Watching professional soccer is like watching a cheerleader smoking a cigarette. Incomparably beautiful, unfathomably popular, but with one deal-breaking flaw.
Diving is the cheerleader’s cigarette.
While I genuinely believe soccer is poised to become a major code in this country, it could accelerate this process (and start the process in the US) by addressing diving.
So here’s my guide to helping your cheerleader break the habit:
Problem 1: Blatant, ridiculous, never-even-touched-him simulation.
Solution 1: Instant Red. If you’re not touched and you go to ground and appeal for a free kick, you have no excuse.
Problem 2: If you are a professional athlete, it should take a pretty decent hip-and-shoulder to send you to ground. As far as I’m aware, soccer players do not all suffer inner-ear disorders affecting their balance. Yes, a firm clip on the ankle while you’re running full pace might do the trick, but general jostling shouldn’t send you sprawling like you’re Mel Gibson’s BFF at the end of Gallipoli.’ Lionel Messi often scores goals because he
keeps his feet in a situation that lesser players hit the deck in a cynical attempt to win a free kick.
Solution 2: Post-match video review by judicial panel including ex-players and biomechanics experts. Over the course of the season, players are given 4 warnings by judicial panel to keep their feet unless actually knocked off balance. A 5th offence means starting the next game with a yellow card. 10th, 15th, 20th etc… offence each season = one match ban.
Problem 3: If you’re on the ground and writhing in “pain” for no reason other than to bring harsher punishment upon your attacker, then you have just ripped up sportsmanship 101.
Solution 3: If you writhe on the ground for longer than a few seconds, you must leave the field until at least the next break in play. How many players will put their theatrical skills to use (on the off chance your opponent gets a yellow) if it means you leave your team-mates shorthanded?
Problem 4: If you’re the team-mate of someone felled during play, react with proportion. Studs-up-two-foot leg breaker? Sure, defend your mate. Accidental clip on the ankle? Don’t start prodding chests, yelling in faces and demanding swift and brutal justice from the Ref. It reeks of desperation and delays what should be a flowing game.
Solution 4: Same as Rugby. Only the two players involved in the tackle and team captains are EVER allowed to discuss these things with the ref. Anyone else who starts appealing to the referee, getting in his way etc should get a yellow card.
Problem 5: If you go to ground at all in the penalty zone (where games and tournaments can change in an instant) then you had damn well better have been fouled.
Solution 5: Video Replays on all penalty decisions. Controversial and resisted by many, they’ve shown in many sports that they needn’t hold up play for minutes. Within 60 seconds a video ref can review 12 different angles of the play in slow-motion. And be honest, how many claims for penalties are there per game? Less than one? The Team Captain alone is allowed to request a review at the next stop in play. He has to trust his team-mates and their judgment. You get one challenge per game, and an unsuccessful challenge means a yellow card for your Captain.
Bang. Done. In particular the second solution would need to be re-written for tournaments like the World Cup, but overall you’ve just made penalties fairer, discouraged theatrics and punished the deceitful. And you’ve done it all openly and transparently. Congratulations. Your cheerleader is now an ex-smoker.