Diving is once again at the top of the Premier League Hit Parade. Is it a real problem or a smokescreen used to deflect us from the real issues?

gareth bale can levitate!                                        Gareth Bale: No Stranger to Hitting the Deck!

Once again the issue of diving is back in the media glare and once again Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has been held up as an example of everything that is bad in a modern day footballer.  Diving is a “cancer” says England’s FIFA representative and he even went as far as to name-check Luis Suarez  as a cheat and a clear example of the “cancer” that needs to be cut out. It seems odd that Suarez should be castigated as the Premier League’s diving poster boy, especially when you consider that on the same weekend Gareth Bale’s blatant dive was laughed off and in a season where Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young have both already dived to win penalties, two Chelsea players have been booked for diving and Branislav Ivanovic has gotten away with an atrocious effort to “con the referee”, amidst numerous other instances of simulation.

In order to understand the furore over diving/simulation in the British game, we first have to understand why people loathe it so. There are a number of reasons that I can see: it isn’t manly and is considered as soft or wet to go down easily, it’s infuriating for players and fans should they fall victim to an act of simulation, it is considered to be cheating ie: “conning the referee” and, very importantly, it is seen as “foreign”-a dirty practice brought to the clean, English game by those dodgy “foreigners”.

Let’s look at these last two points, as they are the biggest factors which contribute to simulation/diving being seen as such a filthy habit. First of all the issue of diving being cheating is a strange concept to me. I’ve always maintained that it is impossible to cheat on the football pitch. There are rules, which players, all players, will bend and break on the field of play in order to gain an advantage; that is a simple fact. In order to punish players/teams who engage in rule bending/breaking, there is a referee. The referee exists to punish transgressions in an appropriate manner in order to keep the contest as fair as possible.

Now, there are many facets to rule breaking-cheating as some would like to refer to it. A player can foul another player, pull his shirt, stamp on him, deliberately use his hand, the list goes on. When a player indulges in such behaviour it is clearly to gain an advantage over the other team or to stop the other team gaining an advantage over him-there can be no argument about that. He is hoping to get away with his foul play by disguising it from the referee, he is therefore trying to con the referee and gain an advantage for his side. This is exactly the same thing as a player who goes down easily in order to gain an advantage for his team and, in both instances, it is down to the referee to make the correct decision and punish the guilty party accordingly. If diving is cheating, so is shirt-pulling, even claiming a goal kick when you know it’s a corner can be called cheating if one wishes to see the game in this way.

The next point to consider is very interesting indeed. It is the notion that somehow diving is a “foreign” practice introduced to the beautiful, honest, English game. This is an issue that cuts right to the heart of English football and through the English psyche as a whole ie. blame the foreigners. The idea that diving/going down easily was introduced by foreigners is simply wrong. Don Revie’s Leeds United side of the seventies, the archetypal blood and thunder, aggressive, physical, English side were also famed for crumbling under challenges to gain free-kicks and penalties which helped them get one over on their opponents. The challenges may have been a little more robust than nowadays, however everything is relative. Revie’s Leeds wasn’t the only team in the seventies and eighties (decades where the players were almost exclusively British) to include players who indulged in going down softly, far from it in fact.

As time has progressed and football has evolved (much for the better in most respects I might add) more foreigners have come into the game and diving/going down easily has become a recognised part of the game which has been highlighted on a regular basis. Is there more of it nowadays? Perhaps. Is it highlighted far more often and scrutinised much more thoroughly in the modern era? Absolutely! Like every other part of the game, every tackle/fall is analysed to death. Does that mean it is a massive problem? No, quite frankly, if you look at anything under a microscope it appears to be far bigger than it actually is.

Despite the changes in the English game, which looking back to 91/92 have been huge over the last twenty years, despite the pace that the game is played at and the instances of diving/simulation that we see on a regular basis from all players of all nationalities, the football media/authorities/pundits and everybody else involved with the game would still have us believe that diving is a “foreign” illness. It isn’t.

Michael Owen famously dived for two penalties for England at the World Cup Finals in 1998 and 2002, nothing was said and Owen’s England career is unblemished. David Beckham was an expert at going down about 25yds out to gain free kicks , which he often banged into the top corner- again nothing was ever said. Steven Gerrard was another who knew how to go down at the end of a burst through the middle, securing numerous free-kicks and penalties for Liverpool. In more recent times Ashley Young has become a master of the dive-hitting the deck spectacularly from minimal (if any) contact. Danny Welbeck is becoming World Class at diving too, remembering an incident at Stamford Bridge last season and, more recently, against Wigan at Old Trafford a few weeks ago. Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson have been guilty of laughable dives on numerous occasions over the years.  Of course, let’s not forget Gareth Bale-last year vs Arsenal at the Emirates, last week vs Villa at the Lane and countless other times. Carl Jenkinson was guilty of a ridiculous dive against Chelsea just outside the box, which was neither picked up on by the officials nor by the ten different pundits I heard discuss the game afterwards.

Michael Owen                                     Michael Owen's Dive saw England Through in 2002

The fact is that diving is prevalent amongst most professional footballers regardless of background, ethnicity, religion, race or nationality.  Diving is not the biggest issue facing English football, it isn’t even a real issue. It is part of the game, has been for years and it’s up to the referees to handle it as they would a shirt-pull or a two-footed tackle. If diving is a cancer, it is the only form of cancer I know that is permanently there without doing any real damage.

If football were politics, the diving issue can be seen as the asylum seekers problem, the single parent families problem, the legitimate force against a burglar problem. What do I mean? Easy, it isn’t a real problem, it is a red herring, merely an issue which gets people animated and engages them so that they forget/overlook the real issues making a real difference to their sport/lives. The diving debate stirs emotion and it is cunningly and expertly used by all those who wish to deflect attention from the real issues in the English game. Issues such as, refereeing standards, FA impartiality and conflicts of interest, certain managers’ influence on the game in this country, blatantly subjective refereeing and many more besides.

To bring the article to a close let us return to the beginning. Luis Suarez is the pariah of English football at the moment and has been ever since that fateful day last season when Patrice Evra launched his accusations and Alex Ferguson lambasted him to all that would listen as a “diver” and a “disgrace”. Does Luis Suarez go down easily from time to time? Yes. More often than other Premier league players? No.  Is he one of the most fouled players in the league? Yes. Does Suarez get the protection from referees that he deserves? Resoundingly, no! Is every single, little thing that he does scrutinised? Absolutely. Are his transgressions magnified as a result? Without question. Suarez is being made the scapegoat for a part of the English game that has existed for decades. other offenders are given the benefit of the doubt, other offences are laughed off and other players’ actions are seemingly exempt from the scrutiny of the media and the powers that be, whereas Suarez is hung out to dry for every foot he puts out of place, whilst at the same time referees allow him to be kicked out of games without raising a finger to help.

You may like Suarez as a player, you may not, but the fact remains that the treatment he receives from referees is unfair within the context of the game and the attention and scrutiny he draws from the media and the footballing authorities is unwarranted and grossly out of proportion  with the scrutiny placed upon other transgressors. Wherever you stand on Luis Suarez and on the diving issue as a whole, here is one thing that can’t be argued with or dismissed: the laws of the game must be applied fairly and equally across the board, regardless of prior offences, reputation, perception or any other subjective factor that can be said to cloud judgement. If the media/FA wish to eradicate diving/simulation from the English game (which is very questionable in itself), they must cast the net a lot further and tackle the issue with a lot more honesty than they are now. It is all too easy and all too common to blame it all on “that dirty foreigner”.

Bale image aspasciuto. Owen image Super MF.