Hit divers where it hurts
Simulation remains a huge problem for the majority of Australian football fans, but it might take some serious personal penalties to dissuade the divers.
Incidents such as what happened at AAMI Park at the weekend when Perth Glory skipper Jacob Burns and Melbourne Heart coach John Aloisi clashed can be avoided.
Whether Burns was out of line or Aloisi was at fault might be irrelevant - likely they both were - but there is someone else who is more culpable.
What caused the heated confrontation between two stalwarts of Australian football was what happened between Glory midfielder Dean Heffernan and Heart striker Josip Tadic. For mine, Heffernan-s hand grazed Tadic and Tadic more than made the most out of the situation.
He certainly didn-t have to go down like he had just been shot.
Tadic played for a free-kick, might have even played to get Heffernan a card. That there was contact from Heffernan there is little doubt but Tadic-s reaction is what I view as the inexcusable part, and it-s the sort of action that hurts the game in this country more than anything else.
Football has come along in leaps and bounds in recent years, the Hyundai A-League has scratched and clawed its way to relevance in a fight against more established codes, yet what turns the average punter or prospective convert off more than anything else is the spectre of simulation, especially when it is theatrical and unwarranted.
Tadic-s attempt “to get Heffernan a card”, as Burns described it, was just that type of action; ironically it occurred on the same weekend when we saw a footballer act in a truly tough manner.
It may not have been wise for Central Coast-s Oliver Bozanic to try and play on with an ostrich egg-sized lump on his head, but at least when he was on the receiving end of some ugly incidental contact he didn-t play up for the cameras, crowd or the referee. He got on with the business of playing football and the act was refreshingly honest.
Back to Tadic though. The Croatian isn-t the first footballer to overact but he is the latest example and it creates two interesting debates. Firstly: What is a dive/simulation? And what can we do to eradicate it from the game?
Thankfully diving/playing for the free kick isn-t as prevalent in Australia as other places in the world.
As an example I recently attended a Boca Juniors game in Argentina, and while the spectacle and the atmosphere was truly unbelievable (singing and dancing in the stands with the La Boca support group is a wonderfully crazy experience), watching the players roll around in mock pain after a large percentage of challenges is not what I would call pure football. Nor is crowding the referee and demanding said player be marched, like a swarm of bees to a honeypot.
And if you ask Perth Glory and former Manchester United midfielder Liam Miller, it-s a blight on the game.
The Glory midfielder wouldn-t speak for Tadic, but said he wanted any form of attempt to influence a referee stamped out of the game completely.
“To be honest (in Tadic-s case) you would have to ask the player himself, but playing for a free kick, it's borderline cheating,” Miller said.
“The less we see that in the game, the better. There is also nothing worse than people going up to the ref and asking for cards either, that's cheating in my eyes.”
Critical as Miller may be, another former Manchester United man, Michael Owen, recently took a different view and was widely chastised for it by the football media.
Owen, speaking at a Leaders of Football function, basically condoned going to ground easily under the slightest of contact, admitting he had done it twice for England resulting in penalties (which were duly converted) against Argentina.
"I have been guilty as well. I played at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina and I was running flat out, got a nudge, went down.
“Could I have stayed up? Yes, probably. Four years later again against Argentina, I could have stayed on my feet. The defender has caught me and I did have a decent gash down my shin from it, but I could have stayed up,” Owen said, before going on to state that he was against diving.
"I'm totally against diving," he said. "I have never sought to get a penalty without being touched, but you try to push the boundaries to win a game without cheating."
"It is a skill and it has been done for years. And I don't think it will ever leave the game.”
Splitting hairs much Michael?
Adelaide United winger, Fabio Ferreira who grew up in Portugal and went to Chelsea agrees with Owen that for better or worse it is part of the modern game.
“It-s part of the game. In Europe it-s not a big thing. Here, because everyone talks about it, it is. It-s a normal thing to happen.”
But what-s normal in Europe remains a huge problem for Australian fans, and arguably one of the biggest challenges David Gallop may face in his tenure as CEO of Football Federation Australia is how he deals with it, makes sure the prevalence of playing for free-kicks and badgering referees doesn-t rise.
But how do you effectively do that?
Rubbing out not only diving but also trying to influence the referee-s decision is tough, and the A-League already dishes out penalties for simulation - although the decision that there was a foul on Jeronimo Neumann, earlier in the year and therefore no simulation despite a theatrical fall, resulting in the dismissal and suspension of Wellington defender Ben Sigmund drew plenty of fire.
Simply put if an act of simulation occurs, the FFA has a chance to make a difference, make a change that betters the game.
All they have to do is take a look at a hardened, somewhat crazy, head of another sport. They need to look at NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Stern has done some bizarre things in recent seasons, recently whacking the San Antonio Spurs with a whopping $250,000 fine for not taking their best roster to Miami, and of course infanously blocking the first Chris Paul trade; but what he has got right is coming down hard on what the Americans refer to as “flopping”.
Hitting the hardwood became a major problem for the NBA, with many players theatrically plummeting to the parquet or pine in recent seasons, and as such the NBA have started sifting through the tapes post-match and calling out players on their subversive actions.
With the NBA-s policy players will get a warning the first time and fined $5,000 for a second violation. The fines increase to $10,000 for a third offense, $15,000 for a fourth and $30,000 the fifth time.
It-s a harsh system but food for thought for football authorities.
While A-League footballers don-t earn the inflated salaries of those who strut their stuff in the NBA, some sort of similar strict structure and review process might go a long way to solving the issue and preventing players from flinging themselves to the grass.
Because, truth be told, in this country, simulation is a blight on the game. No one likes being unnecessarily hit in the hip pocket and as Ronaldo once famously quipped, “nobody likes a flopper.”
It-s time to stamp it out and by doing so football in this country might just avoid more ugly incidents such as the one that occurred at AAMI Park.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of Football Federation Australia or the Hyundai A-League.