The Art of Diving – A Study in Simulation
In the 1970s we blamed the Italians. In the 1980s we blamed everybody who wasn’t British or Irish. In the 1990s we blamed everybody else who wasn’t in the team we were cheering on ourselves, or Jürgen Klinsmann, who even developed a goal celebration mocking his diving reputation.
Now, at the end of the 2000s, we seem happy enough to pour all the blame on Cristiano Ronaldo’s greasy shoulders. He even got booked in the Carling Cup final for naturally stumbling over after a genuine challenge, with the referee stopping play with United in possession to do so. To be fair to referees and football justice, there are a few free kicks and penalties out there in history where Ronaldo probably should have been booked for simulation instead of getting up less bruised than he should be to score. Being booked for genuinely falling over though is a bit much.
His actual dives are not such terrible crimes either. He runs very fast and gets kicked a lot, so he is probably quite tuned-in to being whacked by opposition feet. How many are real out and out dives, as in attempts at cheating, and how many are simply an instinctive reaction that results in a slightly early tumble to avoid having his ankles hacked off? Half and half at least.
His general demeanour when going down is not to fake injury, but to cast aside his arms in childish frustration. If he was rolling around for five minutes every time then we might dismiss any notion of defending him, but he’s an instant moaner and then a getter-upperer and a try-againer, not a roll around injury faker.
Remember Rivaldo? I hope not. I hope his name disappears from football folklore forever. He’s the one who had the ball passed to him by an opponent as he was meant to be taking a corner (or maybe a throw-in or free-kick, YouTube it), but instead of saying thank-you and taking the set play as he was meant to, he decided to allow the ball to strike his torso before plunging to the ground in supposed agony and clutching his face as if he had been shot in it. He may well have convinced an innocent bystander that an invisible face-hugger from Alien was attacking him, except for the cheeky glance over at the referee he gave as he fell to the floor, making sure that he could see the terrible pain he was apparently in. The face of agony faded for a second as he checked the ref could see him, then back in the hands it went, no doubt accompanied by a terribly pained wail. He rolled around for a good few minutes pretending to have been struck in the face by the ball, getting the player who kindly passed him the ball in trouble as kicking balls in someone’s face is a little bit illegal. During play okay, between plays not so okay.
Now that’s what I call proper cheating. Anticipating knocks and clips while running full pelt is one thing, out right pretending of the Rivaldo kind is just not cricket.
Another I remember is our old friend Jürgen Klinsmann. He took a hard tackle in a European final (I forget which) when playing for Monaco I think. He didn’t like it, fair enough, but the player was rightly booked for it. I remember him wagging his finger at the player as he walked away, nodding to himself like he had something in mind. Well, he did have something in mind: cheating. Some minutes later and Klinsmann and the same player are chasing for a ball heading for the corner. The player is a good yard and a half ahead of Jürgen, with the ref halfway down the other end of the pitch after the play moved up quickly. Suddenly Jürgen flings his head back and hits the ground like a sack of baby potatoes, holding his nose and rolling around in Rivaldo-esque agony. The other player continues on to the ball, unaware that Jürgen has been struck by an invisible cannonball in the face behind him. Retrieving the ball and turning around to play it, the entirely innocent player is confronted by a barrage of angry Monaco players and a referee waving a red card. The unelbowed Klinsmann smiles to himself as the game continues, his opponents now unfairly down a man and the sent off player’s dreams of playing in a big final ruined because Jürgen Klinsmann didn’t like being tackled. I hear he does a lot of work for charity though.
Talking of robbing your fellow professionals of their dreams, what about Slaven Bilic for Croatia against France in the World Cup semi-final a fair few years ago now? He pretended to be elbowed by Laurent Blanc and hit the deck clutching a fake injury on his face. The innocent and honourable Blanc was sent off, and thus was suspended for the final as France still overcame Croatia despite Bilic’s attempts to cheat them.
Can you imagine Laurent Blanc’s emotional turmoil? Getting a little elbow in the face must be nothing compared to having a World Cup Final taken away from you for a crime you did not commit. I wonder if Bilic ever apologised. Do these guys ever apologise?
Kevin Nolan nearly broke an opponent’s leg the other day with an insane two-footed, studs-up lunge right on the shin-pad. He could be found after the game begging any opposition players and staff he could find to accept his sincere apologies and to ask about the health of his unintended victim. I can’t imagine Bilic rocking up in the French dressing room afterwards to say, ‘Sorry, Laurent, mate, but I was hoping we would be in the final instead of you lot so your suspension would be for the crappy third-place play-off that no one wants to play in. I thought I was doing you a favour. I’m sure your teammates will show you their medals after the final though.’
There are whack-anticipation dives, clip-assumption dives, thought-there-was-a-leg-there dives and whoops-I’ve-lost-the-ball-so-I’ll-fall-down-and-see-what-happens dives, and then there is the just plain cheating of the Klinsmann kind. It is the wool-pulling antics of the likes of Rivaldo and Bilic that are the real enemies of football. Them and ITV’s FA Cup coverage.