Starting next year, the Football Association will introduce two-match retrospective bans for players caught diving.
This is a good thing. When no foul has occurred, simulation is detrimental to the game and can help swing results when referees are deceived by a lack of contact. Like, you know, that time Luis Suárez cost Aston Villa a couple of points at Anfield with this comical, yet somehow bought, dive.
Screw that game.
Fundamentally, players dive in order to win fouls — and when players go down without contact like Suárez, Gareth Bale and Ashley Young have all comically done against Villa, there’s no doubt a punishment should exist.
But what about another type of dive? The one where a player’s in on goal, there’s a minor tug or a bit of contact, and they go down to sell the contact.
We often praise players who stay on their feet and try to play through a challenge, especially when they’re in on goal. But, really, why?
Let’s say you’re otherwise one-on-one with the keeper, but the defender’s in just enough of a position to get a small tug of the shirt or shoulder. That contact isn’t enough to bring you down, given it’s only a little pull, but it’s enough to upset your balance. Instead of hitting the upper 90 with your shot, it now sails over the crossbar for a goal kick.
Someone will probably utter the phrase, “If he would’ve gone down, he probably would’ve won a penalty,” and they’ll entirely be right. As an attacker, you’ve done the right thing; you haven’t dove, you haven’t gone down, and you’ve tried to play through. Yet your “reward” is a low-percentage, off-balance shot instead of the roughly 75 percent success rate of a spot kick from 12 yards out.
Want to kick simulation out of football? Yes, retrospective suspension for divers who go down without contact is one step. Actually refereeing the game better, however, when it comes to rewarding players who try and play through challenges would have a greater impact.
Imagine a world where a player who stays on his feet through a challenge, but scuffs an off-balance shot, is actually rewarded for his effort with a penalty. A world where players don’t have to embellish or sell contact because they know the referee will actually give the foul that occurs, even if a player doesn’t go to ground.
With the way football’s currently refereed, when players are fouled and in the box, they’re better off trying to sell the call than playing through the contact. That needs to change change.
If you stop giving players a reason to go to ground, all you’ll be left with are divers solely out to create something out of nothing. And pretty soon, if that’s all people are diving for, the problem will go away in due time.