Nani might just have good reason to celebrate his chances en-route to the throne of the biggest diver in world football given his recent displays, but he’ll have big shoes to fill if he manages a successful swipe of the crown; as I hear Ronaldo’s boot size is a 13.5.
While I usually shy away from picking on individual players when it comes to certain aspects of the game of football, one of the few exclusions to the rule happens to be on the issue of diving. A little history before I start taking names though. Diving, also conveniently refferred to as simulation by individuals that would prefer to hide from the truth that this has been a part of the game of Football for decades by giving it a fancy modern sounding name, is a phenomena that has become increasingly prevalent within the game at club and national levels especially in the last decade. While techniques tend to differ from national team to national team, the idea of exaggerating the contact recieved from a member of the opposing team seems to be a relatively universal phenomena. The Italians in particular have produced fine stock that have managed over time to fine tuned this aspect of the game into a near art form with plenty of Oscar worthy acting jobs that got them ahead even if the Italian National team lost out in the long run more World Cups than not. While there is no doubt on the subject of whom the best divers in World Football are on an international team level, the real masters of the dark art that tend to shine on an individual level seem to no longer be able to hold on as tightly to their crown of ‘Biggest Diver in World Football’ than before. Reigns on the throne seem to have gone from being remembered in years to now mere months as there seems to be someone better out there on a near weekly basis, trying to unseat his highness with one even more desperate attempt at getting a free-kick or penalty he never deserved, than the next.

I thought FIFA took a step in the right direction by adding a rule in a few years ago to make simulation a punishable offence. To be honest, for a few months thereafter, everything seemed to be right in the world of football until the game was confronted with the problem of what to do when an International Superstar that promotes the game globally decides to go to ground every time the crowd chants too hard. Its good for the sanctity of the sport for him to get a yellow card, but its not good for the game in terms of the big bucks and advertising revenue to see him get sent off. So instead referees have decided to not give a foul in certain situations, but not book for simulation either. As to what the hell that is supposed to mean, in terms of the decision they have just made, I’d like an answer. Most referees will tell you they didn’t see the incident clearly enough to make a call either way, but thats flawed logic if I’ve ever heard it when one cares to look at the macro view of the officiating system for a second. If the guy went to ground, either the man marking him put him there or he put himself there. Its that simple. If you can’t see things clearly enough four and five times a game, how are you representing a federation that insists instant replay isn’t necessary because it would taint the game? How do you go to bed at night knowing that you don’t have the courage to take a strong stand against a serious evil that is plaguing the game? What the heck is the point of the 4th official and two assistant referees that are getting paid good money if they can’t tell you what happened? Aren’t all of the individuals on the officiating team being paid good money to make tough decisions?

The real truth is that it isn’t really the referees whom at at fault in the first place, its the players that need to be whipped into shape by their managers, many of whom are irresponsibly promoting this kind of ‘take a dive to win the match’ attitude which is despicable. I think that as much as managers might try to hide their true feelings on the subject with the public, their discussions with their players in the locker room are definitely influencing players behavior on the pitch in the long run. A classic example of this would be analyzing whom has taken the throne of ‘biggest diver in world football’ over the last few years. Lets start with Louis Figo who was a downright shameful diver. He passed the crown safely to one Franchesco Totti who got exactly what he deserved when Australia booted Italy out of the 2002 World Cup and didn’t have a legitimate penalty given. Lets call it Karma. Totti passed the baton onto a young Christiano Ronaldo who is now struggling to hold on with an advancing Nani trying to end his reign prematurely. Two Manchester United players, both from the same era, one flopping around in the La Liga the other in the EPL. If you don’t believe that there is a co-relation between Manchester United stars and diving as of late then you are either too big a Red Devil fan to be honest with yourself or are just simply blind. Which brings me to the problem larger than managerial instruction and tutalage in the art of diving. The fans.

Yes you. That I am a Milan fan made the 2-0 loss to Real Madrid in the champions league earlier this year tough I admit, but I like to think I can be objective and recognize good football when I see it. Christiano Ronaldo went to ground so incredibly easily in the 3rd minute of the game, that I thought he would be sent off for sure. Prior to the 2 goals being scored, I took the liberty of asking the Real Madrid fan sitting next to me, a first team member at Karachi United no less and clearly a man who knows a thing or two about the game of football, as to why Ronaldo has to dive left right and center if he is such a talent. Why such a huge difference between his track record on the subject and say Messi to whom he is regularly compared by any remaining non-believers. To which I received the response, “Yeah well the thing is, Ronaldo trips over his own feet and he gets confused because thinks someone brought him down”. My exact response to that statement isn’t fit for print media. Simply put though this, is the biggest problem in World Football. Not players diving, not managers coaching them to, but fans actually making pathetic excuses for their self proclaimed demi-god heroes on the pitch. Fans actually condone and overlook simulation which allows the trickle down effect to make it okay for managers to tell players to dive, for referees to look the other way and yes inevitably for players to dive.

The sad truth is that real football enthusiasts don’t stand a chance of setting the record straight on this subject because they will always be outnumbered by a band of jersey buying, bumper car sticker sporting bunch of band wagoners that really don’t care about the greater good of the sport because all they want to see if their team win. Football has turned into a heavily commercialized numbers game where World Cup votes are sold for ‘personal projects’ and some of the most talented players in the world are tempted to dive to get ahead. The only possible way out of this mess in my mind is video replay technology and while I too am a purist to a degree, my logic is simple you need to be able to expose fraudulent behavior one way or the other if the current method isn’t particularly effective and people are taking advantage of the system. Lets just hope they implement video replay technology in our lifetime else the so called purity of football that is being guarded by not introducing it might just become tainted beyond repair.