Sone Aluko’s theatrical fall, one that ultimately resulted in Rangers taking a decisive two goal lead against Dunfermline last week, has dominated the back pages since. The former Aberdeen winger has now been punished for his actions, prompting heated debate among the Scottish football masses. While Aluko’s actions were undoubtedly deplorable, they are not uncommon, and diving is rife in football all across the world, and it’s about time further action was taken to eradicate it from the game we all love.
South of the border and the focus was also on ‘simulation’, as Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson won a penalty with a ridiculous dive against Wolves. Thankfully, on this occasion, justice prevailed and not only was the penalty saved, but the Molineux side also immediately struck back with a goal of their own on the counter attack.
Unfortunately, justice is not always served in these situations, and whilst most like to argue that ‘these things even themselves out’, it is often little consolation when you’re on the wrong end of a bad decision, in particular one that arose from a blatant act of cheating.
And that’s what diving is – cheating. Plain and simple. The problem is that the punishment that goes with the offence is, in my opinion, not sufficient, especially in game changing situations such as the Aluko or Larsson incidents.
If a defender unlawfully stops a striker who is clean through on goal, and has what is deemed to be a ‘clear goalscoring opportunity’, then this is a sending off offence. The defender has, effectively, prevented a goal using foul play. Why then, if a striker throws himself to the ground in the same situation – to not only potentially win a penalty, and a goal, for his team, but to also possibly force the referee to wrongfully send his opponent off – can’t this also be deemed a red card offence?
If cheating to prevent a goal can result in a red card, then why can’t cheating to score a goal be treated with equal severity?
If anything would serve as a greater deterrent then surely it would be the risk of dismissal, and a potential ban – which would then fit in line with the retrospective punishment handed out to the likes of Aluko.
Retrospective punishment. You’d think by the nature of this there would be little room for error. Yet Garry O’Connor walks away scot-free and Sone Aluko will now serve a two match suspension.
The decision to acquit O’Connor of any wrongdoing was frankly baffling, especially considering the Hibs assistant manager had already admitted that his player had indeed dived.
But this doesn’t mean that Aluko shouldn’t face punishment – and I recommend that everyone visits the Scottish Football Blog to read Tom Hall’s excellent piece on the topic.
So, in essence, I feel that blatant diving – the lowest form of cheating in football, in my view – should be met with harsher punishment, both on the field and retrospectively. In addition to this, we need to make sure that there is some level of consistency in reviewing these incidents. Of course, human error and differing interpretations mean that discrepancies and apparent inconsistencies will occur, but I really can’t accept anyone can watch the O’Connor incident and come to the conclusion that no simulation took place.
Finally, I’d like to put to bed once and for all this constant obsession with whether or not there was slight contact in these sort of situations. Fans and pundits alike pore over video footage of apparent dives, looking at slowed down pictures, stills and zoomed images to try and locate the merest of touches. Well, frankly, if it takes that much effort to find the contact, more often than not it would not have been sufficient to cause the player to fall.
And that is key in my eyes, whether or not the contact was sufficient to foul the player or send him to the ground. A foul isn’t just about contact, after all this IS a contact sport – players will come together and will brush against one another. Not every time this occurs can be deemed foul play.
Yes, Jan Rezek dived to win the Czech Republic a penalty at Hampden, but at the other end immediately after Christophe Berra also dived. Indeed, with the latter incident there was contact, but this was not what caused Berra to fall – Christophe Berra caused Berra to fall, and although maybe it would have served some form of justice for us to get a penalty in this fashion, the defender was deserving of his yellow card for simulation. Weren’t we always taught that two wrongs do not make a right?
The focus on minimal contact must stop, otherwise before we know it tackling will be outlawed altogether. Yes, sometimes a slight touch CAN cause a player to fall, and it CAN be deemed a foul. But not always, and referees must be allowed to interpret these situations without pressure being piled on them about any sort of contact automatically justifying the theatrical dive that may have followed.
I would also add that fouls can occur WITHOUT a player going down, and referees also need to be aware of these incidents – otherwise it is just encouragement for players to throw themselves to the ground.
Ultimately there needs to be a new approach to diving and the punishment that goes with it. I don’t want to focus on any individual players as it is simply symptomatic of our game that more and more of them feel the need to imitate Olympic divers, and that more and more of them feel that it is okay to do so. Whether they get a judges score of 2.5 or 9, it is still the same act taking place.
I will end by borrowing the final sentence from Tom’s article on the same subject.
“It’s cheating. If players don’t like being called cheats they should stop cheating.”
Visit the Scottish Football Blog for Tom Hall’s thoughts on diving and much, much more.
You can also listen to a discussion on the subject on the latest Scottish Football Forums Podcast.