Picture this if you will. Johannesburg next summer, and England are facing Argentina in the World Cup final (I warned that you’d have to imagine). In stoppage time, Lionel Messi scuttles into the box, vaults over Rio Ferdinand’s wheelchair and, under pressure from John Terry, trips over his own bootlaces to win a penalty. Messi picks himself up and slots home the spot-kick, winning Argentina their third Jules Rimet trophy and sending our nation into mourning.
But it doesn’t end there. England accuses Messi of diving to win the penalty. The red top papers drag up the whole issue of the Falklands again, Sir Trevor Brooking takes a break from telling people that he “didn’t score many headers you know” to point an accusing finger at the Barcelona ace, Diego Maradona calls it ‘the trip of God’, and Fabio Capello’s expression almost changes. What follows is month after month of England’s finest footballers – and Joleon Lescott – taking to the stands in the long and arduous ‘Penalty-gate’ court case. The referee from the final goes into hiding in Afghanistan, sharing a cave with Osama Bin Laden and Tom Henning Ovrebo. Messi’s low centre of gravity is examined by the world’s finest physics experts. Jurgen Klinsmann is an expert witness. Terry’s tears are examined for evidence.
Okay, maybe we have gone a little overboard here, but surely UEFA are opening a huge can of worms with their decision to charge Arsenal forward Eduardo for ‘deceiving the referee’ in Wednesday night’s Champions League play-off with Celtic. The Brazilian-born Croatian now faces a two-game ban for circumventing goalkeeper Artur Boruc (a difficult task given the size of him) to win Arsenal a penalty at the Emirates. To make matters worse, it was Eduardo himself who converted the spot-kick, setting the Gunners on their way to a 3-1 second leg victory.
First things first, it was a shocking dive, but was it the worst you have ever seen? If you had switched the channel on Wednesday night you would have seen plenty more dives in the Fiorentina v Sporting Lisbon game, the only difference being that most of them occurred well outside of the penalty area and did not have a direct influence on the result. Does a dive only matter if it happens in the box? Or only if the referee falls for it? What if the ref does see it and books the player, awarding a free-kick to the opposition? That is what happened in the Fiorentina game, where goalscorer Stevan Jovetic went down in the box and Howard Webb carded him. Jovetic gets a yellow card but Eduardo is looking at missing two games just because referee Manuel Gonzalez wasn’t as good as Webb – surely enough evidence to ban the Spanish official?
If UEFA are now planning to charge everyone who dives in a game of football then they will be very busy. There will be dives in the Premier League this weekend, but they will only get highlighted if they lead to a pivotal moment such as a goal or a red card. How long before a team asks for a match to be replayed because the crucial incident all hinged on a dive? Argentina could ask to replay the 1990 World Cup Final. The money that Manchester United got for Cristiano Ronaldo would be swallowed up by legal fees.
Strict punishment for diving is a nice idea – and everyone should be in support of plans to clean up the game – but it is just not feasible. Award Eduardo a yellow card that will be against his name going into the competition proper, and leave it at that. Any more and UEFA will be entering into dangerous territory from which it will be difficult to duck out.
The famous dive – Mark Jones predicts a dim future for the sport
Is cheating simply a fact of the modern game? – Matt Domm reflects on past masters
Furbizia – Andrea Tallarita of sister site Football Italiano discusses Furbizia – the act of exploiting the game’s rules within their limits to gain an advantage.