You’ll often hear pundits talk about penalty decisions and they tend to rely on “was there contact?” to establish a view on the decision, but there is so much more than that when it comes to diving/simulation.
We usually have an idea of diving as a player going down without being touched, but it’s become common to see attacking players dangle a leg in the hope that it hits something and gives them the excuse to go down.
It’s also easy to forget that football is a contact sport so there will be occasions where there’s some physical contact but no foul, so it’s easy to see why refs often have a hard time in detecting diving.
READ MORE: “Must accept responsibility for the chaos” Former PGMOL boss Keith Hackett slams the current setup and lays out vision for Premier League improvement
That should’ve changed with the introduction of VAR, but we continue to see incidents which are embarrassing and it does start to tarnish the reputation of the Premier League.
Things are different around the world depending on the cultures. Argentina are the prime example where they often celebrate a dive to win a penalty and it can be seen as being better than a normal goal, but it’s not really accepted in the UK.
Keith Hackett spoke to Caughtoffside about some of these recent incidents, and it’s clear that he wants to see the match officials get a proper grip of any simulation incidents:
“Sadly in the Premier League we are witnessing a growing problem with players going to ground to deceive the refs. This damages the reputation of our game around the world, and it also sets a poor example to kids who look up to these players as role models.”
“Acts of simulation are recognised in the laws of the game and players should receive a yellow card when they attempt to deceive the refs.”
“Simulation can be very difficult to detect so the referees need to remain alert in order to recognise and punish the players who attempt to deceive.”
There have been plenty of incidents in recent games where it looked like there were acts of simulation, but Hackett pointed to Spurs and Liverpool as prime examples:
“In the recent Spurs game Harry Kane was awarded a penalty when he backed into his opponent, before falling forward to force the defender to land on top of him. This was an act of simulation and deceived the referee.”
“later in the same game both Kane and Son went to ground looking to deceive the refs and win a penalty. The ref did turn both appeals down, but sadly he didn’t stop the game and book either player.
“Questions were also asked recently when Mo Salah went down under minimal contact and won a penalty for Liverpool.”
“I have witnessed examples of players deliberately going to ground where they hang out a leg and look to hook it around an opponent to win a penalty kick. It’s clear that the players only do this because they know they can get away with it.”
He went on to point out some potential long term consequences if the refs don’t act to stamp this out quickly, while also offering some advice to help them detect possible instances of simulation:
“The reactions from referees can help to stop these types of offences in future games. They need to send a clear message to players and spectators, as it could also influence behaviour later on in the game.”
“Referees can help their detection of these offences by paying attention to the movement of the ball, players falling to the ground and exaggerating with their hands and arms in the air as they go down, and by watching the reaction of a player when they make contact with an opponent.”
“They need to remain as vigilant as possible, while it’s also important to build up a knowledge of each player without pre judging them.”
“When they do detect simulation they need to punish it to help and assert their authority in a convincing manner.”
There are a few interesting takeaways from this, but it’s always worth looking at the fate of certain players who are given a “diver” label.
It’s always said that it’s easy to gain a label in sport but almost impossible to shirk it, so players like Luis Suarez and Ashley Young are prime examples.
They went through a phase of winning a lot of fouls by going down easily but that simply results in a lot of media attention, followed by refs being reluctant to given them anything that could be doubtful and it leaves opposing players free to kick lumps out of them because of that reputation.
In some ways it might be easier said than done to get to a place where referees can spot every occasion, but Hackett is spot on when he hints at setting the tone and creating an example for everyone to follow.
The point about watching a player’s arms when they go down is also very important. If you’re tripped up you tend to clatter to the ground rather than throwing your arms around. It’s much the same as a player holding their hands up in innocence as they bring a player down, it’s a clear sign that indicates they are trying to deceive the referee in some way.
As soon as players start to understand that they could be suspended or sent off in a critical game then it should help to stamp it out.