Is cheating simply a fact of the modern game?

Eduardo cheated. There are no two ways about it. But why should he, and indeed this incident, be made an example of? Celtic’s (justified) fury could be one reason. They are probably still riling from Alberto Gilardino’s theatrics in 2007 – although even Tom Daley would not have expected to get away with that.

A Champions League qualifier in which the home side were looking safe with a 2-0 aggregate lead is hardly a high-profile occasion to warrant such a reaction from UEFA. On the other hand, it was equally unnecessary for the striker to attempt such an act on such a regular evening. But the fact he chose a qualifier instead of the Holy Grail – the Champions League final – suggests that cheating (or bending the rules) to gain an advantage is simply the reality of modern-day football.

The Croat’s behaviour of course cannot be condoned – he acted against the sport and his fellow professionals. However, before last night there was a somewhat unwritten rule of today’s game that such theatrics are attempted every single week and therefore if it goes unnoticed, then so be it. But now UEFA has to fully clamp down on any ‘deceit of the referee’ or (rightfully) face heavy criticism in the face of its decision.

So, where do we draw the line at ‘deceiving the officials’? Is it restricted to diving, or do other acts of profitable un-sportsmanship count? For example, how many times will a manager be allowed to instruct his players to stand offside from a free-kick only to join the attack in ‘phase-two’ before it is seen as cheating? Could refusing to kick the ball out of play if the referee has not spotted an injury be regarded as deception? As it stands, it depends on the official, and if the official in question (Manuel Gonzalez) could not see Eduardo’s dive, then the blame rests with him. The striker did what plenty of other players would do, the difference being he got away with it. The bottom line is he bent the rules, just perhaps a little more than usual. It is not as if players taking advantage of officials’ mistakes has not been happening forever, is it?

If footballers were brutally honest 100% of the time, it is unlikely Geoff Hurst would be a national hero, Diego Maradona would be respected in England as the world’s greatest ever player, and Neil Warnock would be known as ‘that manager who never complains’ – whilst also being frequently seen at the pub with Gary Johnson. As it happened, Hurst celebrated his non-goal, Maradona did not appeal for handball and Warnock feels cheated by life every minute of the day. In fact, so dishonest are football players that one of the only acs of true sportsmanship that can be remembered in the last decade is when Paolo Di Canio caught the ball as Paul Gerrard – Everton’s goalkeeper at the time – lay hurt, instead of burying the chance.

An event that, if it happened today, would be so surprising that a referee would likely send the player in question off under the assumption he was trying to gain an unfair advantage. He could even go as far as sending off the injured player, given what Rivaldo managed to get away with in the 2002 World Cup. The simple fact is the more cheating goes on, the more will be gotten away with and, ultimately, the less can be done to stop it.

Will potential two-game bans make players think twice about acts likely to receive a 10 from Olympic judges? Possibly, but diving was hardly the most pressing issue in football, and nor did it need to be made so.

Further reading…

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.

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