If even-handed, UEFA’s tough love for Arsenal & Chelsea is justifed. Unfortunately, that’s doubtful

(by Hugo Saye)

It seems the authorities are fighting fire with fire. Whether or not FIFA and UEFA made a conscious decision over the summer to make football clean up its act or not is unclear, but early signs this season indicate that the major players will no longer be allowed to live by their own rules.

The last few days have seen Arsenal’s Eduardo da Silva receive a two game ban for diving (an incident I discussed last week) and now Chelsea have been dealt a lengthy transfer ban in an extraordinary decision that means they cannot sign any new players until January 2011. And both these decisions are refreshingly positive for football.

But, and this is a huge ‘but’, the organisations running the game have to ensure that the examples made of these two incidents are the beginning and not the end and, most importantly of all, that they are even handed in all future rulings. If used properly the precedent set by reviewing video evidence to retrospectively punish a player for diving could allow a great step forward in the game. In my previous piece I touched on the need to be consistent in punishing every player who acts in such a way and so will not go over it again, but there is also the issue of being consistent in the punishments dealt out once the decision is made. Gordon Smith, the SFA chief who was so vociferous in the inexcusable hounding of Eduardo, was happy to dismiss Aiden McGeady’s dive for Celtic a few days later because the incident was seen by the referee as it happened. His opinion was this:

“The referee caught it and it has been dealt with. People don’t seem to understand that. It is only when the referee has been deceived.”

So what Smith is effectively saying is that a dive only warrants a two game ban if it is successful. If, however, a dive is more blatant and fails to deceive the man in charge then a yellow card is sufficient. It is by this thinking that Eduardo’s Arsenal teammate Emmanuel Eboue has escaped further examination after his outrageous dive when passing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra on Saturday. By Smith’s logic the severity of the incident is dependent not on the actions of the offending player but on a factor that is completely removed from the deed: the referee. A dive is a dive, if one is worth a two match ban then they all are regardless of whether they were seen at the time or not.

But having said that, is a dive really a dive? When is a dive not a dive? Returning again to the Manchester United – Arsenal match last weekend, Wayne Rooney was given a penalty that has received limited scrutiny considering the circumstances in which it was won. (Watch here.) There was certainly contact from Manuel Almunia but even the most red-tinted of observers cannot deny that Rooney was already falling before that contact was made. Surely then this was simulation too? The player was falling entirely of his own accord with no outside interference that caused him to lose his footing, any contact made after this point has to therefore be irrelevant in a discussion as to whether or not he dived.

And this is where the line blurs because, due to contact being made that was caused by the actions of the goalkeeper, the awarding of a penalty was the correct decision. It’s all very confusing, and untangling such webs is another hole UEFA have dug themselves into by making an example of Eduardo.

And so on to today’s Chelsea ruling. The London club have been found guilty of inducing youngster Gaël Kakuta (video evidence here) to breach his contract with his previous side RC Lens in 2007. In a remarkable and groundbreaking decision Chelsea have been fined and banned from registering any new players until January 2011, meaning Roman Abramovich’s wallet will remain firmly shut for the next two transfer windows. Again, this is a good move for football.

There are those who have been of the impression that since Abramovich’s arrival Chelsea have conducted their business in a manner that fails to account for the pleasantries that many other club’s consider ‘the decent way’. Therefore, if this bluster has caused them to breach FIFA’s strict regulations on player transfers then it can only be a positive move to call them to heel.

But, just like the Eduardo incident, they must punish every such occurrence if it is to be a fair and effective precedent. Many of the major European clubs go about their business in a manner that falls short of the moral traditions of certain other teams: the way that Real Madrid chased Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s cynical pursuit of Cesc Fàbregas are just two recent examples. To an extent this is simply cultural differences regarding what is or is not acceptable and perhaps they have not directly broken any rules, but as such unsettling influences can be instrumental in causing a player to want to cut short a contract with his current employers should these clubs not receive some attention from the authorities too? Again, FIFA’s brave move against Chelsea may necessitate some serious questions being asked in the future.

We should certainly applaud these two firm decisions taken by the authorities against two of the game’s biggest clubs, but now we must demand of them that they apply the same thinking across the board. A dive is still cheating even when is it spotted by the referee, and it is still cheating even when it is not shown on live TV across the continent. Furthermore, they need to ask whether it is also cheating even when contact is made after the dive has occurred. And then the rules need to be applied evenly and consistently.

FIFA and UEFA could be embarking on a crusade to clean up our game and for that we must whole-heartedly congratulate them. However, in the process they have made life potentially very difficult for themselves, we will all be watching closely over the coming months to see if they end up just taking the easy way out.