The furore caused by diving in recent weeks has caught up quite a head of momentum. Suddenly the British FIFA Vice-President, Jim Boyce, has waded into the debate, whilst Michael Owen insists he exaggerated his fall during World Cup games with Argentina in 1998 and 2002. That, though, is ok, says the former Liverpool and Real Madrid man. Doing what Luis Suarez did against Stoke last week, apparently, is not.
Talking of ‘that’ dive, having been watching another game at the time I only saw Suarez’s fall against Stoke later that evening on Match of the Day. Given the way it was reported, I assumed the Uruguayan had taken a deliberate, obvious and poorly executed dive. It would not be the first time, after all. Then, during the second period, Suarez turns inside a Stoke defender, loses his footing, tries to get back up, fails and falls to the floor. Was that it? Sure that it must be a coincidence and a more obvious dive came up later, I was wrong. Apparently, that was the dive in question. Without denying the real possibility that Suarez did take an easy tumble - it would not be the first time - it did look more like a man tripping over, trying to retain his balance and failing. That kind of thing happens. Ever seen anyone trip over with no-one around them when walking in the street? It turns out it is possible to fall over without being touched by an opponent. Or another human being of any sort. Particularly when running at pace.
Naturally, the fact that it was Suarez was probably what led to such an outburst of anger about diving. He has created a reputation for himself. But then, of all the players to dive, the Uruguayan is perhaps the one I could understand most resorting to such action. It’s not right, but neither is being elbowed in the back of the head when clean through on goal and not receiving a penalty, as happened to Suarez against Norwich. A fairly clear penalty was denied him against Manchester United earlier in the season. If Owen believes it is justifiable to exaggerate a foul to make sure you win a penalty, is it any worse to take a deliberate tumble to even out the injustice of being denied two or three blatantly obvious ones? Both are attempts to take justice into your own hands, and the difference is minimal if any.
And contrast the attitude towards Suarez with the one towards Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Hazard won three penalties in the first week of the Premier League season. Apparently, the Belgian wins penalties, according to one national football commentator this week, because he tends to cut in front of the man he has just dribbled past. Maybe that is true. But why does one player constantly going to ground looking for penalties lead to opprobrium, whilst another is dismissed entirely as down to his dribbling style? Similarly, when Didier Drogba was at Chelsea he was one of the worst offenders when it came to the art of diving in the league. There were few outbursts about him from FIFA vice-presidents or Stoke City managers.
It surely is not a coincidence that it is a Chelsea player getting a comparatively easy ride whilst a Liverpool one is vilified. That John Terry has received half the suspension Suarez did for committing the same offence – using racist language on the pitch – was one thing. That Liverpool were universally lampooned for their reaction, despite holding their hands up and eventually apologising, seems quite a double standard compared to the barely audible criticism of Chelsea – who have moved not an inch towards saying “sorry”. Given that Ashley Cole and the Chelsea secretary have been effectively accused of changing their story to defend Terry, their actions seem far more worthy of criticism than those of Liverpool last year.
So in this larger context, you may understand why Suarez is feeling a bit sorry for himself. You may also understand why the Uruguayan Football Association (UAF) wrote this to FIFA this week to express their concern at the targeting of their star forward for particular criticism.
And yes, diving is wrong, but is it the worst sin in football? I’d venture to argue that diving, dishonest as it is, is no worse than time wasting, a way of avoiding actually playing the game. I’d also suggest that diving is no worse than one of Tony Pulis’ defender Robert Huth placing his foot into the Uruguayan’s stomach as he lay flat out on the floor early in the game. How is that any more ‘honest’ than diving? At least Suarez this week admitted that his behaviour, such as his gesturing on the pitch, needs to improve. There is no acknowledgement that Huth even did anything wrong from Stoke. Pulis appears completely blind to the flaws of his own players, and only seems interested in attacking those crimes which do not benefit his own team. Will the Welshman ever come out against stamping, time wasting or the kind of over aggressive tackles that are the hallmark of his own team? Probably not. That would not help their cause - three match bans for diving would.
Suarez has become the victim of a general witch hunt. He is a provocative character, and he is a foreigner, and that combination seem to have turned him into English football’s public enemy number one. It is a reputation he will have to bear for some time – but for all of his flaws, it is one he does not deserve.