First thing’s first, Steven Gerrard dives too. So keep that in mind if you happen to be one of the “foreign bastards” brigade on this issue.
But Cristiano Ronaldo was the villain again this weekend in Man Utdâ€™s 2-1 win over Middlesbrough. One seeming loss of balance without contact for the penalty, and then the Portguese blatantly trailed his leg to draw contact for a free kick (which he nearly scored himself) should be enough to sell a few more winker t-shirts.
No one likes diving, and everybody know itâ€™s wrong – even those “part of the game” folks. But letâ€™s not condemn young Cristiano until weâ€™ve thought it through. Diving isn’t going away any time soon. A big reason is that whether or not someone has dived is still very much a matter opinion. Anyone who has ever played football knows there are times where you’re running fast enough that a small knock sends you flying, and more importantly there are times where you leap in order to avoid contact. If someone flies in with a knee-high, two-footed lunge and you happen to be agile to enough to get out of the way to avoid certain death, shouldn’t that be a foul despite there being no contact?
You can easily make the argument, as Alex Ferguson did, that while Mark Schwarzer did not make contact with Ronaldo on Saturday, the winger was forced off balance in an attempt to avoid Schwarzer’s flying body. So a penalty because, even though he didn’t shatter his shins, Schwarzer’s actions caused Ronaldo to fall. Hey, Ferguson said it so it must be true.
But is it ever acceptable to dive? There are probably a dozen ways you could argue this issue, but here are two:
It is NEVER acceptable to dive:
Diving, simulation, whatever you want to call it – itâ€™s cheating. Simple as that. Itâ€™s dishonestly conning the ref into thinking something has happened, when it hasnâ€™t. Not only is it a disgrace to the individual that does it, itâ€™s a dishonour to the profession. When Ronaldo dives heâ€™s making other players look bad, as if theyâ€™ve clumsily or worse cynically brought him down. The most frustrating thing is that heâ€™s using diving to hide the shortcomings in his game. Yes, heâ€™s in great form but he still dribbles himself into trouble too often. When Ronaldo tries to beat too many men at once, or when one of his clown tricks goes pear shaped, he dives to cover his mistake. Of course, you can argue that he does it on purpose to draw dangerous free kicks but that’s hardly any better.
Itâ€™s bad for the game. Ronaldo looks bad for doing it (hence the boos), defenders look bad for getting duped and refs look useless because they buy it.
Offenders should be forced to wear lip gloss and makeup on weekends, although that wouldn’t really change much for Ronaldo.
It is SOMETIMES acceptable to dive:
For anyone who hasnâ€™t played professionally to tell professional players what they should and shouldnâ€™t be doing is a little ridiculous. So much is at stake that players need to create every possible advantage they can. Why isn’t there as much furor surrounding shirt pulling or whatever Jens Lehmann happens to decide he can do to opposing strikers on corners? Just as much of an advantage is gained and it happens far more often, it just happens that diving gets the attention because it’s more spectacular and less dignified.
Take Ronaldoâ€™s dives against Middlesbrough. The first won a penalty, clearly an advantage to Man Utd. The second dive, heâ€™d lost the ball and Boro could have broken – always dangerous (or at least it would be if Boro had any pace up front). Instead of allowing a (possibly slow motion) Middlesbrough breakaway, Ronaldo hit the deck and Man Utd got a free kick in a dangerous area.
Self defense comes into play as well. When youâ€™re young, and fast and full of tricks, youâ€™re going to get fouled and fouled hard to ‘send a message’ which apparently is ok because it’s manly to break someone’s knees, but diving is not. If the rules and referees aren’t going to protect you then you’ve got to take matters into your own hands. The only way you can make defenders wary of eating your legs is if they have to be mindful of the consequences. Most supporters will happily cheer their players for delivering crunching fouls to stop Ronaldo’s fancy footwork, so it seems a bit unfair to get on his back for trying to protect himself.
If we want to keep watching exciting players who run at defenders: Ronaldo, Robben at Chelsea, hell even football golden boys Thierry Henry and Steven Gerrard, then we have to accept that these same players HAVE to dive to give themselves a measure of self-defence. In the NFL and Rugby they wear padding and weigh 250lbs, in the Premier League they dive.
We’re probably somewhere in the middle. Diving certainly isn’t good for the sport and is incredibly annoying to be on the receiving end. But it just feels somewhat righteous and naive to focus on this one particular type of rule-bending when so many other, equally effective, offenses happen all the time to gain a competitive edge without a peep from supporters or media. If you want to use video evidence to punish divers, why not use video evidence to punish shirt pullers on corners? That’s 10-15 preventions of a goalscoring chance a match as opposed to diving, which doesn’t come up nearly as often.
The double standard makes it tough to give most people’s complaints on this issue any credibility.