Players taking dives in order to buy calls and penalties is obviously nothing new in the world of football/soccer. I find the issue to be particularly disturbing as an American fan of the beautiful game, largely because highlights that feature talented athletes flopping to the ground give non-fans plenty of ammo that can be used to criticize the sport. This past weekend's Premier League fixtures provided us with what I hope will be the two worst dives of the 2012-13 season, incidents that are still being discussed by players, managers and analysts.
I say "what I hope will be..." because any dives worse than the two mentioned below would be crossing the line that separates "comical/shameful" and "you shouldn't be allowed to make money playing this sport."
During an episode of the From the Factory Floor podcast that was recorded several weeks, ago, I praised Gareth Bale for not engaging in such theatrics during the first month and a half of the current campaign. Bale had done well to keep his feet in several scenarios that would have seen him hit the turf as recently as last spring, and I was, at the time, unable to recall a single instance when I thought that he unnecessarily went to ground.
So much for that.
Bale's ugly moment came in the first half of Sunday's Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa clash at White Hart Lane. A defensive mistake found Bale free and clear down the right wing, and Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan left the penalty area in an attempt to beat the Spurs star to the ball. Bale won the race, and he tapped the ball out over the line before taking a spill. The problem here was that Guzan didn't make contact with the winger. Guzan didn't even attempt a tackle.
What continues to bother me most about the latest of Bale's dives is that he wasn't even attempting to make a serious play on the ball. The flop indicates that Bale was always seeking out a foul, perhaps even one that would have seen Guzan sent off. Had the talented player actually attempted to put together a bit of magic, he could have either had an open chance at an empty net or earned a legitimate foul.
Comparing the Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez dives: Suarez vs. Stoke
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers defended Suarez following the latest diving allegations made against his player, telling reporters the following: "At this moment, there seems to be one set of rules for Luis and another set for everyone else. I believe some people need to develop a sense of perspective and I also believe in this moment the vilification of Luis is both wrong and unfair." Rodgers would have had a point had he made such comments this past Friday, as one could easily argue that Suarez has been incorrectly denied penalties on two occasions this season.
The Liverpool boss probably should have kept his mouth shut about the most recent incident, though. With 16 minutes remaining and the match scoreless, Suarez cut between two Stoke defenders before entering the right side of the penalty area. He then attempted to cut the ball back with his right foot, moving past a defender in the process. Suarez then hesitated, put two hands on the pitch, hesitated again, and then released his body onto the ground. In that moment, Suarez elected to attempt to win a penalty rather than, with four defenders surrounding him, continue to keep playing and locate an open teammate.
I've seen multiple "which dive was worse?" debates on social networking websites and on TV shows over the past couple of days. My answer is simple: They're both embarrassing and bad for the game. What I hate most about seeing these two guys dive is that Bale and Suarez are two of the more gifted footballers in the world. They're both too good for such antics, and yet they continue to be guilty of committing flops.
Debates about fining and even suspending divers arise every season. They're inevitable. I've been presented with several arguments for and against punishing those who dive, and I'm not completely convinced that doing so is the answer. My wish is that fans and analysts dumping shame upon notorious divers would be enough to eliminate the issue entirely.
If only we lived in a world where integrity mattered that much.
- Sports & Recreation
- Gareth Bale