Friday, March 31, 2006

The 'Cheating' Debate - Part 2

Having looked at the antics of Didier Drogba, and discussing how deserving he was of the criticism he has had, now I turn to part of the debate that has caused the most uproar. The issues of diving and cheating, how to resolve them, and what our reaction should be.

Before I delve into the subject matter I will say this. Although I will attempt to provide a balanced viewpoint as much as possible there will inevitably be areas where my personal opinion will become more apparent. But as I will say again later, how you feel about these issues is really up to you.

So, on to diving – or ‘simulation’, as is known in the rules of the game. To go back to basics, this essentially means a player attempting to gain advantage by going to the ground as if fouled when no foul has been committed. So essentially a player throwing themselves falsely to the ground in order to get a free kick or penalty. This has become more and more prevalent in the Premiership over the last decade or so and in particularly in recent years. It seems to have coincided with the mass influx of foreigners into the Premiership and without being at all racist if you go down the list of the most common ‘divers’ in the Premiership the majority of them will be non-English players. Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robert Pires and El-Hadj-Diouf have been the most prominent ‘divers’ in the Premiership, not to mention Deco and, as Chelsea fans have seen, Messi, at European level.

But there is a difference between diving and being genuinely fouled, but going down very easily. Michael Owen has talked about good strikers being able to ‘draw the foul’, meaning going round a defender in such a way as they get a little touch and then you go down. A genuine foul, but one made the most of by the attacker. Some would say this is still diving, others wouldn’t. I think personally that if a player gets a touch he has every right to go down and claim a genuine foul. That’s not breaking the rules in my book. Others of course would say that you shouldn’t even be doing that, you should be trying to score or pass to score. I would agree that it that always be the preference, but I don’t believe it’s cheating to go down if a player has caught you genuinely and for the sake of argument I’m not going to class that as a dive.

But diving does take place. From reading posts on CFCnet and indeed watching television phone-ins I think it’s safe to say that most agree it’s wrong and something needs to be done. But what? I don’t think fines would work, especially at the highest level. These players earn so much that a small part of their wage packet going every once in a while would not hurt the,

The referees can not on all of the pitch all of the time, and they are the only ones with their viewpoint on the situation. Sometimes they see things we don’t see, but crucially sometimes they don’t see what we see. It’s a tough call sometimes to give a goal kick or free kick the other way if a player is down on the floor in pain and has gone down pretty dramatically, in particular if he hasn’t seen the incident clearly. How is the referee to judge in a tricky 50/50 situation when everyone else can see it. Referees are under such scrutiny now and surely to get the decision right something needs to change. It’s all very well saying issue reds or have sin bins but the referee needs more help in order to get any decision correct.

I have heard it many times and to me using television replays seems the most sensible way forward. We’ve seen in both rugby and cricket that not only does this solve the problem without dispute, it causes only minimal disruption to the game. It would ensure that there could be no doubt about the correct decision being made, without using guesswork. Indeed, it would help solve the problems of handball goals that has also been raised recently. There would be no argument from players or managers at the end, as the decision would be clear to see on replays. If the decision was wrong, then the blame would rest firmly with the referees. This to me is the only solution. The only problem is that FIFA continue to refuse to introduce it, so the chances of that happening in the near future are minimal.

One thing that can be done instantly is for managers to come out and condemn their own players who dive. Indeed Sir Alex Ferguson has come out this week and stressed the need for something to be done and even Arsene Wenger has come out and stressed the need for the problem to be tackled. The only problem there is that at the very top the pressure to deliver results is so high and the margin between defeat and victory so small that teams, especially right at the top and at the bottom, will inevitably try any way possible in order to win the game or get a result of some kind.

Another way of dealing with the problem, certainly short-term, would be for referees to submit details of certain incidents to a panel that can then examine any decision and decide through a replay whether the offence is a dive, and then hand out match bans to offenders. At least then something can be done and appropriate punishments handed out. I don’t know if this would require FIFA licensing or not but it seems like something the FA or indeed UEFA could implement much more quickly and more easily.

What is clear though, is that the problem needs dealing with as soon as possible. But being realistic, it’s going to be very hard to ever stamp it out of the game completely. The football authorities though should be striving to make it as minimal as possible and discouraging from the game right from the lower levels upwards.

Now onto a more emotive issue. How do we as football supporters react to diving? There has been much discussion and heated debate on this issue on the site recently and some people have very firm views on this.

Some supporters feel that the only appropriate way to harass your own players and show your displeasure is by booing. They feel that as fans we have a perfectly legitimate right to do this when we feel a player is cheating, or playing poorly, not trying or generally not doing their best for the shirt. The argument is that we deserve our say and if we don’t like it we have every right to air our frustrations. They also argue that this is meant to have a positive effect on the team and the player, to make them play better next time out. These are obviously genuinely good intentions. It’s okay to be frustrated with players during a game and there will obviously some outlet for it
On Saturday there was a clear example of Chelsea fans booing Didier Drogba when he was named man of the match (ironically at Stamford Bridge an award decided by a text vote of fans in the stadium) because they felt he had been diving and cheating all game – despite the fact that he had basically won the game for Chelsea. . Some people think there is nothing at all wrong with this.

The thing though that strikes me is that a lot of Chelsea fans say they boo Drogba because he cheats and dives, yet when Del Horno, Robben, Joe Cole or SWP do something similar nothing is said at all. Common sense suggests that surely if you’re going to boo divers you should boo all divers on both sides, not just one player. Booing one player only suggests that people are picking on that player. If that is happening that is more than booing. It is malicious, vindictive and smacks of plain bullying.

This brings me to the other side of the booing debate. There are a lot of people who think booing is wrong. They say it has no place in our club, no place in our ground and no place in the game altogether. I’ve read posts on CFCnet saying it’s pathetic, childish and selfish. That’s it’s petty and smacks of a spoilt brat attitude. They also argue that it creates a bad atmosphere inside the stadium and puts everyone on a downer, and is not the best advert to new or younger fans and indeed to the world at large about our football club. They also argue that it’s unsettling to players and can drive them out of the club, which they believe is utterly wrong. Their argument is that while it’s right we have our say and air our views, that in the stadium there are more positive ways of doing this. Indeed, one suggested jokily holding up boards giving divers marks out of ten, in order to embarrass and humiliate them into changing their ways. The non-diving lobby say that if we want to air our frustrations fully we should leave that for the pub after the game or the radio phone-ins, rather than during a game. People have said that this makes them even more ashamed to be a Chelsea supporter than players who cheat – especially when it appears, as is the case with Drogba, that this booing seems to be a vendetta against one man.

It’s an emotive issue and everyone has an opinion and hopefully I’ve represented those fairly. Hopefully everyone will be able to agree to disagree. Some people will continue thinking booing is right, others will never condone it.

To conclude, I think most fans agree that diving is a problem and that something needs to be done. I’ve tried to suggest a few ideas here and hopefully with the issue so much in the public eye now something will be done. As for the other issue we should agree to disagree. Just as the decision whether to dive is up to the player, how we behave and react during football matches is entirely up to us and we should all take responsibility for that.