Neymar is a diver. Come on, right? We all know it, and we knew it when we bought him. Diver. Shameful. Right?
Wrong. Further, the campaign to label him one is disgusting. It’s an effort to cover a player with crap before he even has a chance to develop ANY sort of image or reputation at all. Mourinho claimed that he dived against Celtic. Culers who should know better are saying that he is a diver. It’s all rather shameful.
HAS Neymar dived? Yep. Name me an attacker who hasn’t. On more than one occasion. Rooney? Yup. Suarez? Please. Iniesta? Yep. Pedro? Yep. Cuenca? Yep. Drogba, Torres, Cole? Yep, yep and you betcha.
Are they divers? Be careful how you answer that one.
I reckon life would have been easier for so many had Neymar been an expensive flop. Then no narratives would have to be developed. People could just sit there with smug faces and say, “See. Look. YouTube sensation.” But now, that he is beginning to live up some of his potential, making a mark at the best club in the world, a new way must be found.
Meanwhile Mourinho, who rode herd over specialists such as Ronaldo, DiMaria, Marcelo and Pepe, wants to eliminate diving from the game. It’s all blind and rather silly, for the simple reason that diving will NEVER be eliminated from the game. Players will always attempt to deceive referees. Always. Even the most stalwart of them, the man’s men of the game. Because that has become PART of the game.
Further, people have to differentiate between diving and embellishment. THIS is diving:
Now if Neymar is kicked in the back and chooses to embellish that kick to make sure the ref saw it, is that diving? Jose Mourinho says that it is. Celtic supporters say that it is. Others say that it wasn’t. Technically, it wasn’t, because there was actual contact, which moves it into the embellishment category.
Is Didier Drogba a diver, or a player who maximizes the effect of contact? For me, he’s the latter, putting him in an even bigger camp than players who have taken dives. During the Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge, Drogba WAS actually being fouled as he lolled about on the grass. He wasn’t simulating contact. And our players, who have done the same thing repeatedly, gestured at him to get up and shook their heads as if to say, “For shame.”
But we see players all around the world, in every league, week after week, match after match, clutching the wrong leg and looking pleadingly at the official, begging for resolution of a “problem.” If the official obliges, they leap to their feet, redeemed.
Wayne Rooney, on anyone’s list of man’s men, has dives and embellishments in his playing history. Ronaldo, a bull of a player blessed with stability, speed and brute strength, will go over if you breathe on him hard. A man mountain such as Balotelli will grab a player and fall over in the box, just as Pepe did, to earn a penalty. Diving is part of the game, and a disgusting part of the game at that. But it’s a “reputation” question, right? For example, Messi doesn’t go down is part of his reputation. Messi doesn’t dive. You bet he doesn’t.
Messi dives. Messi also embellishes. Recall his going down in a Classic when Arbeloa raised his arm. Messi will seek an advantage, just like any other player, reputation notwithstanding. And make no mistake, “reputation” is the key word here. “Messi doesn’t go down.” There is even a YouTube video or dozen to that effect. But examples where he does indeed go down aren’t too difficult to find. Why? Because Messi, and any other athlete who plays the beautiful game, is looking for any edge, any advantage, any lever with which to pry open a match. The range of prybars spans Otherworldly Brilliance to Let’s Try This. Diving and embellishment are part of the game, even if they shouldn’t be.
A diving-free world
If you are going to eradicate diving, you have to do a number of things, all of which run counter to the continuous play nature of the game. But here’s how I would eradicate diving.
— Multiple cameras that follow the match, even more than do already, for every match.
— When there is a foul, you go to video review of the foul. Every. Last. Time.
— If a player is ajudged to have dived, he gets a red card. No questions asked, no appeal, with a two-match suspension. That suspension increases by one match with each subsequent offense.
Simple, even as it is not so simple, right?
But there is a complexity, which arises when you have a certain type of situation created by a small, technically gifted player playing a game against larger, stronger players. The one way that the bigger, stronger player has to control, or put the smaller player “off his game,” is to kick him. Early, often and with vigor. The hope is that the small, technically skilled player will become less so, because he is worried about getting kicked instead of working his magic.
So that wee player is kicked. And kicked. And kicked again. And again. He wants to “man up,” keep playing the match according to these hairy-chested rules of engagement, but getting kicked by a bigger, stronger player hurts. A LOT. So then what? The next time he is kicked, he goes to ground, clutching the part in which he was kicked, to draw attention to the fact that he was kicked. Because it’s worth a shot, right? And it works. A foul is called, or maybe a card is produced. Then, with the situation under control, the small, technically gifted player can return to being a small, technically gifted player instead of an apprehensive player.
So. Is the small, skilled player simply protecting himself with this embellishment? Is this a tactic, or pursuing an unfair advantage, “cheating” in some way? Good question. But as far as the game is concerned, calling those players “divers” is no different than a bully calling the smaller kid a “baby” when he is punched, and seeks the succor of a parent or other person who can make it stop. “Go ahead, ya baby! Run crying home to your mother!”
So don’t punch that kid in the nose.
Cheating, quantity vs quality
In another situation, it is late in a match that a player’s team has to win, and he has the ball. He rushes toward goal with the ball, and the defender approaches him in a way that is going to prevent the attacker from being able to influence the match. The defender moves close to the player, close enough to make it clear that a physical play is about to ensue. The attacker then throws up his arms, falls down and looks at the official, hoping to “win” a penalty that will bring a goal scoring chance, and win the match.
THIS is cheating, as something clearly differentiated from a tactic intended purely to stop a player getting kicked, time and time again.
As a general rule, a player will receive 2-3 times more kicks than fouls that are actually called. So for every foul that Messi gets called on an opposing player, there are two or three other times where his shirt is pulled, or a follow-through just happens to strike his heel or Achilles tendon. If my knee just happened to hit him in the back of the thigh as I was coming to a halt, is that my fault?
Ah! But not everyone can afford a team of Messis and Iniestas. Some of us just have what we have, and if you can’t play the same quality of match as those little guys, how are we supposed to stop them, except to foul them? A foul-free match would be pretty boring, right? And our big, strong, not-as-gifted team would probably lose. Is THAT fair?
So many good questions. The supporter of the big, strong team would say “No! Unfair!” The supporter of the wee, skilled team would say “Fair. Absolutely.”
People who are so disgusted by divers and embellishers are neglecting the easiest solution: Don’t kick them.
“But that is my only option in a given situation,” a player might say. When talent was being doled out, a player such as Messi got his, then a bunch of other folks’. So playing against that player, straight up, is unfair for a less-talented player trying to stop him. The rules allow for a certain physicality, but Messi will take that physicality, bounce off it and proceed to make you part of a highlight reel. So what now?
Reputation and The Jordan Rules
When the Chicago Bulls were beginning their ascent, that team’s chief rivals, the Detroit Pistons, were a big, physical team, the very opposite of the Bulls’ technicians in identity. They had a set of Jordan Rules, which was essentially, no layups or easy baskets. So every time Michael Jordan drove to the rim, he got fouled. Hard. They distributed the fouls among the players, so there was always somebody to whack Jordan.
What stopped the Jordan rules wasn’t just Jordan passing and jump shooting. It was also referee intervention, as in Superstar Rules. “Hey, whoa! Hands off the meal ticket!” And suddenly, you couldn’t even breathe on Jordan hard without getting a foul call, and Jordan got all of the 50/50 calls. Reputation.
The Neymar penalty shouts against Valladolid were all clear contraventions of the rules against physical contact in the box. Some say his reputation was why he didn’t get those calls. Others say it was a crappy ref. Some say Messi would have gotten those calls, others say he wouldn’t have, because the reputation that he doesn’t go down works against his getting such calls.
But rules are rules, until …
The ref question
There is a physical play, and an illegal play. Within the rules of the game, there is room for interpretation by different officials. Some say, “No blood, no foul.” Others are more rigid interpreters of the game, and supporters of different types of teams know these officials, and are either cheered or chagrined when one or another is assigned to their match.
My solution for eradicating diving from the game has a second level, which is to remove illegal play from the game. So trips, kicks and other plays intended to put a player off his game, are dealt with harshly, immediately and (here is the kicker) UNIFORMLY. A Howard Webb foul isn’t an Undiamo Mallenco foul isn’t a Muniz Fernandez foul. So send ALL the refs to the same school, teach them all EXACTLY what a foul is, and make it clear that grounds for interpretation and judgment have been removed.
But were that to happen, you would quickly have a situation where, like the Liga’s strict interpretation of a handball that everyone found so silly, judgment was removed. “The ball contacted the hand, therefore it is a yellow. Period.” So players were kicking the ball at defender arms, full force, to get the yellow card, and it was silly. Judgment and interpretation returned.
So NOW what?
Players are going to circumvent the rules. That, too, is part of the game. Mourinho claims to want to eliminate diving. Yet he will also claim to want matches called fairly, which usually means to the benefit of his club. But Mourinho, like any other coach who claims to want to eliminate diving, doesn’t REALLY want to eliminate diving. He just wants to influence matters in a way favorable for his club. So if you label Neymar a diver right now, you hope it sticks so that when he plays your club and Ashley Cole knocks him down, the ref will say in his head, “Neymar is a diver. I won’t call a foul, as he might have dived there.”
And suddenly the match is unfair, even as it is subjectively “fair.” Mission accomplished.
But if diving is cheating, so is fouling, even if that is the only way that one player might have to stop another. The game deals with both in the same way: yellow cards. But in both cases, there is judgement. Was it REALLY a dive, or did the play happen so fast, the defender so skilled, that it LOOKED like a dive? Ah! Video replay. But that would disrupt the match, and reduce officials to automatons, who go to the video booth to make every decisive call. But the call would be correct, right? And diving would be eliminated, and the game would be better.
Or would it?