The Cheat and His Place In Modern Football

illya mclellanSenior Analyst IAugust 13, 2008

I have recently been thinking about the amount of times I have seen players dive, handball deliberately, and foul intentionally in recent times. It seems that cheating to gain an advantage is very much a part of football these days. It is everywhere.

The most recent example for me was while watching an Olympic football pool game and I saw a player take a little push in the back and go tumbling theatrically to the ground because he had lost the ball. He got the free kick.

The terrible thing is that we are used to this type of cheating and it no longer causes us any shock at all.

On one side of this are the officials who condone this type of behaviour, on the other are the players who make a conscious decision to behave in this fashion. In no way is it limited to diving though.

Look at last season and the tackle that ended Croatian and Arsenal forward Eduardo's season. This is a prime example of a player cheating to make an advantage for himself.

After this tackle the player no longer had to worry about the injured striker making a fool of him or scoring a goal. He was gone.

After seeing the tackle there is no way that you can defend the actions of the offender. It was malicious and completely uncalled for.

It is common for defenders to make these sort of tackles to gain an advantage over speedier opponents. Just watch Marco Materazzi sometime.

Even though this incident had terrible consequences, the scale of injury is not as  commonplace as it once was—in past decades broken legs happened reasonably frequently all over the world.

Fouls by defenders are of course just one area in which players bend the rules.

The other major area is the "dive". Diving by players has become so prominent because of the speed of players and the intense pressure they have to get results.

Players who successfully pull off a dive to win a free kick, penalty or to get someone booked only encourage others to do the same. Some blame the referees for poor decision making, but they are in a more difficult position as the man in the middle than they have ever been.

Unfortunately for them, they frequently miss incidents or misinterpret things that happen because of the distance from them to the incident or the sheer speed of the incident itself.

The cheating player will be a fixture in the game forever. As long as people play the game there will be players who are willing to cheat in order to win. From shirt pulling to boot stomping, from sneaky hand balls to the trailing leg (which can be used to good affect by the ball carrier as well), cheating is here to stay.

Of course the most high profile sporting incident involving cheating to win a game involved Maradona and the English in the World Cup in Mexico.

Another lesser-known or less-reported incident is the Fabio Grosso dive against the Australian team for Italy in the last World Cup.

Grosso made a run into the area before heading straight for Lucas Neill, who had ended up on the ground because of an earlier incident.

He proceeded to fall over the player lying on the ground and was duly awarded the penalty. It was absolutely ridiculous, but it stood and the rest, as they say, is history.

The cheat in these two cases was instrumental in his team winning the biggest tournament in world sport.

The question for all of us is this: Do we admire the cheat or do we condemn him? Is a cheat who gets away with something that wins his team a game any less important to the result than the keeper who saves a spot kick or a striker who converts a penalty?

It might have been a cheat who gave the spot kick away or a cheat who dived to get it. Either way, they win and their teammates are happy and so are their fans.

Maybe a "good" cheat is as much a part of the game as a good player. As the season is upon us, I suppose there is nothing else to say but "let the cheating begin."