A Bad Day for Football

A 2 match ban for Eduardo da Silva’s diving in a UEFA Champion’s League qualifier was yesterday dismissed on appeal. Never mind the fate of the Arsenal man, it’s a shocking decision for football.

First things first. Tottenham blog, Arsenal player. Cue abuse. Sorry to disappoint but right now I don’t care about him or their fans, although this is a chance in print to totally refute the accusation levelled at me today that refusing on the grounds of its colour to use the red paperclip proffered in order to keep my papers together is in no way petty or small-minded. Rather, it denotes a man of principle who will go to the barricades to uphold them, or at the very least to the stationery cupboard.

What I care about is the future of our game. I am sick to the back teeth of players diving which, alongside the blatant intimidation of referees by crowding them at every opportunity, is in danger of destroying football.

It is infinitely worse than ever it was in the past. Not only do we have players arcing through mid-air to earn 5.9 for artistic interpretation, we have its more common variant, the cynical exaggeration of feigned distress. The hands up to the face, combined with a comedy fall straight out of a 1920s silent film has become a message in mime to the ref. Hold up one of those dialogue cards, white writing on black: “Look at me, I reckon that’s a sending off, don’t you?” It’s invariably followed closely with a forearm covering a fevered brow as the wronged party lies prostrate and helpless on the turf, which would not be out of place in a De Mille epic, laughable histrionic ham acting everywhere except in the minds of the most gifted footballers on the planet.

Oh the fiend!

Oh the fiend!

For once I have some sympathy with referees. The game is so fast, it’s often nigh on impossible to work out exactly who made contact with who, and when. Our dying swans swoon on cue when some contact, however negligible, has actually been made, so the referee must act, not on the reaction but on his judgement at the moment of impact. No matter that Premier League players are so powerful that they and they alone may defy universal laws of physics. Large men, supremely fit, plunge to the earth when gently tapped on the shoulder or a tug on their shirt hurls them into conflict with gravity itself and they veer down, not sideways.

So if on this occasion referees can be excused from some of the blame, the same cannot be said for the guardians of our fair game. UEFA sit on their ample expense account tuches’s as the game becomes a cheat’s paradise. Then, suddenly, they awake from their slumbers and take action. Two game ban for Eduardo.

Woe is me. He touched me!! Should have borrowed Berba's aliceband

Woe is me. He touched me!! Should have borrowed Berba's aliceband

Three things I know about Eduardo. One, he’s a excellent striker. Two, he’s a mug. He dives then winks at the camera. Silly, silly boy. Three, he’s unlucky. Fact is, he did what most strikers would have done in that position and UEFA made an example of him. Sorry, but at last some action has been taken. Cue a spate of hearings on players from around Europe, then eventually even these over-paid and over-hyped dunces would finally get the message.

So what happens? The ban is rescinded on appeal. In one sense, it’s fair on Eduardo  because no one else is being punished, but remember, that’s not the point. Last night the UEFA spokesperson was sanguine. They take action, then due process dictates that an independent body take the final decision. The message, he smugly added, is that UEFA do not condone ‘simulation’.

I’ll tell what the message is, my friend. Word is out that cheating, conning and conniving is just fine and dandy, because no matter what you do, no one is going to do anything much about it.

This is an utterly pathetic, inadequate response from emasculated bureaucrats who know nothing about the game and care even less. Football has gradually been improved over the last 20 years not by making any major changes to the shape of the game but by subtly altering the balance between attack and defence, principally by altering the back-pass and offside rules, as well as offering three points for a win. Now, however, decisive and consistent leadership is required.

Get diving out of the game by using television footage to punish offenders retrospectively. They may get away with it during the match but their activities will be recorded and used in evidence against them in the future. Ban them. Then, eventually, it will become a minor element of the game, although it’s foolish to assume it can be eradicated completely. Send this as an instruction to all member countries, who must incorporate this into their own rules and disciplinary procedures.

UEFA’s reaction is a dereliction of their duty towards the good of the game and towards the fans who pay their hard-earned cash each week. And here’s a message to the people who hold the ultimate responsibility, the players themselves. If I want bad acting, I’ll watch Neighbours. I’d prefer a good game of football if you don’t mind, lads. Problem is, many of you do mind. Like little children in the nursery, behind teacher’s back they’ll do anything that they can get away with. You know those green NSPCC Full Stop badges they wear once a year? Full Stop on diving, and UEFA needs to use its authority to put a stop to it. Now.

2 thoughts on “A Bad Day for Football

  1. Diving is detested by most Brits and rightly so. It goes against all our basic instincts of fair play. The problem is, the way many other footballing nations, and indeed Arsene Wenger look at it, British instincts of fair play also include giving a good old shove in the back and kick in the ankles of any flashy little git that dares to show a bit of basic footballing skill. It is, after all, a man’s game right? Without wanting to defend diving, it’s not such a cut and dried issue as you suggest. Gamesmanship of all types has taken hold of the game. Professional fouls, players going down and needing prolonged treatment at points in the game when the opposition are on top, players intimidating referees. It’s all part of the basic package of Premiership football. Isolating just one aspect of it misses the point, I feel.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Tim.

    I realise it’s not cut and dried – I can’t say that I know where the lines between cheating, gamesmanship and fair play are drawn. Not exactly, anyway, but I do strongly believe that better messages can be given from the UEFA and the FA to stop the behaviour I described above becoming the norm every time someone is fouled. A line has to be drawn, or if not a line, then a message from the authorities that there are consequences for cheats. It’s not about any innate sense of fair play – I’ve tried not to ride my high horse up to the moral high ground in the piece.

    And don’t worry about players intimidating refs – plenty of time for another rant about that in the future. Come to think of it, probably after Sunday’s game if past behaviour is anything to go by.

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