Connect in the back of the net

The Football Association has announced that as of the 2017/2018 season onwards it will be retrospectively punishing players who dive with two-match bans, in a new initiative that will see cheats subjected to trial by video.

The FA’s action is long overdue, but will the punishment fit the crime?

For many of the bigger clubs who have large squads, a two match suspension for a player will not seem penal, especially if that player is likely to be rotated in the following match anyway.

Also this kind of sanction is after the event and the unfair advantage gained in real time goes unpunished and in many outcomes helps the aggressor’s team win.

So is this measure appropriate and does it tackle all the problems that referees are faced with?

 

Tainted

Real Madrid comprehensively defeated Juventus in the 2016/2017 Champions League final. The first half was tight but the second half was anything but, with the Galacticos ending up 4:1 victors.

Real’s triumph was definitely tainted by the behavior of defender and captain Sergio Ramos. In a touchline incident there seemed to be minimal contact off the ball between Ramos and Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado, but the Madrid man went down holding his ankle in agony.

This is a clear case of simulation designed to manipulate the referee into thinking that serious foul play was afoot off the ball. What was all the more remarkable was the fact that all this took place underneath the linesman’s nose yet he was fooled, immediately calling over the referee.

Cuadrado was subsequently given his second booking on the night and sent off. Ramos’ injury was seemingly short lived and he was up and playing rather quickly after the furious Columbian had finally left the field.

Along with diving, this brings attention to another serious issue in football today – simulation. The game has become faster than ever with more and more skill and power on show.

With that, players are becomingly increasingly adept at the skills of gamesmanship; or cheating to put it bluntly.

 

Cynical

Simulation is a little more cynical than diving.

Players are hunting referees in packs. One will overreact to a challenge and pretend to be injured, while another couple of players will badger the referee to have the tackler given a booking.

The crowd plays their part in the charade also by whistling and roaring whenever a tackle is committed, thus increasing the pressure on the referee to diffuse the situation and control the match in general.

When the referee is fooled and books a player, the opposition, adopt the same tactics. Before long the game easily descends into anarchy with the referee is quickly unable to see the wood for the trees.

Just look at the recent El Clasico matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona for proof of this. Both teams look clearly trained and determined to use simulation if necessary to gain advantage.

This is where the issue lies with the FA’s proposed retrospective punishment. It simply isn’t going to be enough to tackle diving and simulation.

 

Maybe look into the Rugby Union approach

Another real time approach must be implemented. Rugby Union seems to provide the answer. Whenever a referee is unsure, he communicates to a video referee for clarification.

This would work with simulation and diving perpetrators especially if the subsequent punishment is a straight red and perhaps a longer than two match ban.

VAR (video assistant refereeing) has been trialed in Australia’s A league and also more recently this year in a friendly between France and Spain. In this case the VAR ruled out a Griezmann goal due to an offside not picked up in real time.

Despite being on the wrong end of the decision France manager Didier Deschamps is in favour of the progression.

“If it is verified and it is fair, why not [use VAR]?” he told TF1. “It changes our football a little. It is against us today but if we have to go through this it will be the same for everyone. Afterwards, without [VAR], it would have been different, but it is the evolution of football. That is how it will be.”

 

The alternative

But another Frenchman is not so enthusiastic. Former UEFA president Platini spoke in 2014 about how it could affect the game on offside decisions alone-

“If you have 10 offsides each side per game, then 20 times the game has stopped. It would be a disaster if it goes further. Football is an ongoing game.”

To be fair he has a point. This is why perhaps the video referee should only be available to intervene perhaps 5 to 6 times in a match.

A challenge system similar to tennis was once suggested whereby the captain of each team can use a couple of challenges on incidents in each half. When the challenge is made the referee goes upstairs.

 

Refs need help

What is painfully clear is that referees now need help to get the decisions right, especially in the Champions league when matches hinge on such tight margins.

We want diving and simulation to be exposed and given zero tolerance, with a decision and punishment made in real time, not after the match is over and the aggrieved team has lost millions in revenue from exiting the competition possibly unfairly.

Real Madrid beat Juventus fair and square on June 3rd, it just seemed a little sour for many to watch the villain involved lift the cup for his team, as if to say – what I did works!

 

Written by Nicholas Behan

Follow Nicholas on Twitter @NicholasBehan

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