Simulation, one of the uglier aspects of the beautiful game, is a practice that has been a part of the sport for a long time now. However, with football becoming more competitive than ever, many professionals seem to play under the impression that the ends justify the means. A number of teams are falling victim to blatant cheating, and it’s time to put an end to this menace. This week, The Controversial High Line takes a look at how diving can be put to bed once and for all.
During the Premier League fixture between Arsenal and West Brom this weekend, diving standards hit an all-time low. Santi Cazorla had the ball inside West Brom’s penalty area when Steven Reid lashed out at the Spaniard. Cazorla went down like a sack of potatoes, flailing at the air and clutching his foot. Referee Mike Jones had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. At first it seemed like the right decision. However, replays showed that there was no contact at all and that it was a classic case of simulation. Simply put, Cazorla dived. Many were shocked that a player of Cazorla’s ability felt the need to resort to cheating. Then again, we’ve seen it happen before. Ashley Young, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale…. all top players for their respective clubs, all have been given that dreaded tag: Diver.
As expected, their managers and team-mates do come out in their defence. Suarez has claimed that he is a victim of his reputation and that many decisions go against him for that reason, a sentiment echoed by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. Fair enough. But that ‘reputation’ is there for a reason. His dive against Stoke was horrible to say the least, and that wasn’t the only time he’s dived. And while he’s right in saying that decisions do go against him (he was denied legitimate penalties against Newcastle and Norwich this season) he has no one but himself to blame for the fact that referees are hesitant to award decisions in his favour.
Gareth Bale claims that he dives to ‘protect’ himself from injury. This was backed up by Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas: “I think he uses it as a precaution from different types of challenges. I’m not saying all of the players that challenge Gareth are malicious but the action is so quick that it might look like it is”. Again, fair enough. Bale has a lot of pace and even the slightest of touches can send him flying. But why should a defender refrain from tackling him simply because he’s speedy? Bale must learn how and when to use his pace and not solely rely on the fact that he is fast to beat defenders. His reputation has also caught up with him and he’s been booked twice this season for simulation (against Fulham and Liverpool). Funnily enough, he was actually fouled both times.
As for Ashley Young, he has reached a point of no-return. Young has garnered such a reputation for diving that even die-hard United fans are unable to defend him any longer. The comparisons to Tom Daley aren’t even funny now. Sir Alex Ferguson has said that he has spoken to Young about his tendency to go down easily. But I doubt he will ever be able to shed the ‘diver’ tag.
However, there is another side to this story. Can you blame players for going to ground far too easily when they end up getting no reward for doing the right thing and staying on their feet? I’m not trying to justify simulation, but the fact is that you get nothing if you try and play Mr. Nice Guy. During this weekend’s Manchester derby, Carlos Tevez was one-on-one with De Gea when Patrice Evra caught up to him and yanked his shirt. The tug was a hard one and had Tevez gone to ground he would have been awarded a penalty. Instead, he did the right thing and fought hard to stay on his feet, but it came with a cost; the chance fizzled out and Evra escaped unpunished. Replays showed City manager Roberto Mancini almost begging Tevez to go to ground. While Mancini’s ethics can be debated in this case, his logic was sound: Tevez would have gotten the penalty if he simply went down.
Nevertheless, simulation is something that can be done away with, but tough steps have to be taken. Despite the uproar that we witness every time someone dives, it doesn’t seem to deter certain footballers from indulging in the practice. Here’s what I think should be done in order to stop simulation once and for all.
Players who indulge in simulation must be hit with a 3-match ban and fined a minimum of one week’s wages. Players do get booked during matches for simulation, but that’s only when they’re caught in the act. The 3-match ban was a remedy first suggested by Arsene Wenger (he was pretty mum about Cazorla’s dive though) but if diving is to be kicked out of the game then the players must be hit where it hurts the most: their pockets. As it is, many footballers earn colossal sums of money nowadays and so fining them wouldn’t exactly burn a huge hole in their pocket. But it would send a strong message to future offenders. Referees must also be proactive and try to catch divers in the act. If players are caught in the act during the match itself, it reduces the chances of a match being decided due to an act of blatant cheating. Referees must make it a point to award fouls when players are kicked and pushed yet decide to stay on their feet. Just because the player does the right thing and doesn’t go down easily does not change the fact that he was fouled.
Simulation has no place in football. Now it is up to the powers-that-be to kick it out of the game for good.