Human errors are a part of football

By Online Editorial

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Mistakes will always be part of the game and that is actually part of its charm, argues Feizal Rahman.

In charging Arsenal striker Eduardo for an alleged ‘dive’ against Celtic in midweek, UEFA have not merely opened a can of worms but rather smashed open a large vat of hissing vipers that will inevitably slither back to bite them.

For some time now, diving has widely been considered the scourge of football with numerous instances of perceived cheating in high-profile fixtures, so why European football’s governing body have chosen to act only now is most intriguing.

UEFA’s actual rules on the matter appear confusing with one sub-article declaring that disciplinary decisions made on the field by the referee are final.

Yet, the very next sub-article states that a disciplinary body can review a decision if there was an ‘obvious error’ from the referee and, as with Eduardo, can impose a suspension if a player is deemed to have had ‘obvious intent’ to cause a match official to make an incorrect decision.

But the problem with simulation is that it is never really ‘obvious’ and it can be only a matter of opinion when a referee decides if a player has deliberately chosen to deceive him. One can look at a video replay from several angles a thousand times and still be unable to factually conclude that there was or was not contact, nor an intent to dive.

The only on-field punishment that can be handed out for simulation is a yellow card, under the offence of ‘unsporting behaviour’ but a decision on this can only be subjective. So it doesn’t seem clear as to how UEFA can review an action of a referee that was made solely on his interpretation and not fact.

That Spanish referee Manuel Gonzalez came out and said he stood by his decision makes UEFA’s stance all the more absurd. Having launched campaigns promoting player respect for officials, it seems they cannot respect the decision made in good faith by one of their own.

In choosing to pick out the Eduardo incident, are UEFA now signalling their desire to embark on the logistically impossible procedure of scrutinising every incident of alleged cheating in every game – and thereby undermining their own referees – or just those that happen to be on prime-time TV involving a team deriving from the same nation as one of their executives?

Yet, if UEFA have been wholly misjudged in their reaction to the incident, the vitriolic response from certain quarters of the media has been nothing but hypocritical. We all seethe when we deem an opposition player to have cheated one of our own but when it’s one of our players charged with deception, we look to congratulate them for clever play – and this seems to extend to nationality.

In Manchester United’s 2-1 league win at home to Arsenal yesterday, Wayne Rooney looked to be practically on his knees before contact was made with Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and a penalty awarded.

Yet, Rooney (7.4 to be top Premier league goalscorer) was praised for his ability to lure the ‘keeper into making contact, quite apart from the fact that he had already kicked the ball wildly out of play before there was any collision and was not in a goalscoring position.

Surely the ‘sporting’ thing for Rooney to have done would have been to have jump over Almunia – who could argue he made a genuine attempt to make contact with ball and not the player – or ‘sportingly’ inform the referee that he had no chance of scoring and therefore no foul need be given, having gone down.

But Rooney didn’t take the ‘sporting’ option and he gladly accepted a penalty, just as Eduardo did against Celtic.

By the very act of drawing clear contact from the goalkeeper, the England striker effectively showed the Brazilian how to ‘go down’ properly and highlighted to Eduardo that he distinguished himself as a ‘diver’ simply by not having the guile to force the keeper into making definitive contact.

Either way, the intent of accentuating the ‘foul’ was there and with it the objective of influencing the referee’s decision. So are we effectively saying that diving is acceptable as long as there is contact, however minimal or unintentional? If we are, then we cannot have it both ways – happy to allow one but seeking to punish the other.

Football has survived long enough without the auxiliary opinions of suited officials in a Swiss bunker, given the luxury of video replays and the time to craft a politically correct decision. Football is a sport, not a legal process, and what makes it great is the presence of human error.

Just as we have to accept a defender heading into his own goal or a striker missing a sitter from five yards out, so we also have to accept that in competitive football where the stakes are invariably high, a player may choose to do all he can to ensure he gets a decision given his way and in turn a referee may make an incorrect ruling.

It’s highly doubtful that a player steps onto a pitch with the intention of looking to cheat an opponent during that match, rather the choice to go down easily or fly through the air is made in a heat of the moment split-second and a referee is expected to respond to this instantly.

This only adds to the fascination of the game and as such we have to allow players and match officials alike to behave as human beings, not automatons, otherwise our beautiful, sometimes ugly game becomes a sterile, robotic entity – just like one of those suits in a Swiss bunker.

Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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