So UEFA have back tracked on their decision to ban Eduardo for his blatant dive in the second leg of Arsenal’s Champions League match with Celtic a few weeks ago. After all the discussion that the incident has provoked, this is a pretty tame ending to the saga with UEFA backing down after Arsenal showed that “there was contact between the keeper and Eduardo” and thus convinced UEFA “that the referee hadn’t been deceived in taking his decision on the penalty.”
Eduardo has followed a fine Arsenal tradition that sees players speaking unwisely in public by asserting that he is “very pleased we have finally arrived at the truth” despite the fact that the whole world still knows that he dived, and if anything the abuse he’s received since the incident will now increase. I’m a bit mixed on this reversal though, because while UEFA did somewhat unfairly make an example of the Croatian, it looked like they were finally going to make a stand against diving.
Instead though, they’ve buckled under pressure from Arsenal, and for that the London club must take no blame. As I said, there’s little doubt that the initial decision to ban Eduardo was unfair in one respect because there are countless similar incidents occurring constantly in football and yet no one had ever been so harshly punished before. Banning Eduardo smacked of UEFA’s old anti-English bias, and so in a way I’m pleased that Arsenal have managed to overturn it.
However, it’s disappointing because I thought that UEFA had finally taken a stand and set themselves a precedent for how they would properly deal with diving. Up until now they’ve simply told referees to caution those players caught diving, a plan fundamentally flawed by the fact that diving is designed to deceive the referee and so those doing it properly would neither be caught nor punished for it.
But to be able to go back after the game was over and ban players for their “simulation” seemed to me to be a great means of starting to stamp it out. Obviously television replays aren’t flawless, but it’s usually quite easy to tell when a player has conned the referee, and if they could face a two match ban for doing so, I’m fairly sure that we’d soon see far fewer players diving – if only because they’d all be suspended.
Of course, there were always going to be tricky calls to make, but I didn’t expect them to fall at the first hurdle as they have done. In overturning Eduardo’s ban they’ve reversed the binary completely – instead of setting a positive precedent against diving, they’ve undermined themselves. All Arsenal have done is shown that there was contact between Eduardo and the goalkeeper, and thus UEFA have accepted that the penalty was fairly awarded.
But that’s a false conclusion. Yes, there was contact between Eduardo and the keeper, but the contact was nowhere near enough to bring Eduardo down and in fact I go so far as to say that the contact was instigated by Eduardo. He dangled his leg down so that it would make contact with the keeper and then threw himself to the floor. That’s not a foul, and it’s very much still a dive, but now UEFA have all but legalised it.
Now, when someone goes bombing into the box and nip past a defender, all they need to do is kick their leg out to the side slightly to make contact with the ankle of said defender and then go toppling dramatically in a heap and the referee will probably give a penalty. And despite the fact that the defender made no attempt to make a tackle or to foul the player, and despite the fact that the attacker has clearly simulated a foul in order to deceive the referee, UEFA won’t be able to punish him.
They’ve now suggested that contact is all that is required to constitute an action not to be a dive, and that’s a big mistake. Very rare is there an incident where a player dives with no contact at all having been made. The major problem that we face is when players make the most of contact. Football is very much a contact sport, though someone unfamiliar with the game would struggle to guess that now, with players tumbling at the slightest touch and being given free-kick after free kick after penalty for their troubles.
So I must say I’m hugely frustrated by UEFA’s decision. They, and the sport’s other major governing bodies, have already damaged the game enough by dragging their feet over introducing effectively methods to deal with diving. It has been happening for years now and has almost become an accepted – if lamented – part of the game, hell a few years back Pro Evo even had a button whereby you could dive to try and win a free kick, that’s how far things have come.
And then, just when it looked like they were finally going to crack down on it, they’ve actually taken one step forward to take two backwards. Yes, they’ll still claim that they’ll continue to ban players who deceive the referee by simulating a foul, but all a player now has to do is make sure that he makes contact with his opponent and hope that there is a nice camera angle of said contact, and UEFA will have no choice but to let him off because they’ve just set a dangerous precedent.
So even though Arsenal were being unfairly made an example of over this whole incident, I’m now even more appalled at UEFA’s handling of the incident. If they had upheld the decision and then continued to enforce their banning policy for all incidents of simulation, even those with contact, then Arsenal would have had no cause to complain. Yes, they would have been the martyr that started the revolution, but it would have been a very worthy sacrifice, even most Arsenal fans would admit that.
As it is though, in nailing them up and then helping them down again, UEFA have effectively condoned Eduardo’s cheating actions and ensured that diving will continue to be as rife a disease throughout our beautiful game as it already is. We can only hope that someone with real balls is elected at FIFA or UEFA soon so that they actually start to enforce their punishments and make a real impact on the game, rather than just pretending to, because at present, UEFA are just as guilty of simulation as Eduardo is.
Have your say:
Do you think that Eduardo dived? Should he have been made an example of? And have UEFA done more harm than good by retracting the ban? Please leave me a comment with your thoughts below…