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.


Never in Doubt

Arsenal v. Chelsea: no pressure

Tottenham won today, bringing them within 2 points of Arsenal in 4th place… no pressure.

Man City drew today, taking them above Arsenal on the table… no pressure.

Leicester won today, taking them 3 points above Arsenal and to the top of the table… no pressure.

Arsenal need a win to go back to the top of the table… no pressure.

Arsenal haven’t beaten Chelsea in the League since 2011… no pressure.

If we go back to when Arsenal lost to Chelsea in the Champions League in the year of the Invincibles (2004), Arsenal have only won 5 of the last 30 matches against Chelsea… no pressure.

Arsenal have lost 17 of those 30 matches against Chelsea… no pressure.

One of those losses was an ugly League Cup final which saw two Arsenal players sent off, in a match that was so poorly refereed that the Football Association had to retroactively ban Arsenal’s Eboue for clawing at a man and for that man pretending like he’d been clawed by the adamantium claws of Wolverine… no pressure.

The last match between these two teams also saw two Arsenal players sent off in a match so poorly refereed that the Football Association had to step in and retroactively re-referee the entire match handing out a red card to Chelsea’s Costa for assaulting Arsenal’s Koscielny: Arsenal will be looking to right the wrongs of that match in the eyes of all football fans… no pressure.


Diego Costa will probably play and has made an entire career of being a wind up merchant… no pressure.

Arsenal have a reputation for being easily wound up… no pressure.

The pundits like to paint this fixture as “men” against “boys” and say things like how Arsenal “don’t like it up ‘em” which is a pretty weird thing for an adult who has graduated from elementary school to say… no pressure.

Winding up is all Chelsea have left, since they are in 14th place and would love nothing more than to stop Arsenal from winning the League… no pressure.

Chelsea will kick, punch, slap, tackle wildly and do anything they can in order to rough Arsenal up… no pressure.

Chelsea have former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas… no pressure.

He is a player Arsenal might have been able to buy back last summer but he went to Chelsea and won the Premier League instead… no pressure.

Arsenal bought Chelsea’s keeper this summer, Petr Cech, and he’s been brilliant for them all season, organizing the defense, calming the midfield, claiming crosses when needed, and making huge saves; Arsenal will probably need some more magic from him in this match… no pressure.

Arsenal are missing inspirational midfield duo Coquelin and Cazorla and have a maskeshift midfield of Ramsey and Flamini which tends to be a little too open in the middle sometimes and allows the opposition to boss the middle of the park… no pressure.

Arsenal have drawn their last two Premier League matches, conceding three and scoring three… no pressure.

Chelsea have also drawn their last two matches, conceding five and scoring five… no pressure.

Chelsea fired their greatest ever manager this season… no pressure.

Chelsea haven’t lost since firing Mourinho… no pressure.

Arsenal haven’t scored in the last eight hours of Premier League play against Chelsea… no pressure.

Chelsea have struggled to beat anyone this season, winning just two away games, a lot of Arsenal fans are expecting a win in this match… no pressure.

Tim Todd from 7amkickoff has his Peter Hill-Wood “Never in Doubt” image lined up and ready to go after the match… no pressure.

Never in Doubt



Deloitte’s Money League: the Premier League Bonanza

Deloitte published their 19th annual Football Money League and as I always do, the first thing I looked for was Arsenal.

First, the good news: Arsenal have now overtaken Chelsea as the richest team, or more appropriately the most prosperous team, in London. It’s an old story but one which bears repeating: Arsenal didn’t rely on an Oligarch pumping over £1bn into the club’s debts to get where they are. Arsenal won trophies by spending wisely and buying players no one else wanted, then using that success as a springboard, Arsenal built a larger stadium, and grew their revenue slowly and steadily while miraculously staying within touching distance of three clubs who outspent Arsenal by hundreds of millions of Pounds per year.

One of the main reasons Arsenal have overtaken Chelsea is because of matchday revenue. Chelsea’s matchday revenue at their ageing bus stop in Fulham is €93m while Arsenal’s is €132m. But it’s not that simple: Chelsea, it should be noted, charge their fans almost twice what Arsenal charge their fans for a ticket. That’s right. Chelsea’s cheapest match ticket is £52 while Arsenal’s cheapest ticket is £27 — these are usually youth tickets, by the way. Even Chelsea’s youth shirt is £3 more than Arsenal’s. Chelsea, it seems, has no problem taking candy (money) from babies in order to try to stay in touch with Arsenal’s match day revenue.

Much is made in the press of Arsenal’s most expensive tickets, which are slightly higher than Chelsea, but often that discussion fails to point out that all of the big clubs in London charge substantially more for their top ticket than top clubs in the North. And no one ever seems to mention that the top price for a ticket at West Ham and Tottenham is absurdly inflated given the product on display. West Ham’s top ticket price is just £2 less than Arsenal: can you imagine paying £95 to see Sam Allardyce’s West Ham lump long balls for 90 minutes? Or how about £81 to watch Tottenham play in their dire old stadium? Here is how match day tickets stack up for the two big clubs in London, plus some other clubs who charge prices like a big club:


Source: BBC Price of Football – http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/34531731

It makes perfect sense that Arsenal have the highest match day revenue in Europe: they are the biggest club in the biggest city, they have the nicest stadium, and they play some pretty good football as well, judging by the position on the table this year and every year for the last 20 years. What have Tottenham done over the last 20 years to justify charging £81? And West Ham, who pays £95 to see West Ham? Someone with more money than brains.

The other huge part of Arsenal’s revenue is television. I used to brag about how us foreign johnnies were one day going to contribute more to the Arsenal coffers than the match-day fans but since that day came and went a long time ago I’ve stopped mentioning it. And I’ve especially dropped the topic since television revenue is actually quite problematic.

Arsenal banked €168m off television revenue last season. That’s 6th best behind Man City, Chelsea, Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. A good portion of that revenue comes from Champions League money but the bulk comes from local and foreign fans watching on television.

As you know, 3pm Saturday matches are not broadcast in the UK. This means that the only matches being shown on live TV are all the “odd” times, like Saturday at 12:30 and Sunday at 4pm. What you don’t know is that Sky and BT pay for each of the games that they broadcast. Under the new deal, the category A games are Saturday at 12:30 and Sky paid £11m per game to broadcast those matches.

THIS is why matches get moved for TV: if Sky has a choice between Aston Villa v. Liverpool or Arsenal v. Leicester they are going to take the latter match. They almost have to take the latter match because their broadcasting rights are costing them so much that they have to recoup as much of that cost as possible.

That said, I completely agree with Arseblog when he points out that if the Sky executives didn’t know that Arsenal v. Leicester was going to be a big game in December maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to run a sports channel? The Leicester City and Arsenal fans are planning a protest against the obliviousness of the television channels and I hope that they wake up from their spreadsheets long enough to notice.

And there is one final wrinkle in all this to consider for the future of the Premier League and the culture of English football in general. While the mainstream press is sounding the call that Man U will overtake Real Madrid in the overall Money League, I noticed that Leicester City made £104m in revenue last season (2014/15). I am not an expert in lower league finances but I did wonder about Leicester City’s previous financial results. It turns out that in 2014 Leicester City was crowing about growing all its main sources of revenue, which rose to £31.2m from £19.6m in 2013. In one year, Leicester City jumped £70m in annual revenue just by inclusion in the television bonanza that is the Premier League.

Bonanza is the perfect word here. There was an old television show called Bonanza centered around the discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada, discovery of that mineral deposit was the biggest since the California Gold Rush. Along with the silver came great wealth and with that great wealth came great problems.

I don’t bemoan Leicester City their claim to Premier League Mother Lode and instead I have enjoyed the fiery competitiveness they have brought to the League. It’s not the clubs , it’s the leeches — the agents, the rich owners who are looking to get richer, and the television companies — who are the undesirables. The League will survive but only if they can rein in the undesirables.