A Dive off the Deep End

A Dive off the Deep End
By: Jonathan Townsend
There is something awful yet spectacular about modern altercations in football. Something suggestive of an unwritten rule that players need to touch foreheads and explode backwards like stuntmen in the climactic scene of a Michael Bay film—complete with an artistic aerial spine-snapping flailing motion. As a former player and lifelong fan, this past week has left me scratching my head in complete confusion. It all started on Thursday as I sat in my office working on my end of the day files. My phone started to literally convulse with Twitter notifications all centered on an incident in the Spurs-Dnipro match. 
Mind you, I’m not a Spurs fan. One of my best buddies is, but I hold no allegiances to any team based in London. Walking out of a meeting, I slid my right thumb across the phone screen and opened up a newsfeed littered with heated words such as: “dive”, “disgusting”, “shameful”, “Vertonghen”, “simulation”, and finally, “cheat”. For a moment I thought to myself, wait, Jan Vertonghen is a defender. Was he the victim of simulation as a Dnipro forward broke into the box? Oh, how I wished I’d have stopped there, but interspersed between the random tweets was a litany of video clips of the incident. Jan Vertonghen instigating and touching his head ever-so-slightly into an opposing player and then proceeding to flop over earning the dismissal of the opposing player. Theatrics. Writhing theatrics. I think what I found more disturbing was Michael Dawson, another burly defender playing into the madness, harassing the referee, exacerbating what he surely knew was an act.I didn’t know whether I was more appalled or struck with laughter as I had no dog in this fight. I suppose this isn’t the first altercation Jan Vertonghen has been involved in. Recall his fisticuffs with Fernando Torres early in the season, or the Belgian’s mugging of Nicklas Helanius that led to Vertonghen pulling down the Aston Villa striker’s shorts in a moment of ridiculousness that may not have a punishable category in the Laws of the Game. But for all his eccentric defending, Jan Vertonghen is a quality player and part of a talented Belgian consortium plying their trade in the Premier League. Modern football allows for such displays of insanity to become commonplace.

Fast forward to Saturday’s between Newcastle and Hull City. With the match highlighting the fact Newcastle wore their shooting boots and with the bout seemingly in control by the Magpies, I watched as Alan Pardew appeared to headbutt Hull City’s David Meyler in a sideline bust-up. I looked at my wife who returned a look of complete and utter confusion. “What the hell was that?” we both asked. Upon review, it was clear Pardew’s fiery temper got the better of him (not for the first time this year) as he put his forehead into Meyler’s temple. Again, a moment of insanity that was correctly dealt with by the officiating crew, but I was more intrigued than anything as the numerous replays flooded in. Oddly (and thankfully) enough, Meyler didn’t make too much of a meal out of the incident, but it was shocking nonetheless.

Today, I decided to turn off the dreadful match between Spurs side seemingly playing down to the level of an almost inevitable Championship-bound Cardiff City for the Madrid derby. I watched as the passion bled through the satellite feed and the tempers began to rise. Both Madrid teams took chances and played quality football in the draw but what many will take from the tilt is the explosion of Atletico Madrid assistant manager German Burgos toward official Delgado Ferreiro over a challenge on Diego Costa. The madness wasn’t over as Real Madrid’s Pepe looked to be shot by a sniper in floodlights after a slight touch to his head in an altercation in the middle of the park.

I suppose none of these incidents can be analyzed as these outbursts are the actions of madmen in even crazier game. Surely, we have crossed a divide in the world of football. Players and managers act—literally act—with such impunity because there is no retroactive action severe enough to deter the idiocy. Modern football is guilty of allowing the ridiculous to go unpunished. These incidents are not minor. However, they are entertaining and perhaps that is precisely why the game’s players and managers continue to cross the line in the most literal sense (Pardew) and why defenders are just as flamboyant in their diving and play-acting as anyone else on the player.

In all reality, there is no cure in sight, so let me propose something else. Prevention. Prevention is better than the cure. Today’s players make exorbitant amounts of money and are gods of the arena. These athletes are stellar in their craft and diving is part of today’s game, but why not introduce retroactive fines and lengthy bans for players who are clearly guilty of conning the game. Sure, Alan Pardew received a heavy fine, but one that he can afford at the snap of his fingers. Vertonghen and Pepe should be ashamed of their actions, especially as defenders. These talented players are products of their environment and of a generation where this is the norm. Moreover, this charade of charlatans is also a part of the game that takes away from the actual contest. Most fans love the subplots in the game, but if we want to see actors, we’ll watch the Oscars. Cheers!

Published by Jon Townsend

Jon is a long-serving writer for These Football Times and the Original Coach and is the author of the upcoming book "It's Just a Ball: Exploring the Complexities of a Simple Game". Jon is a supporter of Liverpool Football Club and AFC Ajax. Based in the U.S., Jon is involved in promoting grassroots football and specializes in player development writing and coaching. He is the co-founder of Year Zero Soccer, a non-profit grassroots football organization that is partnered with TFT. His work has been featured on the Guardian Sport Network, Inside Soccer, NSCAA Soccer Journal, White Lines Magazine, and Spartan Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jon_townsend3

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