London – What a disappointment. Only three weeks into the Premier League season and already it looks as if the Football Association’s initiative on diving and simulation is struggling to keep pace.
Towards the end of last season we were told, if you recall, that the FA now had powers that would permit it to punish divers and cheaters retrospectively with two-match bans, subject to their attempts to con referees being exposed by video replays to the satisfaction of a panel of experts.
The intention, it was made clear, was to charge players believed to have cheated to win a penalty or get a player sent off, be that for a straight red card or a second yellow. A new offense would appear on the FA charge sheet, to wit: “Successful deception of a match official.”
One suspected at the time that such a tricky area might not prove so simple to police, and those fears were borne out in the 1-1 draw between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad on Monday night. Most commentators on television and in print concluded that Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin had exaggerated both the force and the nature of contact with Kyle Walker to deceive the match officials into thinking some sort of assault had taken place, possibly an elbow to the face. As a result the City player received a second yellow shortly after his first one, and the home side had to play more than 50 minutes with 10 men. When Everton themselves went down to 10 men a couple of minutes before the end of normal time there was a vehement protest from Morgan Schneiderlin that Sergio Agüero had also given the impression he had been kicked when in fact he had not. That incident was less crucial given the stage of the game by then, but few disagreed with Ronald Koeman’s suggestion that the referee, Bobby Madley, had attempted to even up the situation in recognition of his earlier mistake.
A bit of a mess, then, with Pep Guardiola refusing to discuss the officials’ performance or the disciplinary aspects of a feisty game, and Gary Neville suggesting on Sky the “high hurdle” it is supposed to require for a player to receive a second yellow when already on a booking had not been reached. That high hurdle would have been reached had Walker actually elbowed Calvert-Lewin, though television replays clearly established that he had not. One for the peacekeepers at the FA to sort out, surely.
Or perhaps not. It turns out neither incident was clear-cut enough for the governing body’s new machinery to get involved, because while the degree of fouling in each case was debatable, some contact was made on both occasions so it is apparently far too risky to go around accusing anyone of diving. Quite clearly, what the FA needs before it wheels its panel of experts into action is a bona fide dive, one with a take-off, a flight and a landing, quite possibly with a half-pike or two in the middle. At which point, presumably, the panel will respond with scores out of 10, including marks for artistic impression.
What this means in practice is the FA will take action over swan dives in search of penalties, the sort of thing that is usually easy to spot with a couple of television replays anyway if there is no actual contact, but stay away from more difficult areas such as players overreacting to challenges from opponents who have already been booked. That, too, is unsporting conduct. And by falling poleaxed to the floor clutching his face, Calvert-Lewin appeared to have deceived the match officials, whether or not he realized he was going to get Walker dismissed. Agüero’s overreaction, if that is what it was, seemed less reprehensible. Schneiderlin did catch him on the follow-through, and though it did not appear the most heinous act or obvious of fouls, modern professionals know they have to draw the referee’s attention to contact if they expect to win a free-kick.
That, however, is not what Calvert-Lewin seemed to be doing. The FA probably needs to add another new offense to its charge sheet as soon as possible. It should be known as “doing a Rivaldo”, in the same way that chipped penalties are now named after Antonin Panenka, and it should lead to an extremely dim view being taken of players who clutch their face in an attempt to convince the referee that they have been struck rather than simply touched. It is hard to know exactly what Calvert-Lewin was thinking without asking him, but one could readily understand why both Madley and his fourth official reached the conclusion that an elbow might have been involved. It is not always easy for referees to spot everything that takes place on the pitch but that is precisely why it was anticipated that television replays might come in handy after the event.
If we are not going to get such situations reviewed, there is probably no need for a panel of experts after all. Most people sitting at home in their armchairs are able to spot the more blatant dives. If the FA is serious about tackling simulation/cheating/deception, call it what you will, it ought to realize that not everything worth investigation takes place in the penalty area and that players who have already been booked just might be being targeted by opponents.
Retrospective trial by video might still have its uses, though. It would be worth pursuing if only to deter the face-clutchers. A clearer case of attempting to deceive the referee is hard to imagine and it would be relatively easy to stamp out. If the standard punishment for being caught doing a Rivaldo was a two-match ban, dished out retrospectively if necessary, referees would suddenly find their jobs a whole lot easier.
The Guardian Sport