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.