independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Outside the Box: It's always better to be sent off than carried off

IF Tony Pulis and several others had their way, Santi Cazorla would be facing a three-match ban this morning from a committee who would right the wrongs of the weekend's football.

Perhaps they could be so successful that a crowd would be happy in the knowledge that a player on the ground was always genuinely hurt. If we're lucky, maybe they will have a broken leg to prove they weren't a cheat.

One of George Best's greatest goals came after he rode a tackle from Ron 'Chopper' Harris that, had it connected properly, would have put several bones in his lower leg in danger. Instead, Best took some impact, stayed upright and scored. One argument about Best's actions is that it shows how much more honest the game was back then but the more likely reality is that Best knew Harris' punishment for nearly breaking his leg would, at most, have been a yellow card. They, apparently, were the good old days.

It's impossible to defend Cazorla's dive although the level of difficulty it takes to perform such an act is rarely taken into consideration.

The next time you're playing, try to recognise a moment that you're in the box, the defender has swung their leg, missed the ball, missed you, that you have a chance to win a penalty, then to fall to the ground and sell it by grabbing your ankle and convince a neutral that it was, in fact, a foul – and do it all in about half a second. It's far more difficult than it looks.

Such cheating isn't something that should be encouraged but, if they were sitting this morning handing out three-match bans to divers, football's High Moral Ground committee might also like to take a look at Ciaran Clark's tackle on Glenn Whelan which, on another day, would have snapped Whelan's leg; or maybe they can ban Carlos Tevez for kicking Phil Jones or Jonas Olsson for deliberately kneeing Olivier Giroud in the back, all of which went unpunished by the officials.

Then they could go through the yellow cards which shouldn't have been handed out and, for example, retrospectively retract the ludicrous red card given to Stoke's Ryan Shotton against Aston Villa. Any committee that sets up on a Monday would be there until Wednesday if they went through every incident from 10 games of football and applied the letter of the law to every one of them.

In the absence of controversial T-shirts or non-handshakes, diving raced to the top of the hysterical football news pyramid on Saturday night and, only for Robin van Persie's winning goal yesterday, it would have finished second to a video technology debate following Ashley Young's disallowed goal. Instead, after Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin, diving was relegated to third in the weekly 'things that must be stamped out of football' discussion. Had there been a bit more racism, it wouldn't even have made the podium places.

There seems to be a peculiar notion that, at some point in time, football was a sort of utopia where crowds didn't chant offensive songs and players never cheated.

Anyone who yearns for those oft-lamented, oft-imagined days should type Andoni Goicoechea and Diego Maradona into YouTube and watch the (ahem), tackle which broke Maradona's ankle. More importantly, watch the referee's reaction as he gestures to the Bilbao defender to calm down and shows him a yellow card as the best player in the world is stretchered off.

Given the choice between being labelled a cheat or looking at an X-ray to see the bones in your leg going in two different directions, most players will take the first option. Even if it results in a second yellow card for diving, it's always better to be sent off than carried off.

It's a peculiar aspect of the game that a player who breaks another's leg can be defended on the grounds of "not being that kind of player" (see Ryan Shawcross) but one who falls to the ground when they haven't been touched is seen as fair game for any future retribution (see Luis Suarez).

Cazorla will now have to endure months of being labelled a cheat by defenders who know that they have fouled him – a phenomenon which started immediately in the second half of the game against West Brom.

Cazorla, like Gareth Bale last week, deserved some of the flak which came his way and the next time a tackle comes flying in his direction he might think twice about jumping out of the way. If he stays on his feet and hears a snap, he can convalesce happy in the knowledge that he may be out for several months, but has kept Tony Pulis and the moral high ground brigade happy.

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