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Diving, or simulation as FIFA commonly refers to the phenomenon, has become one of the most controversial aspects of the modern game. Despite many deeming the issue to be rife within football, the focus upon diving has become too severe. Whilst not attempting to advocate full blown somersaults that Olympic gymnasts would be proud of, all this renewed talk of diving ruining what is considered to be the greatest sport on earth is in my opinion, wide of the mark.
With an increasing number of live top flight games shown season-upon-season, the chances of a wider audience bearing witness to diving has undoubtedly increased. However, the notion that the number of players “taking a dive” is on the rise is a fallacy.
Since the Premier League was inaugurated in 1992, there have been a number of players that have gained a reputation for diving. One of the most high profile cases was that of Jürgen Klinsmann, the current United States national team manager, who had two spells at Tottenham Hotspur in the 1990s.
The German had developed a penchant for diving and this trait carried on when he arrived in England. Amidst much criticism he reacted humorously, celebrating goals by diving to the ground. With such evidence from the past, it is apparent that diving has been a part of the game for a number of years, which begs the question, why wasn’t it deemed such an issue earlier?
Further to this, as has been previously stated, once a player gains a reputation as a “diver” the stigma usually sticks with them. Prior to his world-record move to Real Madrid last summer, Gareth Bale amassed seven bookings for diving, over half the number his club accrued in the same five seasons. Whilst some could argue that Bale was being targeted by referees, in each case the general consensus was that he had in fact dived. With such measures being taken against Bale and Adnan Januzaj, amongst others, it is apparent that the laws of the game are being applied reasonably strenuously and the issue is taken seriously.
Aside from the furore around diving, one must consider the action in itself and whether it represents cheating or is simply clever play. When Liverpool took on Aston Villa in January, the much maligned Luis Suárez went down under a challenge from the opposition’s Brad Guzan, resulting in Jon Moss awarding the home side a penalty. Considerable debate ensued with prominent figures and fans alike at odds regarding the decision.
One of those who leaped to Suárez’ defence was ex-England international Gary Lineker. Whilst hinting that he felt the Liverpool forward had made the most of the contact, his rhetoric suggested that there is a skill in what unfolded. Via his personal Twitter account Lineker aired his view, saying, “It’s clearly making the most of a keeper’s recklessness and completely different to diving with no contact. Playing for a pen? Yes. Diving? No.”. In this instance, like many others, the player went down under contact and although swathes accused him of going to ground easily, the fact remains that the Uruguayan had been fouled and so reacted appropriately.
What is clear is that the so-called issue of diving has been blown out of proportion and, if anything, there are a number of other issues that the sport’s governing bodies must deem more pressing. One such problem is the ever controversial offside rule.
Greater clarification is required to ensure that disputable offside decisions do not continue to blight the game. When Cheick Tioté scored against Manchester City earlier in the campaign, his goal was ruled out because the match officials deemed his Newcastle United teammate Yoan Gouffran to have been in an offside position that meant he was interfering in play. Within and outside of St. James’ Park there was widespread disbelief and this decision merely serves as one example of the continued problematic nature of offside calls.
Without doubt, diving is a topic which provokes much discussion, though in reality it is only a negligible part of the modern game carried out by a minority of individuals. As such, focus would be better placed on more pressing matters such as clarification of the offside rule.