There was a time when diving was something new. In Europe, have things improved, or do we just take 'simulation' for granted? The debate is raging in Australia though. Direct from Perth, IBWM welcomes Neil Sherwin.
The great diving debate has been reignited in the Hyundai A-League with news that Perth Glory’s Michael Baird and Patricio Perez of the Central Coast Mariners are to spend two weeks on the sidelines following their theatrics in Round 4.
Both players earned crucial penalties for their respective sides at the weekend, but while they may have deceived officials on the field, a Football Federation Australia (FFA) appointed match review panel was only too happy to issue retrospective bans.
Baird went down a little too easily under the challenge of Melbourne Heart defender Kliment Taseski allowing Robbie Fowler the chance to steal a point for his side in injury time and in the process deny the opposition the first league win of their existence. Even Glory boss Dave Mitchell could admit after the game that it was a fortunate decision. “From what I've seen, it was a soft penalty,” he said.
In an interview immediately after the final whistle, Heart skipper Simon Colosimo launched a scathing attack on Baird, who only received international clearance to play in the game late last week having joined Glory from Romanian side Universitatea Craiova. "That was blatant simulation," he said. "It's the kind of thing we're trying to get rid of in the game. We don't want to see it."
Heart chief executive Scott Munn said that the decision to ban Baird was the right one but was scant consolation for losing out on maximum points.
"Justice has prevailed, but it doesn't change the result," he said. "We wanted the three points and to have done that at home would have been fantastic. We've moved on, but as a code it's something we need to clamp down on. The FFA has shown it's not going to tolerate it."
Perez, meanwhile, managed to pick himself up after being ‘felled’ by Sydney FC keeper Liam Reddy to score from the spot in a 1-1 draw. Reddy’s suspension for his subsequent red card has been overturned by the panel in what is a small win for Sydney, though the club would of course have preferred to come out of the game with the extra two points.
However, Mariners chief executive John McKay has come out in defence of Perez, saying the club believes the Brazilian when he says there was contact. “The player is adamant that there was some sort of contact by Reddy on his trailing left leg, and we are 100 per cent behind him,” said McKay.
“The club was provided footage of the incident by Football Federation Australia and after reviewing it with our football staff we are at a complete loss as to how the match review panel could come to a conclusion that there was definitely no contact.
“It's disappointing under these circumstances that we’re not able to state our case, and what is even more disappointing is that Patricio has basically been branded a professional cheat without any recourse to profess his innocence.”
The league’s governing body responded to repeated cases of simulation by introducing new laws in 2009 allowing the match review panel to act on situations that were missed by referees.
Fans of the league have met the decision to ban Baird and Perez positively, though there are plenty of sceptical opinions surrounding the consistency with which the rules will be applied. Many feel that the FFA has now set a dangerous precedent which, if not followed in every case, will lead to more controversy than the actual incidents themselves.
Indeed, the match review panel isn’t necessarily all positive, with added pressure placed on referees to act during the game to avoid being the subject of scrutiny afterwards. A recent example of this occurred when Newcastle Jets striker Michael Bridges looked to have been tripped in the penalty area against Melbourne Heart in Round 2 but was booked for simulation.
The former Leeds United and Sunderland man was aghast at the decision to penalise him and not Heart’s Simon Colosimo. “I don't need to say anything else - it was a penalty,” he said. “I've just done the scissors on him (Colosimo) and got past him and he's knocked me. I can't say too much, but it was a penalty.”
The A-League can ill afford to be the subject of negative media as it aims to attract more people to games, which is why consistency in the application of the rules is crucial.
Only 3,624 spectators turned out for Gold Coast United’s home fixture against Melbourne Victory at the 27,400 capacity Skilled Park, and with the AFL and NRL finals about to get underway, the market for fans is only going to be more competitive in the coming weeks.
Neil is based in Perth, Australia and is a co-editor of the excellent Back Page Football.