As Eduardo da Silva tumbled to the ground during Arsenal’s Champions League qualifier, nobody could have imagined the widespread debate that the incident would spark.
The Croatian cheated. It was a dive. The wry smile of the player as he rose to his feet suggested he knew exactly what he was doing.
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger has claimed that there was minimal contact and the player was trying to avoid the on-rushing Artur Boruc.
"Sometimes the players go down because there is no other way to escape the tackling of the keeper," Wenger said. "Sometimes they dive."
It is perplexing to hear these empty words from one of the most respected bosses in world football. There is no excuse for Eduardo’s dive. He successfully conned the referee.
But UEFA’s treatment of the striker is both unprecedented and despicable.
Eduardo dived—on that point everyone agrees. Yet the incident went unpunished during the game itself. Unless the referee lists the offence in his post-match report, that is normally the end of the matter.
On this occasion, the European governing body decided to buy into the media whirlwind and review the case.
There is no problem with UEFA examining the footage after the game, but will this now occur after every European game? If an alleged dive takes place during the 90 minutes, will a disciplinary committee be called in the proceeding days?
If this is the case, then credit Michel Platini and his colleagues for trying to stamp out an unwanted aspect of the game.
On the other hand, if this review process is a once-off, Wenger is correct in lambasting UEFA’s actions as a “witch hunt.”
In this case, Eduardo’s punishment doesn’t fit his crime: a two-match ban from European football. The normal sanction imposed upon a player guilty of deliberately diving is a caution.
At least, that is the punishment cited for the offence.
Now, however, surely the Eduardo case sets a precedent, and, as a result, any player guilty of diving must be hit with an identical two-match ban, of course subject to investigation by UEFA.
Platini and Co. supported their stance by citing paragraph 1c of article 10 of the UEFA disciplinary regulations, which states:
“Players may be suspended for two competition matches, or for a specified period, for acting with the obvious intent to cause any match official to make an incorrect decision or supporting his error of judgment and thereby causing him to make an incorrect decision.”
Well, it would be fair to suggest on the basis of the citation above the UEFA hasn’t been doing its job adequately.
Each week there are dozens of cases in domestic and European football of players trying to deceive the referee. It isn’t only diving. Cases like handballs and encouraging bookings of other players.
Surely there must be a huge backlog of cases that UEFA is waiting to review?
In addition, how do UEFA deem a dive to be deliberate? It isn’t black and white by any means—there is much ambiguity.
If a player tries to avoid an onrushing goalkeeper, but, in doing, so falls to the ground, does that constitute simulation?
Recently, many TV pundits have been quick to point the accusing finger at foreign players for introducing diving into the game.
They may be partly correct; however, in the Premier League today, one is just as likely to see an English player try to con the referee as another player hailing from foreign shores.
Kenny Daglish suggested that it stems from English clubs playing in the European competitions. They have been regularly penalised for opponents easily falling to the floor.
To counteract these cheating opponents, the English players now deploy the same tactic.
There is also a cultural difference as to how diving is regarded in countries across Europe. English supporters enjoy watching their players to give full commitment but maintaining sportsmanship in doing so.
Meanwhile, in countries such as Spain and Italy, it is not viewed as cheating. It is merely seeing how far they can go without getting caught.
In South America, many fans will tell you conning the referee is part of the game. It’s just whether you get away with it or not.
UEFA have created their own mess. No one doubts that Eduardo dived.
But UEFA has taken unprecedented action. It now remains to be seen whether this practice will be continued and the punishment remains the same.