With players seeming to benefit profusely from histrionics, perhaps some rules changes are in order
Brazil’s Kaka (right) argues with Ivory Coast’s Kader Keita (centre) after the latter simulated a foul during their World Cup group match. AFP
Football is renowned for its theatrics. Even Manchester United’s home ground is known as the Theatre of Dreams, and the ultimate dream of each player is to perform in the World Cup. But there is another oft-neglected play acted out on football’s world stage. FIFA even has a word for it – simulation.
Some players practise the swallow dive, others have perfected feigning an injury. Most can collapse to the floor as if felled by a heavyweight’s best punch despite receiving the merest of touches. All are visual art forms that need to be mastered by the modern footballer if he wishes to achieve success at the highest level.
At best, the performance is reminiscent of an Olympic gymnast in the middle of her floor routine. However, more often than not it resembles the oldest Shakespearean ham giving it one last hurrah.
At each major tournament, FIFA stresses the need to outlaw the dive. Players will be booked for simulation. However, just like England’s dreams of winning a penalty shootout, these ideals quickly fade and die.
The Germans, in their successful 1990 campaign, transformed what had previously been regarded as cheating into a new art form. Striker Jurgen Klinsmann spent more time rolling around on the floor than he did standing up in the opponents’ penalty area.
Despite so much TV evidence in the intervening 20 years, both referees and FIFA officials seem powerless to act. Perhaps they are bewitched by the sorcerer’s bag of tricks?
For those who can’t get enough of the art of football, www.slate.com has devoted a page to dive of the day.
Here you can see Honduras’ Emilio Izaguirre’s daring seven-second delayed action fall when flicked in the face by Spain’s David Villa. Could he have dared delay his collapse even longer? Or catch Rafik Halliche’s outrageously bold dive against the US’s Jozy Altidore, a perfectly delivered triple role that followed minimal if any contact with the American’s boot.
But the King of Simulation so far has to be Abdul Kader Keita for his head-clasping fall to the ground after running into Brazilian playmaker Kaka. If there were Oscars for diving, the Ivory Coast player would be bookies’ favourite for best performance in a starring role.
Now is the time for FIFA to embrace rather than outlaw footballers’ black arts.
Instead of having penalty shootouts decide deadlocked games, let’s put the players’ acting ability to the test. Five players from each team could run past a lifesize mannequin of a defender. The players fall to the ground as if felled by their motionless adversary. A panel of judges then awards a score out of six for artistic impression and technical merit. The team with the highest aggregate score progresses to the next round.
Only then will New Football become appreciated as the art form that it now truly is, rather than the contact sport that Old Football once was.
Please send your comments to our World Cup columnist Mark Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org