It’s been labelled as a curse of the modern game and in post-match discussions probably causes as much controversy as any other subject, and a great deal more than most. What am I talking about? Some call it simulation. Others call it diving. For the purpose of clarity, whichever euphemism people choose to disguise it as, it is of course cheating.
You’ve all heard the managers and players justifying or bleating about it afterwards. “There was contact.” “He went down very easily” “It was soft.” “It was minimal.” There’s even my all-time favourite: “He was entitled to go down!” I’m not quite sure whether such entitlement was an inalienable right passed down from a particular deity, or just an element of the country’s constitution. I’m thinking probably neither.
Over the years every club in the land have probably delighted in the decisions that go for them and complained bitterly about those that go in the other direction. Should we stamp it out? I think that most people would agree that it would be a good thing; most however would also consider it an impossible task. It isn’t though. It’s a very easy and straightforward thing to achieve. All that is required is the committed acquiescence of a group of people with an oft-stated desire to see it removed from the game.
No, not referees. They are given the unenviable task as calling as they see it. Split-second decision making skills and a thick skin about criticism is a key requirement for that particular role, but I’m not sure what more the chap with the whistle can do, other than blow it when he sees fit.
What of the players then? After all, they’re the guys who take the tumble, feign the contact, take up their “entitlement.” Well, the problem is that if they didn’t do that, they’d be lambasted by team-mates and coaching staff alike. “Why didn’t you go down? A penalty there and we’d have sealed/won/salvaged/got back into the game.” (Delete as applicable). No, players aren’t the group in question. We need to move up a notch. So, who is it that, in the post-match interviews, does most of the complaining about this sort of thing? Simply, it’s the managers.
Now, we need to ask a question here. Is there any manager of any team ever to have complained about a decision going against his side that has never had a player cheat, or attempt to cheat, for his team and done nothing about it? Ever? At All? Not even claimed a corner, when he knew it was goal-kick. Appealed for a throw-in, knowing it should go the other way? Seriously, is there? No, I think not. So, is there not an obvious hypocrisy in complaining when a referee falls foul of a deception by players merely acting in a way not condemned by the managers themselves, and therefore at the very least approving of it by omission?
Quite simply, if the LMA called on all of their members to agree to a voluntary code of ethics, whereby any player deemed to be ‘diving’ or whichever sobriquet they wish to use, the club will ban him for a minimum of five matches, the response would be interesting. If they all agreed which, of course, they wouldn’t, because most managers have this misguided belief that their ‘divers’ are better than their opponents’, otherwise why perpetuate the practise. If the inevitable happened and there was no consensus, no manager could indulge in the phoney bellyaching about ‘we wuz robbed’ ever again.
The situation is of course that each manager wants to cut a break by getting his players to gain an unfair advantage, but at one and the same time, deny this to anyone else as it would be ‘unfair.’ To condone players trying to con match officials, and then complaining that on the odd occasion it works is really pushing anyone’s definition of equitable beyond the point at which the elastic snaps.
All of this may sound a little flippant, and broadly of course it is. It would be however refreshing if a manager actually admitted, in an interview, that his players had tried to con the referee, to cheat in order to get an uneven break. Even if they then went on to say he had to do it because everyone else does. No, I know. It’s not going to happen. Just for once however, when there’s a bit of self-righteous indignation on display by a manager claiming an opposition player had cheated, you have to hope that interviewer will forget the normal protocol and have the bottle to ask whether anyone in the particular manager’s team has ever cheated.
(This All blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘Touchline Banter’ website).