Tottenham Hotspur: Defending Gareth Bale's Diving Has Little Basis in Reality
Two of the Premier League's most infamous practitioners in the art of simulation were missing this past weekend.
Luis Suarez (suspension) and Gareth Bale (hamstring injury) ceded the spotlight to Arsenal's Santi Cazorla who shamelessly and shamefully conned referee Mike Jones into awarding a penalty for a non-existent foul from West Bromwich Albion's Steven Reid.
Quotes from an interview Cazorla gave to the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter in October have been cited in various media outlets in the aftermath of the incident—and with good reason.
“It shouldn’t be a blame game", the Spaniard told Winter, adding further:
"It’s a moment when you get hot-headed, sometimes you’re not thinking about what happens, sometimes you dive and yet it’s not something that should be a big controversy.
“It’s something that happens in football. Sometimes you’re thinking: Will they touch me or won’t they touch me?’ You go over and then realize they haven’t touched you. It just happens so maybe there shouldn’t be this controversy".
This kind of attitude is becoming increasingly prevalent among a modern breed of players in the England game who do not view it as conning their fellow professionals, officials, clubs and supporters.
A win-at-all-costs attitude is prevailing, and the extent to which it is being accepted by so many is highlighted by how Cazorla's quotes went under the radar for so long.
Bale, as a young British player, is a particularly apt case study for the thinking that goes into the decision to dive or not.
Here first, are the arguments made defending him...
The Case for the Defense
Football is about entertainment. When you have players like that who entertain you week in, week out, you have to protect that. It's so precious.
The above argument, put forward by former Tottenham Hotspur winger David Ginola in an interview with BBC Radio Wales last week, is in essence the same one Gareth Bale has put forward in defending his reactions in certain instances when challenged.
Bale argues that, what others assume to be simulation/diving/over-exaggerating/cheating, is in fact a defense mechanism to avoid being hurt when opponents try to stop him running with the ball.
Ginola, himself a left-winger of quite-sparkling talent can emphasize with this, suggesting also that "you don't need a big tackle to go down. A little push would be enough to lose the balance."
A further defense of the player came from his manager after Tottenham's recent win over Fulham, a game which saw Bale booked for simulation for the second time in a week.
"He might put his body in situations that the referee thinks that he is diving and he is suffering for it in these last two games," Andre Villas-Boas told BBC Sport in his post-match interview.
"He is now very near suspension for two unfair yellow cards and I think you gain a reputation for being a diver unfairly sometimes. This player has suffered a lot in his career."
It all combines to paint a picture of an extremely talented player who is being unfairly punished for sensibly attempting to avoid injury through contact.
That his tumbles to the ground are an unavoidable side-effect of the speed with which he plays the game.
You would be inclined to believe someone who his former manager Harry Redknapp describes as being "a great lad as well with a good family behind him," if only the evidence didn't contradict these arguments so damningly.
The Case Against Bale
It is Bale himself who undermines his reasoning for going to ground when challenged.
He was booked for simulation in his two most recent appearances against Liverpool and Fulham, when he was adjudged to have gone down too easily under pressure from Reds' defender Daniel Agger and then Steven Sidwell.
What Ginola said about even minimal contact being enough to send down a player in full-flight is often cited by others too, and there was some contact in these instances.
But in neither situation was it overly aggressive or coming in at a point of connection to impede Bale's running motion to the extent it would have genuinely sent him down—it rarely is with the 23-year-old, he is often looking for something that isn't there.
What is particularly damning to Bale's case is the level of his reaction in so many of these cases.
If he is just trying to avoid a tackle that might hurt him, then there is no reason (beyond cheating) for him to act as if he has been genuinely fouled (arms flung into the air in a theatrical fall), nor to pretend to be hurt.
But he still does it and bases it on the pretense he is attempting to avoid injury.
Bale does take some hard tackles, but nobody can genuinely argue that many of these are as painful as he makes out.
An arm across the chest is not something that warrants holding your face like you have been punched, nor is a kick to the leg enough to be clutching it as if you have just been stabbed there.
He is not alone in this respect, and it is somewhat baffling that Bale and so many of his peers are such public wussies.
It seems winning has definitely come to mean more to them than their dignity and masculinity (sensitivity is good, but they're going too far here!).
Why This All Matters
He has suffered big, big injuries to his ankles before and sometimes he wants to protect himself a little bit.
So said Villas-Boas of Bale, in his post-match interview with BBC Sport a couple of weekends ago.
Since joining Tottenham, Bale has had some notable injury problems, and one was the result of a bad tackle on him by Charlie Adam (then of Blackpool) back in May 2011.
You could forgive Bale for wanting to avoid a repeat of any such incidents that might cause him to miss prolonged periods of football.
But prior to that genuinely awful Adam tackle, he had been looking to con the match officials that day into thinking he was being fouled worse than he was.
Real competition for the ball, something so vital to football at its best, was being reduced to a joke by Bale on a few occasions in that match when he reacted to some hard, but fair challenges as if he had just had his shoulder forced back into place.
By the time he was actually hurt that day, this writer's first instinct was sadly to lambast the writhing Welshman—he was the football equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.
The seriousness of this in particular was highlighted by the near-tragedy that also occurred at White Hart Lane this past spring, when the terrific work of trained professionals saved the life of Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba.
It is terrifying to wonder than in another scenario, the vital treatment a player might need would not be delivered to him as quickly as it should because he had attempted to trick officials and everyone else watching with dives and over-exaggerated responses previously.
Mostly though, it is the cheating that grates, and it unbecoming of Bale when he is too good to be resorting to these methods.
Oliver Holt wrote a tremendous article in the Daily Mirror in October, passionately outlining why diving should not, for a single second, be tolerated.
It is his words that sum up succinctly the moral conundrum that seems to have bypassed Bale, Cazorla, Suarez and increasingly many more, both players and observers.
"We object to diving because it’s not fair. It rewards a cheat and it makes a villain out of someone who is innocent," wrote Holt.
"Diving might not hurt anybody physically, but that does not alter the fact that it is cheating."