Thanks to Eduardo, diving has once again risen to the summit of football’s trendy topic list.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the UEFA charge and its subsequent overturning on appeal, the majority view was Eduardo purposely exaggerated the challenge and the ensuing penalty was harsh on Celtic (even Arsene Wenger admitted as such). Interesting then, that the two match ban was eventually overturned after Arsenal proved contact was made between goalkeeper and striker. Contact made with the player in the box without playing the ball. I’d bet that if the FA held a quiz on the art of refereeing, the correct response to this hypothetical scenario would be to award a penalty. Despite this, the consensus in the Eduardo case proved to the contrary. He cheated; it was a refereeing error. Case closed.
On the surface this seems a reasonable view; cheats should never prosper. However, it overlooks the deeper question. Is it correct that a penalty should not be awarded when a player over exaggerates the extent of the challenge; even when contact has been made and by definition a foul committed. Taking this theory to its conclusion would result in at least a 50% reduction in the number of penalties awarded per season.
Ricardo Fuller’s yellow card in Stoke’s game at Bolton perfectly illustrates the point. Attempting to cut inside from the by-line, he flung himself theatrically to the ground under a challenge from Gavin McCann. Penalty claims were waived away as referee Mark Clattenburg booked him for simulation. A blatant dive? Absolutely. That is, until viewing the replay, which clearly shows McCann’s boot making contact with the player’s foot; not the ball. Committed in the box, this is a foul and should result in a penalty. Should it matter that after the contact, Fuller proceeded to indulge in the sort of gross theatrics that have no place in football?
And this is where the argument gets interesting. There is no right and wrong answer; only a moral and theoretical one. Morally it follows that the player attempted to in some way ‘con’ the referee, therefore the crime of exaggeration outweighs that of the foul itself and we are able to overlook the initial transgression. Theoretically, rules are rules. A foul has still been committed and a penalty must be given.
Both schools of thought have merit, unfortunately neither have official endorsement. The FA and even UEFA appear to have no official stance on the issue and so each wait for the decisions of referees to be dissected by the vagaries of the media. The absence a universal position leads inevitably to inconsistencies.
Has there ever been a situation where a penalty has been awarded and a player booked for diving simultaneously? I am unsure of the answer, but suffice to say such incidents are rare in the extreme. Regardless, could this be the way forward? Give the penalty, book the player; everyone wins (or loses) and justice is served. If only it was that simple…