Cheating in the modern game

Recent events relating to Luis Suarez have led to many of questions being asked about how the football family handle problems caused by their players. In the curious case of Luis Suarez he is coming under much scrutiny due to his own actions. Outside Anfield he is the target of opposition fans wherever he goes. His employers as is traditional with football clubs in England defend him to the last and try to lay the blame at the doorstep of others. Much of this relates to their perception of him as a cheat who will dive at every apparent opportunity to gain advantage for his team. He is probably the most high profile player in the Premiership who is serially accused of cheating at this time.

Eduardo gets a 7.6 for this dive

I should point out that I include cynical fouling in the definition of cheating although the authorities have clamped down seriously on this aspect of cheating. Issuing of red cards for the last man taking out the attacker has helped greatly eradicate this type of fouling.

Having watched Suarez in numerous games there is no doubting his ability with the ball at his feet. One moment in particular in March 2011 when playing against Man United he waltzed through the defence to set up Kuyt, showing excellent skill in the execution of the move. The frustration comes when knowing his ability we see him week in week out take dive after dive, usually in the opponents penalty area. He then shows complete disbelief when the penalty or free kick is not awarded in his favour.

His manager seems to think that he does not get enough protection from referees and like all modern day managers always backs him up. I wonder how concerned Dalglish was about referees protecting players when he was playing and his team mate Souness was welcoming these players to Anfield. The overwhelming support he received in the aftermath of the Evra incident made both front and back page headlines and in some respects damaged the club.

Cheating has always existed in sport and is extremely hard to eradicate from the game. It exists in various forms and is not unique to football with athletics and cycling commonly outing drug cheats. I have recollections of commentators referring to the cynical South American teams in the World Cup played in Mexico during the summer of 1986. For me this was the first tournament where I could understand how the tournament worked. With my parents’ permission I watched this great spectacle from start to finish. I watched it with awe and although I scarcely remember any of the games or players now I will never forget the now infamous ‘Hand of God’ moment. This act of what can only be described as cheating put Argentina 1-0 ahead. Minutes later Maradona led the English team a merry dance as he rounded 5 English players to score a goal that was later voted the Goal of the Century on a FIFA website poll.  Argentina went on to win 2-1 and after that won the World Cup. Their victory is in many people’s eyes sullied by the ‘Hand of God’ incident and I count myself as one of those people.

It is a great criticism of the modern game and how it has developed with a certain level of cheating almost accepted, and in some cases expected by the fans looking to gain the advantage. Those looking in from outside, who have played other games such as rugby or even Gaelic football the Irish national game, find it hard to understand the culture of diving. The diving culture seems to have increased greatly with the advent of the Premier League. It could also be argued that the greater amounts of money which reward success also add to the cheating culture.

If people were asked to pick a premiership team of the noughties, two players who would make most selections would be Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo. These two fine strapping specimens who stand in excess of 6 feet in height, and are built appropriately, had all the attributes of world class footballers however they both shared a similar flaw. This pair would put Greg Louganis to shame when it came to diving. As a Man United fan there was nothing more infuriating than seeing Ronaldo taking a tumble in the hope of winning a free. I always felt that he never needed to dive and should have let his skill do the talking. Drogba similarly had occasions to perform Nureyev style manoeuvres when staying on his feet and using his strength may have reaped better rewards. Arsenal lest they be forgotten had a few aspirants to the diving title as well with Robert Pires and his acrobatics being the most memorable. Terrace chants of “Same old Arsenal always cheating” were common to premiership grounds in this era.

The managers of these shining lights, who children worldwide looked up to and emulated on the school playgrounds, all defended their players’ actions, albeit in various ways. Arsene Wenger never saw anything, at times his comments post match led one to believe that he had been in the bar for the whole game and the TV there was broken. Fergie and Mourinho usually went on the attack and never conceded any wrongdoing. Managers in general are always quick to object to the decisions they feel should not have been awarded against them. Funny they never seem to admit getting away with not conceding penalties or not having men sent off when it was deserved.

The worldwide global audience reached by football these days is the most effective tool in the fight against cheating. To do this will require courage to be shown by managers and referees alike. The laws exist for the booking of players who seek to unfairly gain an advantage. In the recent FAI cup final of 2011, Shelbourne’s Barry Clancy was dismissed for a second yellow for diving. I was at that game and from my vantage point it was a dive. The football analysts all said it was not a penalty but questioned whether or not it was a dive.

Feigning injury mainly in an effort to get an opposing player sent off or booked is too common a sight. Players collapsing like they have been shot clutching a body part usually their face and all replays show little or no contact in the first instance. This is difficult to tackle but perhaps the referee should be allowed examine the video post match and include in his report any incidents of this nature with disciplinary action to be taken as a result.

We need more referees with the courage to make these decisions, we need managers to come out and say “yes our player cheated he got what he deserved”. In game TV replays should be available to referees similar to rugby with a 4th official where a referee deems it necessary. The Republic of Ireland national team would have been thankful of this in the aftermath of Henry’s hand ball that dumped them out of the World Cup playoff. Referees are humans prone to mistakes like the rest of us. I have no doubt that most are well meaning and get the majority of calls right. I just wonder if a serious attempt to eradicate this type of cheating would make refereeing the game a bit easier and more fun for the spectator. Messrs Blatter, Platini et all do not favour any technology being introduced but in our ever changing world, where the Smartphone was the stuff of Star Trek, technology will no doubt play a major part of the game going forward. Of course a little bit of truth and honesty could obviate this need so here is hoping.

Written by William Horan, follow him on twitter here.


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