Did he dive? Didn’t he dive? Did he exaggerate a tackle? Was it inside the box or not? Did he use his hands deliberately to control the ball? Do two wrongs make a right?
Football is rife with cheating. But the worst part is that almost everyone involved in the game is either deluded or a hypocrite.
To take just one recent example: the weekend before last Liverpool played Arsenal at Anfield. Luis Saurez, not exactly everyone’s favourite player at the moment, skipped through several Arsenal challenges in the penalty box and dramatically tripped over Czechny the Arsenal goalkeeper. The referee awarded a penalty. Replays showed barely any contact, yet Suarez went down theatrically as if shot in the back. Subsequent replays however showed that there was contact, and thereby by the letter of the law it was indeed a penalty. (Indeed, there doesn’t have to be contact for a penalty to be correctly given, but that’s off-topic). Incidentally, a friend of mine made the point that Suarez was looking for the dive and was on his way to ground anyway, before contact was made. The contact made it a penalty, but it was already a dive. It’s hard to disagree with this argument.
The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently criticised Suarez, saying “It was no penalty. Nobody touched him”, despite contact having occurred. He added “then when they roll down the sock, take the shin pad out like he has been kicked like mad. It is a bit overboard. We don’t need that.” What Wenger means here is that exaggerating a tackle (or lack thereof) to con the referee into punishing an opponent more than they otherwise would (or deserve) is a form of cheating and is therefore wrong. I totally agree. However, this would be far less hypocritical coming from a manager whose teams historically haven’t had the constitution and integrity of wet paper bags. In the same game, every slight Liverpool touch was met with dramatic collapses from Arsenal players, lying on the ground in agony, taking ages to recover from the horrendous aggressive assault on their person…for about 10 seconds after which a miraculously recovery was made. (The only actual harm caused in that game was by an accidental collision between Henderson and Arteta, the latter needing to be stretchered off…because that’s what real physical harm causes.) Surely a dive is a dive, no matter where it happens on the pitch?
Now, I’m not criticising Arsenal here particularly, and I’m not defending Luis Suarez, what I’m saying is that pretending to fake reality to gain an advantage is cheating. Trying to circumvent the rules of the game to gain an advantage is cheating. To take another example which also happens to involve Arsenal (but only because they’re the most recent ones I’ve seen do it): last night’s game against Newcastle saw Arteta take several corners when the ball was quite clearly and deliberately not inside the quadrant. This is an invalid corner and an attempt (albeit a pathetic one) to gain some distance on the set piece. This is cheating! And if you say “there’s a bit of a difference between trying to sneak a foot on a corner and diving in the box to win a penalty” then I’m sorry but you’ve missed the point. Please, tell me which forms of cheating are acceptable or not? Or do we shrug and say “that’s life” or “everyone does it” when it happens in our favour? Who am I kidding – that’s exactly what happens in football! It’s funny how every football manager is a bastion of truth and integrity when his team have been hurt due to cheating, but it’s “I didn’t see it” when it goes in their favour. Worse, they’ll just side with the player despite the cheating, as if it’s just a matter of subjective opinion anyway.
Trying to sneak extra distance on a free kick? Trying to sneak closer than 10 yards to the taker before the whistle has gone? Pulling an attacker down to prefer the red card over a certain goal? Taking the corner outside the quadrant? Pretending to be injured or have been touched in a manner that didn’t happen (inside or outside the box)? Deliberate hand-ball? Kicking the ball away to waste time? Taking advantage of the clock and certain rules (i.e. the goal kick) to waste time? Why is any one of these more acceptable than another?
Again, I’m not defending anyone or singling anyone out for criticism here, because almost everyone involved in football is a hypocrite, prepared to look the other way or sneak any advantage when the ref isn’t looking, protecting their cheats one week whilst criticising the enemy’s the week after. Whatever we’d like to think about cheating or what should be done about it, it happens. Perhaps there are varying degrees, but it’s still cheating. If you really want to stamp it out, start with the only actions you can actually control: those of yourself and your own club. Otherwise, shut up and stop being a hypocrite.