Fernando Torres has undertaken a number of high profile falls in his career.
He fell from the heights of Anfield adulation to Stamford Bridge stoicism, he fell to the turf during the World Cup final, a high profile injury robbing him of the chance to participate in his country’s crowning sporting moment. But his fall on Sunday afternoon may have far-reaching consequences beyond his own career.
Firstly, the event.
At 2-2 and already a man down Torres nips the ball past Jonny Evans, less than a second later he is on the floor, and barely another second later he had been given his marching orders and the debate about diving performed another half turn with pike.
Earlier in the day Luis Suarez, who has been regularly accused of ‘simulation’, celebrated his goal in the Merseyside derby by running over to the Everton dugout and throwing himself to the floor in front of David Moyes. During the week Moyes said diving would eventually drive people from the stands. He said he was making a general point; Luis disagreed. Later in the game Phil Neville, of all people, was booked for diving. This sparked widespread chuckling rather than a dash for the exits, but I think we can all agree football would be a better watch if diving wasn’t such a widespread part of it.
So back to Torres. The post match analysis has heavily featured, slowed down, magnified footage. There was contact. Football is a contact sport. Was there enough contact to bring Torres down? No. Therefore if Torres ended up on the floor he put himself there, in other words he dived. Evans did not trip him. Torres dived. Diving is worth a yellow card, it was his second, two yellows make a red. Torres was right to be sent off.
If we want to kick diving out of football, players need to be punished for doing it. That is likely to result in some collateral damage. This weekend Torres, and Chelsea’s, chances of winning the game were the damage.
So we move on. It will be interesting to see next week how easily Chelsea players hit the deck. It will also be interesting to see if other referees follow Mark Clattenburg’s lead. If players for Chelsea (or any other team) dive, and referees don’t book those players for doing so, Clattenburg’s will look like a poorer decision with every act of simulation. If there is a flurry of yellows, it could be the start of getting rid of a part of football none would lament losing.
Another point should be made. It can be a foul accompanied by a dive. The NHL (National Hockey League) have two separate punishments. If you are fouled, but you dived, both players get punished. Effectively, the player still wins a freekick, but also gets a yellow card. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be both.
Similarly, there can be fouls that don’t result in the aggrieved player ending up on the floor, and just because he does and it wasn’t a foul doesn’t mean he dived. If referees start giving free-kicks even if the player doesn’t end up on the floor, you eliminate part of the need to dive.
Are Chelsea and Torres right to feel a little hard done by this week? Possibly. But if it is for the good of the wider game, they, and others along the way, may have to take it on the chin and get on with it, not throw themselves dramatically to the floor.
By Mark Briggs