Tag Archives: diving

Ramsey, Sterling, and the Art of the Dive…

Arjen Robben. Luis Suárez. Didier Drogba. All gifted in their own ways, but especially when it comes to simulation. Few if any could pantomime what it must feel like to get shot by a sniper and what it looks like to flop around like an electrocuted fish in the hull of a dory. It’s a pity that such thespian theatrics are not rewarded by the Academy Awards. It’s more of a pity that those antics are so frequently rewarded by the referees. With that in mind, we have two case studies: the penalty that Aaron Ramsey earned against Burnley, and the the penalty that Raheem Sterling earned against Huddersfield. ‘Twixt the two, can we split any hairs?

For the first, if only because it in fact happened first in the space-time continuum, we have Aaron Ramsey. In stoppage-time at Turf Moor, it appears as if he was brought down in the box by Burnley’s James Tarkowski. Video footage is a bit sketchy, but it appears as if Tarkowski did give Ramsey a bit of a forearm shiver as Ramsey went after Kolašinac’s header. In the first bit of evidence, we see Ramsey with an outstretched arm and with Tarkowski with one or perhaps two arms extended into Ramsey’s back. Did Ramsey dive, or did he merely sell the contact? This is a crucial distinction, one that I’m sure the FA will study in intensive depth, incorporating VAR in all of its various permutations. In the end, though, nothing short of on-field polygraphs would suffice:

FA Official: Mr. Ramsey, were you fouled in the box against Burnley, or are you a dirty cheat?
RAMSEY:   Scout’s honor, sir, I was fouled. Diving is a dirty business, sir, and I’ll have none of it. As we say back home in Wales, nid daifio yn dda!
FA Official: Good man.

On the spectrum between “he was mugged” and “he dived”, Ramsey’s performance might fall somewhat to the latter. Was there contact? Yes. Was it egregious? Hard to tell. In the breach, we ask ourselves, “is Ramsey one who dives? Did he on this occasion dive?” To both questions, we might have to demur.

By comparison, we have Raheem Sterling. With Man City somehow down 1-0 to Huddersfield, Sterling made a run just inside Huddersfield’s area. There was contact between Sterling and Scott Malone, but it seems a bit softer than that between Ramsey and Tarkowski. As with Ramsey’s situation, there are questions: did Sterling dive, or did he merely sell the contact? Hard to tell. To those questions, we could ask, does Sterling have a reputation for diving? [Yes]. In the absence of contact, could Sterling have gotten to the ball before Lössl did? [Doubtful at best].

Does this mean that Sterling is somehow guilty of a crime worse than Ramsey’s? Maybe. Only they know in their heart of hearts. Something tells me that they’ll both sleep soundly. I must say, Sterling looks like he’s learned a lesson or two from Suárez; ’tis better to have dived and failed than to have never dived at all.

Barça are bootless, boil-brained canker-blossomed bullies. Say "boo" and they buckle. Pity we lost to that lot.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a chintzier, cheaper display from such a massive, monolithic behemoth as I did when I watched Barça, they of the half-billion pound squad, dive and flop about the pitch on Tuesday, doing their best impression of one who has simultaneously had a rug yanked from under him while also being shot by a sniper and also uppercutted by Lennox Lewis. The only pity is that they wasted the performances so close to this year’s Oscars, when their theatrics will be ineligible for any awards this time through and likely all but forgotten by this time next year. For a squad that boasts no fewer than a half-dozen world-class starters in its XI and could probably field a second-choice XI that might still win La Liga, it was more than a bit pathetic to see them resort to such desperate measures. Still, they’re atop their little league and have an inside track on winning the Champions League, so maybe it’s my own priorities that are all bass-ackwards.

Don’t get me wrong. I like and respect the idea that Barça represesnts, what with that old UNICEF sponsorship and the més que un club motto. I love the idea that the club represents a region seeking autonomy from a once-dictatorial regime that owned that club’s chief rival, turning every Clásico into a referendum on obeisance or ownership. Every time Barça defeats Real Madrid feels like a blow for lofty ideals of self-determination, cultural expression, and freedom. I was uncomfortable having a guy known as Tito manage the club. Why then do I come away hating this squad? It has little if anything to do with Tuesday’s result.

I expected a loss. Braced myself for it. I saw it coming. However, I didn’t anticipate the way we would lose. I didn’t expect Lionel Messi to make a meal out of glancing contact in the box to earn a game-killing penalty. Maybe that’s the winning mentality that Thierry Henry mentioned a few weeks ago. Maybe Arsenal should borrow another page from Barça’s playbook and go to ground faster than a house of cards during an earthquake. Before we proceed, let’s admit that Flamini clearly made contact with Messi but that Messi sold it very, very well. However, by that point, the horse was already well out of the barn. Here, then, is a quick rundown:

  • 26’—Busquets scythes Alexis down from behind. No yellow issued.
  • 28’—Alexis makes contact with Alves, who hops about as if he’s been stabbed.
  • 36’—Mascherano clatters Oxlade-Chamberlain knee to knee. Nothing.
  • 55’—Alba throws a shoulder-block into Giroud. Giroud touches Alba’s chin, sending Alba to a Shakespearean death. Alba experiences a miraculous resurrection and headbutts Giroud. Three bookable offenses, none given.
  • 58’—Alves and Coquelin both slide in on a 50-50. Coquelin gets the ball, but Alves swings his leg in wildly from the side to kick at the ball, the ball Coquelin had poked away. There’s contact, after which Alves acts like he’s broken a tibia. Maybe a fibula. Maybe neither. He bravely soldiers on for the remaining half-hour. 
  • 82’—Messi draws contact from Flamini and makes a three-course meal of it to earn the penalty.
  • 85’—Piqué brings Welbeck down and sees yellow. He’ll miss the second leg, for what that’s worth.
  • 87’—Özil fouls Alves, who must be suffering from kind of osteoporosis, the magical kind that heals itself in moments. He should patent that. Merck might be interested… 
Ironically, none of the worst histrionics involved the most theatrical of thespians as Suárez and Neymar managed to miraculously stay upright for most if not all of the match. Good on them for that. The larger question persists, though. Why would a squad so rich and deep and dynamic, so dominant as to eye up an assault on Arsenal’s own 49-match unbeaten streak, resort to such cheap, sleazy tactics? 
I’ll bring us back to that whole més que un club motto. Barça have represented to me a beacon of something better, a way of achieving success while committing to certain aesthetic and philosophical ideals. To them and to us, this is more than just a game, more than just a diversion; it’s a way of life. Based on Tuesday’s performance, though, I have to wonder whether Barça’s commitment might be wavering just a little bit. How might the game have turned on its head had Giroud gone to ground after Alba’s headbutt (mild though it may have been)? Would Çakir have seen fit to send Alba off? Enquiring minds want to know.
So we’ve set ourselves up for yet another famous second-leg almost-comeback. Fine. I’m more interested in what our performance suggests across other competitions. We’ve displayed a strange predilection for playing up to or down to the level of the squad we face. A scoreless draw against Hull says more about us than an 0-2 loss to Barcelona. If we can summon the determination that we showed against 12-man Barça against our opponents in the Prem and FA Cup, we’ll win the double. I don’t care about the second leg. Let the Barça have its bottle.  Més que un club? More like més com qualsevol altre club.

Arsenal exposes Bayern as a pack of flat-track bullies.

Yes, Arsenal failed to match last year’s nearly-historic second-leg victory and have been ousted from the Champions League. The 1-1 draw means that, once again, we’ve been ousted. Were it not for a red-card and the diving histrionics of Arjen Robben, among others, we might have done a bit better for ourselves. I know it’s going to sound like sour grapes because, after all, we did lose. However, it’s the nature of how we lost that irks. I don’t mind having my arse handed to me by a superior squad. In quite a few ways, Bayern are superior to Arsenal. Make no mistake about that. They have assembled one of the best squads money can buy. However, they just can’t seem to play the damned game. How many times did a Bayern player go to ground as if shot by a sniper? I could see this coming from an outclassed squad looking desperately for kind of edge, some way, any way, to level the playing field against a superior squad. On paper, Bayern are not that squad, not with players like Götze, Robben, Neuer, Müller, Ribéry, Kroos, Martinez, Alaba, Lahm, Alcantara, and Boateng. Each of these players would command a transfer-fee of £35m or more. Well, maybe not Robben. Why the hell, then, do so many of them resort to diving? Do they not have enough talent, skill, and experience to simply outplay their opponents? When it comes to Arsenal, the answer seems to be a resounding “no.”

As in, no, Bayern can’t beat us on a level playing field. Okay. So I exaggerate, but only slightly. They did get that first one, the 1-3, but I’m going to attach an asterisk to it. Three yellow cards in the first half, each to a defender (Sagna, Vermaelen, Arteta) meant that we had to play with a great deal of caution. Still, I can’t really spin that one away, so I’ll admit defeat. Tentatively.

Next, of course, is the level playing field that followed in that second leg, which saw us win quite handily. Even if we admit that Bayern went into match somewhat cavalierly, assuming that they could coast on away-goals, that attitude changed with a quickness once Giroud scored three minutes in, and what followed was some rather-manic footballing as Bayern realized that progress was no longer a sure thing. Only the flukey Mandzukic goal in the first leg and some missed chances in the second allowed them to slink through to the next round, tails tucked firmly between legs (else the swishing sound of said tails send Robben and others flying through the air).

Then, of course, we have the first leg this year, which turned terribly on Szczesny’s red-card, which (a) put us a man down and (b) awared Bayern a spot-kick. I’ll freely admit that there was contact, and the call is, by the books, the correct one. Even with his charlatan’s repertoire of dive-tastic douchebaggery, Robben’s melodrama was too much to take. In an instant, I went from dismay (crap! penalty!) to outrage [insert chosen curse-words here]. It’s not enough to simply lose one’s balance or fall, is it, Arjen? You have to fling yourself to the ground as if you’ve died, then roll a good twenty yards, grimacing as if every bone in your precious body has broken, writhing around in agony until you hear the whistle or see that played has been waved on. I usually keep this family-friendly, but eat shit, Robben. I don’t care if you’re allergic to it and go into anaphylactic shock. You’re ruining the game with that garbage, and I’m not just saying so because it works to your advantage against Arsenal. It’s a deeply personal issue borne of my own struggles as a little, little man playing footy against bigger, burlier, clumsier opponents, something I wrote about here, in case you’re curious).

It went on throughout that first leg—despite already being up 0-1 away, despite the man-advantage, despite the clearly superior squad that was on the pitch even before Szczesny saw red, the flops were feckin’ everywhere. Skulking away with two away-goals was more than Bayern deserved (even Neuer admitted as much, at least as far as it concerns the penalty-kick and red-card), but it was just barely enough to secure progress to the quarterfinals. What utter, unadulterated bullshit. These are not the tactics of an ostensibly legendary squad. Arsenal are not known for physicality; the idea that oru players play rough enough to inflict the kinds of fatal wounds that Robben, Martinez, and Lahm apparently suffered only to somehow, impossibly and against all medical opinion, summon the will and the fortitude necessary to miraculously recover—almost as if they’d never been injured in the first place. Imagine having that kind of grit, that constitution, that fortitude. Inspiring stuff, that.

And on to the second leg, where, again, knowing they had a the two away-goal-advantage to defend, Bayern were largely content to patiently play keep away and look for occasional chances. However, on the rare occasions that we found an advantage, someone was there to fall down. At some point about 17 minutes on, Podolski got past Martinez, slapped him a bit on the cheek, and kept going. Martinez, however, collapsed as if he’d been hit by a two-by-four, after which he lay prone on the pitch, apparently dead. I’ve been punched harder than that and barely flinched. I’m not saying I’m tough, but compared to Martinez, I’m a goddamn Superman. He lay on the pitch for damn-near a minute, long after the play was over, until being comforted by teammates and the referee. The offenses are too numerous to enumarate, unfortunately, but I am more than happy to focus on two moments of poetic justice:

  1. Podolski’s goal. Did he foul Lahm? I’m not sure. It looks like Lahm overran the ball and tripped, either over his own feet or over Podolski. Podolski, in much the same way you might usher someone to a chair at the dinner table, put his hands to Lahm’s waist as Lahm flew past. Podolski then charged in and blasted past Neuer, who, no doubt, was awaiting the referee’s whistle. No dice, Manny. Martinez, having recovered from his near-death experience, followed Podolski with his arms upraised, more concerned with working the ref than with playing the game. Justice served.
  2. Robben’s dive for the penalty-kick. this time, there was some contact as Robben and Koscielny vied for the ball. However, Robben has this uncanny ability to sense when he’s lost the ball or advantage and lost his footing on the lightest of touches—never mind the other, rougher touches he received when he still safely had possession or the other rough-housing he gave to Kos—once he knew he couldn’t turn the corner on Kos, he collapsed to his knees, slowly enough for Kos to bump into him again and draw the whistle. Ridiculous. Proving, however, that the universe is held together by stronger stuff, Fabianski made the save. No harm, no foul. Take that for what it’s worth.
Fair’s fair, I guess. You dive often enough, and I guess you’ll get a few calls, certainly more than you deserve. However, you’re also going to miss out on real fouls, such as Podolski’s potential foul on Lahm. Was the referee moved to wave play on because of earlier dives that had duped him? Perhaps. Despite all of the diving, then, Bayern were not able to defeat Arsenal, proving my original point. Over four matches, we’ve won once, drawn once, and lost twice. Those two losses may look like countervailing evidence—until we remember the yellows and red that tilted things so heavily in Bayern’s favor.
Long story short? Bayern is happy to pummel lesser squads, especially those in the Bundesliga. However, when you put them on the back foot, when they feel cornered, they resort to slimiest of tactics. Why, you could knock them down with a feather. Literally. Babies. Scratch that. Babies are made of sterner stuff. Bayern, however? Not so much.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+’://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);

Arsène: "Robben did well; he dived well again tonight."

Speaking after the match, Arsène was as glib and as flippant as ever when he spoke of how Bayern escaped with a 3-1 aggregate victory to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals. It wasn’t down to tactics or quality or match-ups or anything else. No, according to Arsène, “we have shown as well that we have the quality, I think to knock them out. and I thought that with two games, that aspect of playing with ten men was massive.” He refused to blame the official; after all, the red-card against Szczesny was, according to the rules, the only call the referee could really make. Instead, Arsène directed his thoughts to Arjen Robben, whose diving histrionics in that first leg “made a lot of” the contact between him and Szczesny, and he made a lot more of a lot less at Allianz Arena.

Unprompted, Arsène pointed out that “Robben did well; he dived well, and he dived well again tonight and that’s what I spoke about yesterday and it happened today. Nothing new.” It’s undeniably true. Time and again, under the slightest of nudges, the lightest of contact, even the ghost of a whisper of a caress, Robben collapsed in a heap or splayed out like he was being thrown from a saloon-window in a crappy spaghetti-western. He wasn’t alone, of course, as Lahm, Martinez, and others fell to the ground like Muppets or Shakespearean actors paid on a per-dive basis. All that was missing at times was for one or another Bayernian to exclaim something along the lines of “Mount, mount my soul! thy seat is up on high;/ Whilst my gross flesh sinks downard, here to die.” Indeed, some of them fell so slowly, so dramatically, that they might have had time for a longer soliloquy.

It comes as a bit of poetic justice then that Podolski dropped the Hammer of Mjolnir on them on what might have been a penalty. As he cut left to chase down a through-ball into the area, he outran Lahm to the ball, nudged him aside (or did Lahm merely trip?) and cut along the endline. Perhaps sensing that hsi teammate had flubbed his lines, Mandzukic jogged along behind Poldi with his arms as if he couldn’t believe the injustice of it all. However, Poldi danced into the box before slamming the ball through the roof of the net. Done. Dusted.

Now, of course, it wasn’t enough to right wrongs, and we’re still out of the Champions League. Then again, Robben wasn’t done, earning a spot-kick at the other end when he lost his footing, fell to his knees, and Kos bumped into him from behind. How the referee fell for it is beyond me, but karma is a bitch, ain’t it? Fabianski denied the spot-kick.

Still, it makes me wonder. If Bayern are so great, so magnificent, so goddamned invincible, why the hell do they have to resort to such shameless simulation? 49 consecutive wins in the Bundesliga. Aside from the pointless 2-3 loss in the group-stage to Man City, they haven’t lost in the Champions League since facing us last year. In fact, all of that flopping around like electrocuted fish suffering from grand mal seizures while overdosing on heroin make me wonder just how terrified Bayern were of us in this match—and in the first leg, come to think of it, when there was just as much of it going on. It’s a little bit grubby if you ask me, hardly befitting a squad that fancies itself champions of anything.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+’://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);

Robben: I didn't dive. Also, I hear the Pope is not Catholic.

It will come as great relief to know that, in Arjen Robben’s own estimation, he did not dive when Bayern Munich came to the Emirates in February in a sequence that got Wojciech Szczesny sent off, left Arsenal down to ten men, awarded a penalty-kick to Bayern, and dramatically changed the tempo if not the outcome of the first leg in Bayern’s favor. However, for those paranoid types who always sniff out a conspiracy, it’s time to lay your weary heads to rest and cry no more. No less an authority on the subject than Mr. Robben himself is here to allay your fears. After all, it was a “pretty scary moment” for him, and so we can excuse him just a bit if it has taken him some time to work through his feelings, sort out his memories, and speak truth to power about the affair, which threatened to sully his otherwise pristine, clear-as-crystal reputation as a player who never, ever goes to ground except under the direst of circumstances.

Wait. Wrong dive. Sorry.

Speaking to the assembled media, a visibly shaken Robben bravely put to rest any allegations that the tumble he took was a simulated swan-dive. In a voice that occasionally trembled, no doubt still shaken by flashbacks to that awful moment, Robben testified as only a misunderstood victim can: “Wenger’s comments are typical for a losing coach. I don’t care much about it because it’s not the first time he acts like this.” This prompted a flurry of activity as advisers rushed over to Robben and whispered in his ear. Straining forward, reporters could only pick up snippets of the exchange, something to the effect of “wrong tone” and “stay on message.”

Robben nodded, dabbed a handkerchief to one eye just moments before a solitary tear could roll down his cheek, and added, “it was a pretty scary moment for me. I picked up a serious injury in December after a similar foul from Augsburg’s goalkeeper.” Indeed, that injury was so serious that he could only manage to play 180 minutes in Bayern’s next two matches, somehow managing to soldier on and, through sheer grit and toughness alone, score three goals. Truly, he is an inspiration, for in overcoming not just the physical trauma but the emotional scars in such fashion, he has proven that all almost-nearly-but-not-quite injured players everywhere can still experience moments of glory.

Here’s the one I was looking for. Silly me!

However, Robben went to detail the living hell that each day has become. “The only thing I still remember is a ‘bang’ against my leg and me lying on the ground.” It is the stuff nightmares are made of. One moment, you’re dreaming of scoring a goal; the next, you’re figuring out which way you’re supposed to spin when someone bumps into you and—bang!—you’re on the ground, not knowing what hit you. Why, it’s a wonder that Robben hasn’t developed some kind of multiple-personality disorder to prevent the heebie-jeebies from keeping him up nights. Plucky l’il guy.

Pressed further, Robben delineated a difference between diving and what happened on that dark night in London lo those many weeks ago (no, not really). “The thing is, this was not a dive. Last time, maybe it was a dive. You see me go head-first and I stretch out my hands in front of me, like so”—Robben put forward his hands in a diving motion—”like a swimmer, you see? That is a dive. This time, you watch. I spin around more like a dancer and fall. Not hands first or like a dolphin does. How then could it be a dive? There is not even water nearby. So do not ask me about diving.” It was then that, perhaps overcome by the emotional turmoil brought about by being forced to relive the horrific moments of that day, Robben spoke no more. An adviser came forward and put his hand gently on Robben’s back, which sent the Dutch player flying backwards into the curtains behind him, a look of excruciating pain writ large across his face. When no red-card was issued to the offending player, Robben got up, limped around in an agonizing fashion for several minutes, and left the room.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+’://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);