(By Hugo Saye)
First things first, let me categorically state that I am absolutely, 100% against diving. It is cheating and it must be extinguished from the game. Secondly, I am not here to debate whether Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc did or did not touch Arsenalâ€™s Eduardo da Silva in the penalty incident during their Champions League qualifier on Wednesday night.
Arsenal say they can prove there was contact, but if there was not then the strikerâ€™s actions cannot be defended or excused. However, this hysterical witch hunt being waged against the player, when measured against responses to other similar incidents, is verging on absurd and it certainly does not help our game.
James Lawton of The Independent rages that it was â€œone of the more shocking pieces of deceit even at a time when such behaviour has become almost standardâ€. However if one applies the cooling measures of rationality this appears something of an overreaction.
Pivotal moments in pivotal games are often tarnished by the sight of players flopping to the ground with inches or more of daylight between themselves and the nearest defender. Boruc threw himself millimetres from Eduardoâ€™s feet and the penalty actually changed very little: Celtic had needed three goals before it and they still only needed three goals after it. And to progress from a tie that they had never, at any point in the entire 180 minutes, looked like winning. It was cheating, but far from the worst example in the tawdry picture book of dives that recent years have provided us.
However, this is beside the point: cheating is cheating and it is unacceptable however crucial or blatant it is. But if we are to stamp out diving the FA need to be not only hard, but fair. All too often the incidents punished by the governing body are not those which contravene the rules, but those which are picked up on by the media.
The FA seem happy not to bother themselves with low key discretions, but as soon as details of an incident are yelled from the rooftops by the press they become desperate to save face and therefore act accordingly. The danger of this â€˜trial-by-mediaâ€™ system is that the press are not even-handed in their treatment of various players.
The popular belief is that diving is Johnny Foreignerâ€™s party piece and that all English players are far too â€œhonestâ€ to ever even consider such sins. And yet Bolton, AtlÃ©tico Madrid, Andorra and Arsenal themselves (among other teams) will testify to how those two shining English evangelicals Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney are not adverse to the occasional unforced tumble.
Replays have suggested that both players are guilty of worse “dives” than that of Eduardo the other night, but for them we seem only too happy to look the other way in the hope that if we never speak of the incidents again we can convince ourselves that they never happened. The danger of this is that, like someone refusing to attend their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, we are in denial and admitting that there is a problem is the first step to solving it.
Diving must be driven out of our game but in order to do so we must castigate the guilty English players with the same voracity as we do their foreign counterparts. By elevating the likes of Gerrard and Rooney to such heights that they become the last great hopes for footballâ€™s moral soul and ignoring their wrongdoings we are simply allowing diving to fester while we turn a blind eye.
I can see the replies to this already: Liverpool, Manchester United even England fans offering impassioned defences of their players despite video evidence suggesting certain incidents may be indefensible, and that would simply illustrate the point. When looking to remove all simulation from the game we need to first remove all partisanship from our observations.
Football is an emotional business but only by detaching ourselves from “who” and “why” before looking impartially at whether or not a player has actually dived and then acting accordingly, can we really make ground in the fight against deception. Croatian, English, whatever; all players must be treated by the media and the authorities in exactly the same way and without preconceptions, and if a dive has taken place they must be punished.
Eduardo da Silvaâ€™s vilification from all sides is madness. He is not the first player to have ever gone to ground with little or no contact and he sadly will not be the last. It is possible to stop such incidents though: a specific panel to look at video evidence and hand out two-match suspensions is one potential start.
But unless we open our eyes to the fact that nationality is no denominator of honesty and criticise the simulation of our own players as much as that of the opposition, then we will never be rid of them completely.