and aggressive challenge by Manchester United defender Paddy McNair.

Football fans on Twitter reacted to the news in typical fashion, “taking the mickey” and calling Jack Wilshere, Jack Wheelchair. The hashtag trended enough to make the Independent report on it and that means that fans of all clubs (including Arsenal) participated.

It’s an unedifying sight to see football fans act like this and I’m sure the vast majority of the people who love the game would agree with me that people who laugh at player injuries are the human equivalent of that guy from Karate Kid who yells out “get him a body bag”. This behavior masquerades as “club tribalism” and to a certain extent that’s true. Because just a few hours later, the same Man United fans who were mocking Wilshere’s injury were sending out heartfelt “prayers” for their player, Luke Shaw.

For those who don’t know, Luke Shaw, Man United fullback, had his leg broken by an absurd tackle made by PSV’s Hector Moreno in last night’s Champions League opening match between the two teams. It was the 15th minute of the game and Shaw was dribbling into the box, he split his markers, and Moreno, seeing the danger, slid in recklessly and with his trailing leg snapped Shaw’s standing leg in two.

Incredibly, the referee didn’t even call a foul on the play and this, for me, is the real failure.

This isn’t Moreno’s first ride, folks. He broke his own leg making the exact same type of tackle on Arjen Robben at the 2014 Brazil World Cup (en Español). And he made the exact same type of tackle on Ashley Young, in the very game he broke Luke Shaw’s leg:

Football has made progress on tackling down the years. The tackle from behind was outlawed, the two-footed tackle was outlawed, stud’s-up tackles were outlawed, and high tackling has been outlawed. But what still isn’t illegal are the scissors tackle and the idea that the amount of force used is irrelevant as long as the defender wins the ball.

The scissors tackle is what it looks like Moreno did. He lunged at the ball with one leg and followed through with his trailing leg. This trailing leg tackle is never going to win a ball and is always only going to take a player down. It also requires that the defender goes THROUGH the man, this means that by definition, the defender must use enough force to break a standing leg. The defender cannot complete this tackle without using enough force to break his opponent’s leg. It’s just not physically possible.

According to the current laws of the game, this tackle should be outlawed: by going through the man the defender uses excessive force to win the ball. That is and always should be a red card.

But oddly, it’s not seen as a red card offense. Not only did the referee (and his various and sundry assistants) not see a foul, but UEFA ruled out using replays to retroactively punish Moreno.

This is where the players need to step in and do something about the laws of the game. I think the players need to sue FIFA, UEFA, and the Premier League and force them to do something about player safety. The players in the NFL did just that and forced the NFL to change their rules in order to limit concussions . Concussions in the NFL are far more numerous than broken legs in football but the very types of tackles and formations that were most likely to produce concussions were outlawed.

I’m not suggesting that the NFL fixed their concussion problems after the lawsuit and I don’t think that Football players suing FIFA, UEFA, and the Premier League will prevent all future broken legs. But it’s very clear that the laws of the game are there to protect players from exactly the kind of tackle that broke Luke Shaw’s leg. And it’s also clear that UEFA, FIFA, and the Premier League are refusing to use retroactive punishment and video punishment in order to penalize players like Moreno who commit these acts of violence and thus to reduce the number of these tackles in the future.

It’s going to take a career ending injury and a player who is brave enough to sue to change these rules and truly protect these players. Until then, unless FIFA, UEFA, and the Premier League choose to crack down on these plays, we will see more broken legs, more players in wheelchairs, and more young careers threatened.