Play-Acting Is Ruining The Modern Football

Another week, another refereeing debate or controversy. Should it be a penalty or not? Was is it a dangerous tackle? Was there any contact in the first place? Was it a dive? Hmm.. It's not easy being a referee especially in a critical or decisive match or any match in general. Referees are human too so they are prone to make errors and misjudgments. To make the situation even worse, there are crops of modern footballers who are very talented and skillful in play-acting which is more suitable for theatrical performance rather than on a football pitch.

If a player feels the touch of his opponent, does he entitled to go down and expect the support of the referee? Does players entitle to go down even with the minimum of contact from their opponent? Sometimes, players are "intelligent" for pausing on the ball long enough to "draw the foul" and "forcing" referee to make decision in the process.

That we have managed to discern and institute a difference between such incidents and Sergio Busquets making the most of Thiago Motta's hand brushing his cheek, say, or Rivaldo acting like the ball had caught him in the face, is odd, when you think about it. Essentially, they all boil down to the player's decision to dramatize contact. When did contact itself become synonymous with a foul? Just because it's not a simple fresh-air dive (as ably demonstrated by Morten Gamst Pedersen), it doesn't mean the spirit of the game isn't getting clobbered.

By all means let's accept that only certain players will have the quality and self belief to mince rather than wince through a corridor of lunging defenders the way David Ginola often did, but there's no such thing as being entitled to go down; it's a nonsense. You're either brought down, or you're not. Saying "he definitely touched me" is as good as an admission that surrendering to gravity was the best, rather than the inevitable, course. Yet it is passively admitted to the discourse of modern tackling, regardless.

Sometimes good old days or retro football seems to be more fun and entertaining. The nostalgic weapon of choice is the legendary George Best. Though he was as well known for other substances, Best said: "I got my buzz from playing," and he would have scored fewer goals if he'd been inclined to go down as easily as modern players who are "untouchable". How he managed to stay on his feet as Chelsea's Ron Harris lunged in at Stamford Bridge in 1964 is anybody's guess but he didn't drop to the ground until after he'd scored.

Eric Cantona showed similar resilience against Aston Villa in 1993, stumbling into the area to poke the ball beyond Mark Bosnich despite a sliding tackle. It's not hard to imagine plenty of today's players eyeing the softest spot of grass as the challenge comes.

In fact, a good proportion of the game's most memorable goals would vanish from the archives if players had "drawn fouls" as some do so blithely today. What if Lothar Matthaus had "left a foot in" so as to catch Davor Jozic's leg instead of going on to score his rasping second in West Germany's 4-1 win over Yugoslavia in 1990? Or if Michael Owen had opted for a free-kick in prime David Beckham territory versus Argentina in 1998, instead of recovering his balance against Jose Chamot and scoring one of the best World Cup goals for England.

Remember when players could survive a lazy arm across the chest? Or even a proper tug, as Pele did in the build up to his exhilarating goal against Mexico in Brazil's 1962 World Cup opener? Part of the wonder of Davie Cooper's audacious goal for Rangers in the 1979 Drybrough Cup final against Celtic is that he first had to wriggle out of a defender's embrace. In 2004, Arsenal's Thierry Henry was forced into an outrageous back-heeled goal because he was practically being mounted by Charlton defender Jonathan Fortune with his back to goal.

There's no doubt that Henry (like most of the others) was fouled according to the laws of the game. Soccer isn't a contact sport in the same way that American football is; going by the book, a clumsy attempted tackle is punishable by the same measures as holding or shoving an opponent. But the laws also include the notion of advantage, according to which, play should continue where it benefits the wronged team.

There's no doubt that Henry (like most of the others) was fouled according to the laws of the game. Football or soccer isn't a contact sport in the same way that American football is; going by the book, a clumsy attempted tackle is punishable by the same measures as holding or shoving an opponent. But the laws also include the notion of advantage, according to which, play should continue where it benefits the wronged team.

Why do we expect the referee to uphold the principle - watch the Premier League goal of the season from 1992-93, a delicious chip by Dalian Atkinson, and then imagine the referee had blown his whistle after Gary Elkins' rudimentary body check as the Aston Villa forward charged toward goal - but exonerate players who deliberately nix their own advantage? The laws are there to stop defenders using contact rather than skill to gain the upper hand - not to furnish attacking players with a similar opportunity. The sooner we stop talking about phantom rights, the better.

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