It’s cowardly, unsporting and devious. It is cheating, pure and simple. A foreign import that is ruining the English game and has been ever since it started to creep in during the last decade or so. Or so Tony Pulis would have you believe.
The truth is that diving is cheating, it is a foul. The same as a trip or a two-footed challenge. It is certainly no worse than a two-footed challenge. In fact the punishments for diving and a two-footed challenge show that diving is the lesser evil. Take a dive and you risk a yellow card, lunge in two-footed and you may receive a straight red.
It seems fair, a challenge where you leave the ground and are no longer in control is dangerous and could seriously injury a fellow player. A dive is more likely to injure the player throwing himself to the floor than anyone else. From what Pulis and numerous TV pundits say, though, you would think diving is the most heinous crime you can commit on a football pitch. It is not. Not even close. Does that make it acceptable? No, of course not but it is about time it was accepted as part of the game.
Luis Suarez, in diving in the Stoke penalty area, was also trying to gain an advantage for his team. He was unsuccessful. Can it be argued though that what Suarez did was worse than the tactics Stoke employed? He was not endangering anybody else whereas on numerous occasions Stoke players were. Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Glen Johnson were all on the end of some particularly rigorous challenges, for example.
One thing that Tony Pulis is right about is that diving has become more prominent in recent years. To blame that on more foreign players coming into the league though is entirely wrong. As long ago as the World Cup in 1998, Michael Owen dived to win England a penalty.
No-one seemed to care; he’d helped England, that was all that mattered.
Even in more recent times England players such as Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and even Steven Gerrard have been players accused, often correctly, of diving and as recently as last weekend Gareth Bale, from the exotic foreign nation of Wales, was seen diving for Spurs.
Yet after the comments of the Stoke boss, the main focus has been, yet again, on Luis Suarez. A foreigner diving, a blight on the English game. His dive against Stoke was embarrassing, of that there can be no doubt. It was a very bad dive, as blatant as they come and all this at a time when Liverpool players and the manager have been talking of him not getting the decisions he deserves from officials. It was stupid and certainly won’t help his or his team’s cause.
However, it was not the worst thing to happen at Anfield on Sunday to go unpunished by referee Lee Mason.
Within the opening five minutes of the game Robert Huth got away with a stamp on the stomach of Luis Suarez. The referee claims he saw the incident and thought it to be accidental, as such no action will be taken against Huth. The replays don’t show the German in such a favourable light.
As the game went on Stoke continued to use heavy-handed tactics and, much to the astonishment of the Liverpool players, they were allowed to get away with it. Stoke ended the match with six players having been booked. It should have been more. Huth was lucky to stay on the pitch even if his stamp is put to one side. You can’t blame Stoke for using these tactics, though. They were looking to gain an advantage and the failure of the officials to put a stop to the overly-physical challenges flying in by producing cards earlier, meant they were able to do just that.
Diving, stamping and late tackles are all clearly against the rules, no matter which you consider worse. Is the problem then a lack of consistent refereeing? Referees have an unenviable task at times but there are times when they do not help themselves. Again, Sunday’s match at Anfield is a prime example.
Stoke were physical from the off. As Liverpool started to grow into the game Stoke took it up a notch, to the extent where a few very rough and late challenges flew in. Lee Mason, rather than show a yellow card after a couple of these challenges, to try to stamp them out, allowed this to continued until close to half-time. Another late challenge saw him talk to both the offender, Geoff Cameron on this occasion, and Stoke skipper Ryan Shawcross in an attempt to calm things down. Steven Gerrard made sure the referee heard his views too and it seemed the game would continue with fewer rough tackles.
Seconds later another bad tackle flew in from a Stoke player. Surely after the conversation the referee had just had with Shawcross it would result in a yellow card? No, a free-kick and not even a talking-to. Stoke now knew they could get away with it and by the time Lee Mason did start dishing out the cards it was too late. Stoke had gained the advantage they wanted and avoided losing a player to a red card.
Had Lee Mason stepped in sooner it could have been very different. Suarez may not have felt the need to dive to get a decision and if he still did then a yellow card would have been easier to dish out. That said it is still a mystery how Suarez avoided a booking for his dive and it highlights the lack of consistency shown by officials.
He was booked at Sunderland for diving despite there being contact. Contact does not necessarily mean a foul, although again some pundits would have you believe it does, but on this occasion it may have been enough to bring him down. He went down easily against Manchester United, again contact, again it could have been a penalty. It wasn’t given but on this occasion neither was a yellow card. It raises the question, what actually constitutes a dive?
If there is any contact is it no longer a dive? Or is exaggerating contact and going down still a dive?
There needs to be more clarity to help referees and then the referees themselves must be more consistent. Diving is fast becoming a skill in the modern game, one which judging by Sunday and his reputation, Suarez certainly has not mastered. It is hard to see it ever being totally eradicated from the game now but by giving referees clearer guidelines they will be able to hand out the necessary punishments for players who get caught.
Still, there are far more pressing issues in football today than diving and while Tony Pulis’ idea of retrospective punishments for players found diving is one that is worth looking into, perhaps he would be better served looking at some of his own team’s antics at Anfield when seeking to rid the game of its wrongs.