It pains me to admit it but football is not quite as good as it once was. Though I still love the game with childlike intensity, it feels tattered and torn, like an old stuffed toy that we’re all too nostalgic to throw away. I’m scared to clutch at it too tightly in case it falls to bits in my arms. Football, for all its wealth and gloss, is at least partially broken … but it’s not beyond repair!
Many would refute that the ‘beautiful game’ is any less beautiful than it ever has been, but this is only because its moral recession has been so gradual. The stealthy decline of which I speak is primarily one of honesty and fair play; two concepts which are foreign to some of today’s professional players.
The issue of diving is a prime example of the morally-deprived state the game of football currently finds itself in.
Back in 1994, when Jurgen Klinsmann signed for Tottenham Hotspur, the German striker was chastised by fans and media because he had a reputation for diving. Though Klinsmann was widely regarded as one of the world’s best players, he became infamous for getting Argentinian Pedro Monzon sent off and winning West Germany the 1990 World Cup Final through a cynical and shameless act of simulation.
There was no contact made between Monzon and Klinsmann; not even the hairs on their legs brushed against each other as Klinsmann sprung theatrically through the air, as if he’d been shot at by a sniper in the crowd. To seal the fate of his counterpart, Klinsmann rolled on the ground in feigned agony for well over a minute. Some say his performance elevated him to that of the second best German actor of the twentieth century, just behind a young David Hasselhoff.
There has always been dishonesty within football. However, back in 1994 when Klinsmann arrived at White Hart Lane, he was painted as the embodiment of everything English football despised. He was branded a cheat, on account of his previous misdemeanours and his arrival was met with uproarious disdain. Nowadays, such cynicism within a player’s character is barely noticeable. Dishonesty has become commonplace.
The game has become infested by cheating; players dive, whether their English, German, Welsh or Uruguayan. The more ethically aware will at least wait for the slightest stroke from an opposing player’s bootlaces before falling swan-like to the ground. Others will stay on the floor until they see a yellow card brandished, before miraculously rising to reveal that what appeared to be a broken leg was actually just a scratched finger nail. And there are those who actively look to seek advantage by creating the illusion of a foul when no contact at all has been made. All are cheating; all are tainting the game of football with their deceit.
Unfortunately, nearly two decades on from Klinsmann’s arrival, ‘the art of diving’ has started to become an accepted part of the game. You may have noticed the most recent addition to the pundits’ book of hackneyed clichés, “he’s entitled to go down there.”
In my view, a player is entitled to go down only under the influence of gravity itself; if he chooses to fall of his own volition, he is cheating.
The issue of diving is not the morally grey area that many within football’s inner circle would have you believe. It’s actually quite a simple case of right and wrong.
I play football myself, as I’m sure many people present at the City Ground today do, and I can honestly say that it never enters my head to take a dive. As an amateur footballer, you simply do what comes naturally. If a player lunges in but misses your legs, you just carry on running. If you get tripped and fall, you simply get up as quickly as your body allows and get on with the game. What some professionals might call naïvete, I would claim falls under the long-forgotten umbrella of sporting integrity. That’s why I never made it as a professional footballer – I was simply too honest!
The big problem is that, throughout the game, no serious action is taken to reprimand divers. You may never be able to prevent referees from being deceived during the game itself, but the time for affirmative action should come after the final whistle has been blown.
Each match should be reviewed and any player caught diving or feigning injury should be given an automatic ten-match ban. This way, players would think twice before doing it again; they would quickly learn that the short-term gain of winning a free-kick or penalty is far outweighed by the long-term punishment of a lengthy suspension.
When I finally overthrow Sepp Blatter and end his totalitarian reign of terror once and for all, the first thing I’ll do is to get someone analysing every match and dishing out punishments to those who seek to gain advantage through blatant dishonesty. It would cause immediate chaos but diving would eventually be eradicated.
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