When it comes to introducing retrospective punishment for players who dive, you would not need to put it to a secret ballot to obtain the approval of the Premier League managers. A simple show of hands would do it. Judging by the kind of public pronouncements they make, it would not even be close.
Let’s start with the longest-serving of them all, Arsène Wenger, who has advocated retrospective punishments for diving, or simulation, for years. “We have that famous thing that the judgement of the referee has to be final, but I don’t agree with that,” Wenger said in April 2012. “We should have a superior committee of ethics who could still punish a player.” His view has not changed since then.
Jose Mourinho said on Friday that he would back a system that retrospectively punished divers. “I think that simulation has to be punished the same way that aggression is punished,” he said, as the Premier League’s official new lead crusader (self-appointed) against diving.
David Moyes has said the same for years and he was no different when he ticked off Ashley Young earlier this season for diving against Crystal Palace. “I have said for many years that we should have retrospective video action against diving,” Moyes said. “That would help referees no end. My views haven’t changed from when I was at Everton.”
Tim Sherwood, new to the job at Tottenham Hotspur, but with greater Premier League playing experience than any of the above, agrees. “Retrospectively I would go back and punish the player who is diving around,” he said on Friday. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to cut it out, to give them a higher punishment.”
One could go on, but you get the picture. The managers would like diving punished retrospectively. The Football Association is in a position to do so, and this summer offered to establish a retrospective punishment system for the Premier League and Football League.
And the answer from the clubs when asked whether they want action on what most would agree is cheating by the players? That is a resounding “No”.
The clubs’ managers want it, the English football public wants it, but when push comes to shove the clubs do nothing. And there we have it, a governing body without the power to enforce necessary change and a group of clubs without the courage to pursue it. Welcome to English football in 2014.
The Andy Carroll red card against Swansea and its fallout taught us a few things. First of all that David Gold would never have made a lawyer, not after the West Ham co-owner’s risible argument that his club would not have taken the commission’s appeal decision to arbitration had they been safely mid-table. With that kind of logic, you wouldn’t trust him to fight a parking fine.
More important was the disclosure that even the commission that ruled on Carroll’s appeal, correctly finding that Howard Webb’s decision was not an “obvious error”, was disgusted by the actions of Chico Flores. The Swansea defender’s reaction to being brushed across the hairline with Carroll’s arm – strictly speaking more exaggeration than simulation – was mentioned in the commission’s report at length.
The three-man panel recorded their “dissatisfaction with the conduct of Mr Flores for simulating injury and unsporting conduct”. They wanted him charged with “ungentlemanly conduct” and when that was judged impossible, urged the FA to come up with a way of doing something about the problem.
Marvel at the unworldliness of that three-man commission. They thought it would be as simple as the FA coming up with a sensible new rule and telling the clubs. Anyone at the FA trying to do that with the clubs would have all the longevity of that poor soul in charge of the fireworks on that phantom fifth ring in Sochi.
Formulating a way of dealing with simulation has always been problematic. Does the FA’s compliance department trawl games for incidents? What constitutes simulation or exaggeration when so few incidents are obvious? Mourinho was adamant that Ramires did not dive to win a penalty against Derby County in the FA Cup. Sherwood believed that Danny Rose should not have been sent off for his foul on Edin Dzeko last month. Unsurprisingly, Manuel Pellegrini disagreed.
In the past, it was a personal view that these obstacles have been insurmountable. Not any more. While the Carroll decision was correct according to the current rules, it felt wrong. Flores’s reaction provokes a natural sense of revulsion and injustice. The managers of our leading clubs agree that something has to change, so why does it not?
No doubt Webb, a good referee who stews upon his erroneous decisions, will have been hurting this week. A yellow card would have been right for Carroll and for Flores. But he, like many referees, is finding the job harder and harder as he deals with more players trying to con him.
In the refereeing fraternity they call them “honest decisions”. One makes a call on the evidence available. It is impossible for a referee to see in sufficient detail every incident that takes places over 90 minutes, to get it all right all the time. Even the best officials often have to rely on putting together the fragments in the aftermath – body-shape, reaction, injury – to build a picture.
The best have a knack of getting it right most of the time. But increasingly these honest decisions are being made on the basis of the actions of dishonest players – and it is always the referees that get the blame. The simplest analogy would be blaming the police and absolving the criminals, despite the latter having the freedom to tamper with the evidence and nobble the witnesses.
The clubs have the power to change it. Not that it would be easy. Uefa made a catastrophic mess of its attempt to charge Eduardo da Silva, then at Arsenal, for diving to win a penalty against Celtic in 2009. Uefa regulations obliged them to prove he had “obvious intent to cause any match official to make an incorrect decision”. The case was rejected so emphatically that Uefa has not tried again since.
English clubs espouse some lofty ideals when it comes to players cheating. As a nation we like to think that it is not part of our game, something that crafty old Johnny Foreigner brought with him. Mourinho likes to play up to that notion, wringing his hands about the influence of “my side of Europe”. Perhaps it was a European invention, but there is no denying that it is now an English problem.
The Carroll-Flores episode was another example of how much English football recoils from cheating, simulation or exaggeration. Our leading managers advocate the punishment of offenders. Now all that remains is for the clubs to summon the courage to ask the FA to change the rules, rather than hide behind brave words while doing nothing about it.