As a Crystal Palace fan, you can all understand my beef with Ashley Young. A player notorious for simulation and conning referees and not for his ability, Young was at it again on two separate occasions. The first was a booking, fair play by Johnathan Moss. The second will likely engender debate across the country for a long time.
The incident plays out as follows. Mile Jedinak gives the ball away to Young and he bears down on the Palace goal. He takes a touch towards the box and, pretty clearly, does not follow the ball and instead runs into the path of a retreating Kagisho Dikgacoi. He then proceeds to lean into him and go down before Dikgacoi slides and goes down too. The result is a penalty and a red card for Dikgacoi. I can’t find any footage of the incident right now but I will embed it as soon as I find it. For those of you who have seen it, there are at least three things we can agree on.
- The incident took place outside of the box, and thus wasn’t a penalty.
- Dikgacoi was not the last man, as Delaney was covering.
- Young had deviated from the path of the ball and thus it could not be considered a goalscoring opportunity.
Those three things are clear enough, but there is a pretty clear case for a fourth point: Young initiated the contact and thus dived to con the referee into giving the decision for United.
Gary Neville once gave an analysis most University lecturers would be proud of on diving which many of you I am sure have seen. He argues that 95% of attackers, when in the box, are looking for limbs to trip over, and will often move their legs unnaturally towards defenders to make sure of the contact. In instances like the ones he describes, it is both a foul and a dive, as you have to go down to make the foul noticeable to the referee and officials.
In the case of Ashely Young, however, there was no leg to trip him up, and his movement into Dikgacoi was far from natural. When Dikgacoi eventually made the slide tackle, Ashley Young was already most of the way down and the contact had already been initiated by Young. It was cynical, intentional, and effective, but very much unlike what Gary describes in the video. It’s this sort of thing that needs eradicating from the game. But how? There are a number of problems.
At the forefront of this is the difficult job the referees have. His view of the Young-Dikgacoi incident was obscured, because all he will have seen is Dikgacoi’s back and him sliding in on Young (this was probably his downfall in the end, sliding in from behind, even without contact, is asking for trouble). The interpretation of referees is different; for example, a different referee may have sent of Young for a second bookable offense, or just given Dikgacoi a yellow. Steve Parish told 606 that he’d like to see red cards for incidents like this. As good as this idea sounds, what if you give a player a red who was legitimately fouled? What if Tevez had got injured in the tackle in the video AND been sent off for simulation? Hardly just is it?
Secondly, there’s the issue of retrospective action as the leading deterrent against diving. I’m probably going to sound very opinionated here so those who don’t like healthy discussion should stop here. Retrospective action is not the answer. Yes, you can give divers the bans that they warrant, but by Gary’s definition, you’d be giving several retrospective bans every week. Things such as points deductions have also been discussed, but that isn’t going to give relegation-threatened teams their hard-earned points back, is it? It’s still going to leave a bitter taste.
In my opinion, the best way to tackle the diving pandemic is to incorporate some level of technology into the sport. On television broadcasts, we are spoiled with access to replays and analysis referees aren’t, and they need it more than we do. Most premier league grounds will have a large monitor somewhere in the stadium: why not broadcast replays so that everyone can see them including the referees? Alternatively, have a referee or so in the production booth where selected replayed are broadcast to the public and let them see them in there? The only way to correctly make a decision is to make it in real time, and the only way that can be done is allowing referees to access replay technology. Couple this with hefty fines for divers and then we can think about red cards for diving. Then, we can really put to bed something which is plaguing the beautiful game.