The Great Pretender: Should Diving Be Practiced, Preached, or Punished?

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The Great Pretender: Should Diving Be Practiced, Preached, or Punished?
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

The picture on the right shows a clear foul. The cringe-worthy position of Slovenian defender Bostjan Cesar's ankle is made even more shocking by the fact the ball isn't even in the picture.

In fact, the ball is quite a way off the ground.

So, what did Wayne Rooney get for this off-the-ball foul?

A penalty.

What did Cesar get? A yellow card, and a probable lifelong ambition of playing at Wembley cut cruelly short, as he was unable to continue.

The penalty was allegedly given for Cesar pulling the shirt of Rooney, causing the Manchester United forward to tumble inside the box, injuring Cesar en route.

This incident gave rise to another debate about diving, a talking point that has been rife in the game since Eduardo conned referee Mejuto Gonzalez into awarding a penalty in the Champions League qualifier between Arsenal and Celtic.

That dive earned the Brazilian-turned-Croat a two-match ban from European competition in an unprecedented crackdown on a serious problem in the game.

Diving has been a much disputed topic in football for a while now, and it is a problem that has proved very hard to solve.

UEFA's Eduardo verdict, and indeed the spree of diving-related yellow cards the following weekend, looked like the beginning of a new era in tackling the problem, but the enormity of the task could prove too much for even UEFA to handle.

At what point does a dive become a dive?

Is it when a player goes to ground and there is no contact, or is it when a player goes to the ground too easily?

Was the Rooney incident on Saturday a dive or a frustrated kick-out at the defender? Either way, he deserved a yellow card but got away with it.

Was the penalty Rooney won against Arsenal a dive? Replays have suggested that he was already on his way to the ground when Manuel Almunia made contact. Will incidents such as this, even when there is clear contact, be counted as a dive?

Was it simply bad refereeing? The whistle and resulting penalty prompted a shocked and perhaps confused silence around Wembley before everyone figured out what had happened.

UEFA's proposed move to incorporate an extra two officials behind the goals to judge such decisions has a very limited scope.

Everyone but the referee felt that Saturday's incident was not a penalty. Would the two extra officials be able to overrule the referee, or would he simply be adamant he saw something no one else did and award the penalty regardless?

Post-match replays may prove him wrong, as they did in the Eduardo case, but then do teams have to kick up a big fuss to get UEFA to review the situation? It certainly seems the only way to get them to take notice is to make a scene.

This touches on a serious problem in the fight against diving: consistency.

I commend UEFA for looking to stamp it out of the game, but what use is making an example of Eduardo if they don't follow it up?

Unfortunately, I don't think they can.

Diving is such a huge problem in the game that it may be too hard to get rid of it. It occurs numerous times all over the pitch in every game, so unless only controversial decisions that lead to a game-changing moment are to be reviewed, the most reasonable resolution I can think of is having a panel to review every game.

This subjects the game to a level of scrutiny that will play on the minds of players and would be likely to cause even more dispute.

It would also lead to unprecedented levels of suspensions. Most players have dived in their career, especially if we consider going down too easily as a form of diving.

There are probably at least 20 or so incidents like these in every game. If all these players were to get the same punishment as Eduardo—which they should, as they are also "deceiving the referee"—then we won't be left with enough players to take to the field!

It may be the most reasonable and indeed only feasible solution I can think of, but it would almost certainly ruin the game.

So, if we can't beat them, should we join them?

Is it time to accept diving as part and parcel of football, just like we do other means of cheating such as cynical fouls and deliberate handballs?

Perhaps it is.

Recently, in the Pro Evolution Soccer series, diving has been made part of the game.

Children playing this are then going to think that it is just another aspect of football which, if you can master, will give you the edge over your opponents.

While this could be detrimental to the game in the long run, it looks increasingly inevitable.

If it becomes accepted or acknowledged as a way to gain an advantage (albeit an illegal one), will we see managers actually telling their players to dive and players practising it until it becomes a fine art?

For all we know, this may well already be happening.

The bottom line of football for managers is to win. If they don't, they lose their jobs.

If diving helps them win, then will they be persuading their players to refrain from diving or preaching to them that it is the future?

It is more likely to be the latter.

For football fans, the thing they want most when their team is playing is to win. Winning in the right way may come second, but that is still less important than grabbing the three points.

If diving helps the team win, then will the fans condemn the player who threw himself to the ground? Probably not.

Sportsmanship is still applauded in football. For example, Paolo Di Canio catching the ball when the opposition goalkeeper was injured despite having an open goal in front of him led to plaudits for the Italian striker.

If I was a West Ham fan, however, I'd have preferred it if he scored the goal.

The lack of other examples like this shows that sportsmanship is an increasingly rare phenomenon in today's game. Smaller examples often occur, but the level of deceit in the game far outweighs it.

There are few things more frustrating then being cheated out of a win by the opposition, but if a player from your team cheats to win you the match, you are first and foremost happy that you won.

So, if diving is such a big problem that UEFA can't deal with it, and if fans', managers', and players' best interests are fulfilled by a dive, is it time to accept it into the game?

Should players practice diving? Should managers preach diving, or should the clubs punish diving?

Morally, the answer is obvious. In pure footballing terms, though, it becomes a lot more complicated.

An acceptance of diving could be seen as the beginning of the end for football or the latest tactical innovation.

In a perfect world, it would be eradicated, but as that solution is nigh-on impossible, what else can we do but accept it as part of the game?

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