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  • Nov 27, 2014
  • Updated: 8:22am
Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2012, 2:52am

Name and shame the plummeting prima donnas

Conning the referee has been going on for decades but many of the perpetrators are now finding you live and die by your diving

BIO

Peter Simpson is a China-UK based journalist and the SCMP’s former Beijing 2008 Olympics news editor. He has covered major international news and sporting events, most recently the London 2012 Olympics and Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Peter is a Premier League season ticket holder at newly promoted Southampton FC.
 

In June 1968, during his excavation of a small necropolis about a kilometre outside the city of Paestum, Italian archaeologist Mario Napoli made an important discovery - the Tomb of the Diver. The frescos inside the catacomb dated back to 470BC, when Paestum was a Greek-run community and one of the scenes depicted a young alpha male in the prime of his athleticism vaulting from some classical pillars. It now hangs in a museum and through the air the diver travels on a purposeful trajectory, his graceful arc calculated to take full advantage of the gravitational forces pulling him ever closer to the bosom of Mother Earth.

It's a thought-provoking piece of ancient art that has had academics still pondering its true meaning: just what was the artist attempting to convey? Despite the corrosive effect of time and the aura of history that oozes from the faded pastels, what is crystal clear to the 21st century fan is the diver has an incredible likeness to that of Luis Suarez, Nani, Carlos Tevez, Pablo Zabaleta and Danny Wellbeck - to name but a few of those players who in recent weeks have made similar descents to earth in an attempt to cheat their team to a victory.

Diving, and moaning about it, are back in fashion and making an unwanted splash in the headlines. And once more, the sporting EPL hosts are blaming their foreign and highly paid charges for the latest outbreak of that contemptible rash, "diveagitus". Alex Ferguson claimed this week overseas players are more likely to dive than those from Britain. He was responding to complaints from Manchester City's Sergio Aguero that foreign imports have a tougher time with referees in the EPL. Ferguson, who last fielded questions on this subject when Ashley Young's diving got QPR's Shaun Derry sent off last season, admitted Nani had "made a meal" of a fall under a challenge from Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen last weekend - theatrics that saw him denied a penalty - and the Portuguese player "didn't need to do that".

After City's Tevez and Zabaleta were also denied penalties on the same afternoon at Fulham, Aguero said there was "a little bit of privilege" being afforded to English players.

"Nani is not the type to dive, I know that," insisted Ferguson, defending his own imported answer to high-board Olympian Tom Daley. "It was a penalty kick on Saturday. It's not worth going into that subject because down the years there have been plenty of players diving, and you have to say particularly foreign players," he challenged.

It's true. Italian footballers are credited with promoting the eloquent choreography of placing a foot in front of a defender and going to ground to con the referee half a century ago. Now the natives are as good at the deceit as their continental peers, and exclusively blaming the triple-lutz and piking specialists from overseas smacks of denial, if not prejudice.

Has Ferguson ever ordered any of his players to go down in a heap of flaying limbs? Probably not. But it would be fascinating to see if he would deftly duck such a query if ever asked.

Professional divers rile passions and are divisive. There are those who accept the unsportsmanlike theatrics are merely part of the modern, ultra-competitive game - a duel during which all tactics are deemed fair in the quest for an advantage, be it a penalty, free kick or an opposition player cautioned or dismissed.

They argue it is not diving that is on the increase but the multiple ways in which to capture the fake falls at various angles thanks to high-definition TV technology.

They point out there is no rule which demands you must stay on your feet for as long as possible; if a defender lightly taps your foot, you can legitimately go down, goes the argument. They also say unless you really make a meal out of a genuinely foul challenge, the referees won't spot an infringement. A little bit of theatrical licence to illustrate the legal point is necessary.

Worse, they argue, is players who go down with more regularity than the Peak Tram unfairly get labelled a cheat and a diver, Liverpool's Suarez being a case in point. Since his arrival in the Premier League, the Uruguay striker has a reputation and several cautions for diving, which is now resulting in him - and his club - being denied spot kicks.

Suarez was brought down by Norwich's Leon Barnett last week as he bore down on goal, and in what was one of the easiest penalty decisions of the season, referee Mike Jones, a competent official, waved appeals away. You live and die by your diving, after all.

Most of us believe diving is plain cheating and should be punished as such. In a world where few of us trust our politicians, bankers, real estate agents and solicitors any more, we'd want our footballers to offer us a scintilla of hope and suspend our cynicism if only for the 90 minutes between kick-off and the final whistle.

The plummeting prima donnas not only deny us our Saturday and Sunday innocence but are the immoral purveyors of the corrosion rotting away the very spirit of match-day competition. Maybe an end-of-season name and shame accolade should be created - the Paestum Award made of a replica of the Tomb of the Diver fresco. It could be handed to the cheats, whatever their nationality.

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