Theatricals starting to spoil the football

June 23, 2008

Villa gets a yellow card

When I go to the theatre, I wouldn’t expect to see a soccer match break out on stage.
 
And so when I’m watching a soccer match I don’t want to see theatrics.

But watching the diving, feigned injuries and other nefarious attempts to fool the referee when Spain played against Italy in the quarter-finals made me wish both teams could somehow be eliminated.
 
It’s a beautiful game, but it was bad theatre and worse soccer. It was the first match of the tournament that I stopped watching after a while because the acting was putting me off.
 
Italy’s Luca Toni might be tall and intimidating when he runs towards the goal — and a likeable player at Bayern Munich — but several times it looked like it only took a gentle breeze to topple him in Vienna.

Spain’s David Villa later got a yellow card for diving in the penalty area but he was by no means the only player to hit the ground hard after the slightest contact.

German referee Herbert Fandel deserves credit for seeing through it all. Sure, he might have failed to award a penalty in the first half for Spain but really it’s like the little boy who cried wolf. After a while you assume everything is an act.

My favourite moment of the tournament? Ruud van Nistelrooy staying on his feet against Italy despite being tripped by Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in the 18th minute. The score was still 0-0 and he could have fallen and got the penalty as the ball rolled away from him. But he didn’t.
 
Similarly Eren Derdiyok of Switzerland stayed on his feet a few nights later despite a clumsy challenge by Turkey’s goalkeeper Volkan Demirel in the heavy rain in Basel. He rounded the keeper and crossed to Hakan Yakin, who tapped the ball in.

I’m glad we’ve seen more of  the Van Nistelrooys and Derdiyoks in this tournament so far and less of the Spain-Italy theatrics.

PHOTO: Herbert Fandel shows Spain’s David Villa a yellow card during the Euro 2008 quarter-final against Italy in Vienna, June 22, 2008. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

19 comments

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I agree with the sentiment, though not necessarily with the specific examples. It seemed to me (as a Spaniard I’m obviously biased, so let’s get that out of the way) that Herbert Fandel got more wrong than right in spotting the playacting. He missed the penalty on Villa and the just-outside-the-box trip on Silva and yellow carded Villa for what looked like a slip, rather than a deliberate dive.

On the other hand there were examples aplenty of play being stopped for supposed injuries that then saw the players concerned (on both sides, it has to be said) get up and continue as if nothing had happened.

I’m not sure that this game had a higher degree of this sort of thing than any other competitive game we’ve seen so far. Perhaps the highly tactical nature of the game made it particularly frustrating for the correspondent, but let’s not give the referee any special credit for spotting it.

Sure Gonzalo. No argument there. Fandel missed the penalty on Villa and the just-outside-the-box trip on Silva. But the point I was trying to make is: If players are flinging themselves through the air and onto the ground for the slightest brush (or even when there’s no contact), how is a referee going to know for sure whether there really was a foul or not? And if he’s not sure, he shouldn’t award any penalties. As much as those two incidents were worthy of a call, be honest with yourself Gonzalo — didn’t they both overdo it on their way down?

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

Erik; I 100% agree with you about the theatrics.
Spain plays good ball but the diving is bad. (the Italians are still the bast at it though and Cristiano Ronaldo is the individual king of all football)

FIFA MUST get referees to card people more aggressively. I know people will groan that it will slow the game up carding people, but it’s not worse than the 10 minute flop fest we go through as they try to convince the ref to card the player who supposedly harmed him.

CARD people for diving. CARD THEM. Don’t just tell them to get up, CARD THEM.

Starting to ruin this tournament? ARe you joking? It’s been ruining football for a long time now.

Euro 2008 started with a dive and play acting by Christiano TRonaldo after literally under a minute of the first game. It’s harsh to single him out (even though he’s the worst in the world) but that’s how we started and that’s how we’ve gone on.

New rules need to be put in place. You can’t give then=m a yellow card like you ALWAYS shoudl for diving, it needs to be cleverer than that.

But we can start with the simple things: The refs need to stop believeing them. It’s so obvious – minimun contct and they’re rolling around in mock agony. Far too many times this Euro have i seen the ref stop play, or the opposing team kick the ball out, because someone is pretending to be hurt.

It needs to stop. It is ruining my enjoyment of the game!

I agree. It was a complete disappointment after such a beautiful match on Saturday. It seems to me that FIFA only needs to add a couple of rules to take care of the problem.
1)If a player goes down and stops play, i.e. the ball is purposely kicked out or the ref stops play and has the trainers come on the field, then that player must sit out for five minutes and his team must play a man down. If someone is really injured he will probably need a substitution so it wouldn’t affect teams who aren’t acting.
2)FIFA should review the game footage and hand out yellow cards post-match. I thought that they had instituted this rule after the ’98 world cup but I don’t think I have ever seen it enforced so I don’t know if it actually exists. I can understand it being hard for a ref to know during the game if someone was diving but that is what videotape is for.
What annoys me most, is that this isn’t a bigger public issue. I googled “Italy dive” and only came up with a handful of sites on the issue. It is sad to see the game being ruined by a handful of teams such as Italy, who can play some beautiful football when they are not falling down. The Italians seem to wear it as a badge of honor that they can cheat and fool the referee. Matches like this makes all footballers look weak. I believe this is why more Americans do not participate in the sport, and I can’t blame them.

Posted by Liam | Report as abusive

The theatrics on the footbal pitch are a “male thing”. Have you ever watched women’s soccer? Those silly theatrics do not exist there. And believe me, they get fouled just as much as the men do. It was one reason why I preferred coaching girls rather than boys soccer.

Posted by Uwe Pleban | Report as abusive

It’s time that soccer fans let their voices be heard. Boycott the South Africa World Cup. South African president Thabo Mbeki must confront Robert Mugabe and his murderous regime in Zimbabwe. http://zimsolidarity.blogspot.com/

Worst Moment was Ronaldo in the Germany game Reacting a whole minute after contact like he was just shot. clearly his mind is not as fast as his one trick feet.

Posted by njau | Report as abusive

Hey Njau, you’re right about that one. I had Ronaldo belatedly letting out a shriek of pain with a “This-hurts-so-much-that-I’m-about-to-di e” grimace on his face in the back of my mind when I wrote the Spain-Italy theatrics blog as well…though to be fair it was only about 3 or 4 seconds (and not a full minute) from the time he fell to the point he started writhing in pain (after the slightest of contact). Yet he got what he wanted out of acting — a yellow card against Germany defender Arne Friedrich (who did a surprisingly good job of shutting him down all night). The German TV commentator remarked rather sarcastically about Ronaldo’s “miraculous recovery” only seconds later as he sprinted at top speed after a ball. I would have mentioned the Ronaldo incident too but, you know, there’s only so much space in these things. Surely the list could go on and on and on.

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

Very instructive for me is how my 8 year old and 6 year old boys – who have really been ‘blooded’ on big tournament football with this Euro – have absorbed the theatrics and the play-acting they see on TV and have turned our backyard kick-arounds into something resembling an audition for Macbeth. Its quite sweet to see a 6 year old (who incidentally has Ronaldo-esque skills in other areas of his fledgling game) sprawling across the hallowed turf of our garden with a well-studied grimace across his face. But it doesn’t bode well for the future of the beautiful game when kids are picking up the ugly side of the sport from the TV. Definitely time to do something about it – and I like the ‘sin bin’ idea of a five minute break for anyone whose injury stops the game. It will be a bit like the naughty stair for adults.

Posted by Julian | Report as abusive

I think the whole world of fandom is with you Erik but unfortunately FIFA isn’t. Whenever the issue is raised they roll out the feeble excuse that it is “an emotional game” – like rugby isn’t – and refuse to consider making diving a red card offence
I thought the ref did well in Spain v Italy, he told Toni to get up and stop crying about five times.
My favourite piece of “simulation” of the tournament so far was in the same game when Di Natale sprained an eyelash, rolled off the pitch then realised where he was and rolled back on. The result – the Spaniards in possession had to put the ball out of play because of the ridiculous “gentlemen’s agreement” that has been removed from the game in the Premier League with excellent results.

Holy Cow Warren. The whole world of fan-dom? I actually had thought there were a lot of people in a lot of countries who admire the skills of the divers. I’ve read that some even see it as an art form. I’ve wished hundreds of times that divers would get punished, either on the spot or at least after the match. Doesn’t happen, though, does it? I would have also thought the video evidence would humilate them among their colleagues and fans to the point they’d never do it again. But doesn’t happen, does it? I would have thought that the smarter referees out there would keep a “book” on the divers and be extremely cautious (and sceptical) every time one of the fakers fall while at the same time know which players never go down unless they’ve really been hit. It’d be nice if FIFA could crack down, but we both know that’s not going to happen — so as one small step: how about a little more pre-match homework by the refs? Why don’t the refs pool their information on known divers?

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

Post-match punishment has to be the way forward. If the refree isn’t sure about a dive he should note down the minute and later review the footage. And if it is found to be a dive, there must be a fine in addition to a booking. I would say something in the region of $20,000. So for someone like C. Ronaldo, who averages about 5 dives per game, it’s got to add up over the course of the season or tournament. Even with their riches, I don’t think players would want to dive at that price. Surely, they don’t love their teams that much.

Posted by Gio | Report as abusive

why stop there? what if teams were to punish their own players for that type of nonsense. I believe every penalty awarding dive should be taken with as much severity as the whole Micoud affair at Bordeaux. And maybe even the refs should be penalized for awarding dubious penalties. Might be a little harsh but they’d think twice before every call..

Posted by clement | Report as abusive

I can’t agree less with this article. The Spanish played clean futbol and went there to win. The fouls against Spain were real and any embellishments were upon “the real thing.” Italy played for PKs and absolutely destroyed the beauty of the game with their fake roiling on the ground which was REWARDED by this idiot referee. Andy, one of the best commentators, said as much in all regards. His opinion means more than what I’ve seen here from you Erik and even (or especially) mine.

Posted by Raul | Report as abusive

You may be right, Raul, maybe all the fouls against Spain were real. But why did the Spanish players have to fly so dramatically through the air after any contact? I can’t remember seeing any real effort by anyone from Spain to stay on their feet.

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

You potentially make a good, albeit, fine point about degree of response to contact. I didn’t see the following however: 1- Extended “give me the foul” dramatics, 2- Game-delaying/tempo-changing dramatics and, more importantly, 3- Cheap/Professional fouls by the Spanish team.
The digression here is from the key point – there were real fouls (one, if not, two red cards) that were ignored and yellow card for Villa that was thoroughly derided, again, by Andy Gray.
I think my biggest complaint is to have Italy and Spain put on the same level when Italians did everything (including their usual thuggish behavior) to game the system. I honestly don’t think you can say Spain effectively gamed the system for this game, can you?

Posted by Raul | Report as abusive

GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF ITALIAN PLAYERS FALLING DOWN??? Do you pathetic poms have nothing better to talk about? How about discussing WHY YOU ARE NOT THERE????

Posted by Luke | Report as abusive

This article is so on the spot. I watched the last 20 minutes of the final and couldn’t stand watching it with all the theatrics of Spain going on. Yeah they were the more talented side, but the authorities should not allow all the acting to go on.

Posted by Simon | Report as abusive