Once again I am prompted to return to what the law book describes as ‘attempting to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled,’ which normally gets referred to as diving. This is not by the rash of high profiled examples we have seen recently, so much as the fact that the top man in world football, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA has spoken out against it. He says that the players who dive are failing as a role model and that cutting out this kind of cheating is a matter of respect towards opponents, fans and ultimately of self-respect as a professional. He called upon referees to use the full force of the law to punish simulation.
If only it was that easy. Of all offences, diving is one of the most difficult to always get right, although I was taught in a novel way some time ago, how to spot the difference between a dive and a trip. It was at a training workshop led by ex Premier League and FIFA referee David Elleray. Now retired, he is holds many positions in refereeing primarily with the FA and FIFA. In this instance there was another person at the workshop who was not part of the training team but responsible for its administration. David asked him to walk across the room from one side to the other. When he got to the middle, David stuck out his leg and the poor administrator tripped and fell forward to the ground. You can imagine the gasp that went around the room. But David, unrepentant asked a question. ‘Did anyone notice what he had done with his hands as he fell?’ Everyone said that the unfortunate man had quite naturally put his arms out in front of himself to break his fall. Absolutely correct, said David, someone who is tripped unexpectedly will do exactly that. They have no expectation of being tripped and therefore their instinctive reaction is to save themselves. However players who dive have thought about going down, although only momentarily before and tend to put their hands above their head almost like diving into a swimming pool.
A good guide but as David himself said there is a difference between falsification and exaggeration. I remember Van Persie when he was with Arsenal denying that he dived but admitted that sometimes when he was tripped he went down theatrically to make sure the referee had seen the offence. Tricky for the referee. If he gives the foul he is accused of being conned, if he doesn’t give it and the dreaded replay shows it was a trip, he gets roundly admonished, especially if it was in the penalty area. Sometimes it needs only the smallest contact to bring a player down. Of course some decisions are easy providing the referee is in the right position. There was one recently by the teenage Manchester United starlet, Adnan Januzaj that really was ludicrous and another by Oscar of Chelsea who was already falling before he brushed a defenders leg but still appealed. The problem for habitual divers is that when they are fouled, unless the referee has a completely unrestricted view he is unlikely to give him the benefit of the doubt. Howard Webb said to players a season or so back, stop diving and you will get better decisions.
In Scotland a player can be fined and cautioned retrospectively if the camera shows a dive the referee missed but did Sepp Blatter have something else in mind? His former compatriot and now President of EUFA, Michel Platini, recommends a Sin Bin instead of a yellow card. Would this reduce the diving or just add to the pressure on referees?