From a fan’s perspective, one of the ugliest parts of soccer is the act of “diving” or players faking injuries. While soccer is not the only sport to have this phenomenon, it is undoubtedly the most infamous culprit.
So, why do players fake injuries in soccer?
Players fake injuries and dive in soccer to try and draw calls from the referee, despite no contact being made with another player. Diving is a popular way of earning penalties, free kicks, and getting opposing players carded. Most professional teams fake injuries/dive to some extent.
Diving is not new to soccer but it has certainly become a focal point of much frustration within the game over the last decade. Fans call for blood when they perceive an opponent has unfairly won a penalty and it doesn’t go their team’s way.
They seem to forget whenever a call of this nature goes their way. One thing all fans can agree on is that diving has certainly become more of an issue in modern times.
So in this article, we will dive (pun intended) deeper into why this phenomenon is growing more prevalent in the modern game.
Why Do Soccer Players Flop and Fake Injuries?
So as discussed above the over-arching reason for diving is to gain a competitive advantage. However, I hear you saying, “But often there isn’t any apparent advantage to be gained…so isn’t it just cheating?”
And I would partially concede, there is a devious nature too much of what can be considered “diving” but I would also say there might be a sort of twisted logic behind it as well.
In this section, I highlight three reasons why a player might “dive” during a game.
Earn a Penalty or Get a Player Carded
It is well known that players will do anything to get an edge and in the modern game, this means diving in key moments or areas of the field to give their team a strategic set piece or penalty.
I’m sure we all can picture it:
A player dribbling with the ball while an opposing player starts to close in and then out of nowhere the attacking player is five feet in the air, arms and legs flailing, and then they hit the ground and start rolling around like their leg is broken.
Then, as soon as the referee blows the whistle for the foul, magically, the player is healed and back on their feet. Happens in nearly every game and it often works!
One famous example of this is from Arturo Vidal in a game for Juventus.
Vidal beats a player into the box and as he winds back to put in a cross he kicks the ground rather than the ball and collapses in a heap but pops up and immediately starts pointing at the defender and earns a penalty.
It was an obvious dive, worse yet, Vidal did it to himself and then was rewarded for it.
The next reason is closely related but I am making it a separate category because while the result is the same, the motive is different.
Gain a Strategic Advantage
Now, how is that different from just plain old cheating? Depending on who you talk to it might not be.
However, in my eyes you have the blatant cheating of Vidal in the previous example then you have something like this:
An opposing attacker makes a silly foul early in the game and gets a yellow, now they have to play the rest of the game worrying about getting sent off for a second yellow.
So players on the other team will try to get themselves in situations where this particular player (let’s call him Messi) has to defend, which is not Messi’s specialty.
Knowing that Messi is already on a yellow, opposing players can get him into less than ideal situations and will “look for contact.”
So in this scenario, Messi fouls another player or at the very least makes contact with them but rather than just brushing it off or riding the foul, the opposing player goes down hard.
This makes the foul look worse than it is and as a result, Messi gets a second yellow and is sent off. Now your opponent is down a player and a very dangerous attacker!
The argument can (and has) been made that it is Messi’s fault for getting into that situation in the first place by making a silly foul earlier.
While the opposition may not have gone into the game to get him sent off, the strategy is introduced the moment Messi picks up his first yellow.
Draw Attention to Fouls
We can all agree that the game is much faster and played at a much more frenetic pace than it used to be, right?
So if a player is running at full tilt and gets clipped ever so slightly by a defender it would stand to reason he could lose any advantage he had because of foul play by the defender.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a bone-crunching tackle or that the attacking player even loses the ball. At pace, even the slightest touch or interruption in a player’s gait can put them off balance or make them take a poor first touch.
But how hard would it be for a referee on the other side of the field to see the slightest of fouls from such a distance? To the official, it could look as if the attacker simply played a heavy touch and tripped himself up.
So in this scenario where an attacking player is breaking on a counter-attack and just gets clipped by a defender, he can either: stay on his feet and do the “honorable” thing and keep playing even though the advantage has been lost, “sorry friend tough break” OR he can hit the deck and in doing so draw the referees attention to the fact he was truly fouled.
The latter option helps the referee see that the attacking player truly was unfairly impeded by the defender and can award the ball appropriately.
So let’s get all philosophical for a moment! Is it more honorable to keep playing and pretend nothing happened and maybe cost your team a great opportunity?
Or to go down harder than you need to, giving the referee an opportunity to make the call?
Got to love gray areas, am I right?
Should Faking an Injury Be an Offense?
Now for the most part we have used diving and faking an injury interchangeably and I believe rightfully so. Typically diving is just making it obvious that something has happened, either rightfully or otherwise, whereas faking an injury ups the ante a little bit.
The goal is the same: gain an advantage. The result however is often very different.
When a player dives and flails but then pops up as soon as the foul is given it is clear what he was doing was a bit theatrical but it has little consequence. The foul is awarded and on we go.
When a player does this and stays down for an extended time and rolls around holding their leg the intent is a bit less clear.
What other reason could there be other than to try and persuade the referee that the foul was FAR worse than it was in the hopes of getting the defender sent off?
In this, we would agree! It is in this scenario we find the distinction between diving and faking an injury. Diving is used to draw attention to one’s self to gain possession of the ball or to alert the referee a foul/contact occurred.
However, there is little gray area in faking an injury in such a dramatic way. The intent is to get a player sent off.
Again, a distinction needs to be made here: “faking an injury” is not the same as a player staying on the ground for a few seconds and rubbing the ankle after a foul and then getting up.
Have you ever taken a glancing hit to that ankle bone from a cleat? It hurts, trust me! This is not what I mean by faking an injury.
Faking an injury would be more like Neymar’s Oscar award-winning performance in the 2018 World Cup when Brazil took on Switzerland.
It is clear that Neymar was fouled on the play, no one will argue that, however, it is how he reacts that garnered the wrath of the internet. It is clear he is not just trying to sell the foul, one or two rolls would have been more than enough.
Rather, he tried making the foul look SO bad that the other player would get sent off. The fact that he rolled nearly all the way back to Brazil makes it even more ridiculous.
Neymar’s theatrics aside, diving is pretty universally disdained, and for good reason! I would argue most diving is cheating but it is important to remember that this isn’t always the case.
As a fan of the team being penalized, it will always be a dirty and pathetic play, but watching as a neutral party is sometimes the only way to judge these types of plays.
Is it fair for a team to be denied a competitive advantage simply because humans cannot see everything on the field all at once? Or is it fair to say that in some cases, it is ok to make it a little more obvious so that justice can be served?
I’ll let you decide.
The real question is would the game be better off without it? I think so, but that is for you to decide for yourself.
Is Diving Bad for Soccer?
Overall, I would say yes. If you have watched a high-level soccer game in the last couple of years, you can see it is getting out of hand and often leads to unfair results. The issue is that the game has evolved.
The days of Roy Keane flying around, breaking legs, and barely getting yellow cards is over.
Were those days better? I would argue they weren’t and I believe if we think about how that carnage would play out in the modern game you might agree.
Would it be good for the game to see Messi or Ronaldo getting cut in half by tackles every week with little to no punishment? How many magical moments would we have missed out on because Messi was out with an ankle injury or Ronald had a broken leg?
So ultimately it is a trade-off. Officiating changes as the game changes. If we want to protect players from psychos trying to end their careers, the enforcement of fouls needs to be greater.
This means that even taps and nudges will result in fouls and as a result, players will dive at the slightest touch or lack thereof to gain an advantage.
It doesn’t have to be one or the other though. We have the technology to better police fouls and diving in our game so that blatant cheating can be caught and players penalized when they try to deceive the officials.
Can VAR Prevent Players from Diving?
While diving will never be 100% ruled out of the game we can get rid of the worst of it. Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been introduced into most leagues across the world.
VAR is like instant replay for soccer and allows a trained official at a central location to review specific situations from multiple angles and let the on-field official know if a review is needed.
So how does this work with diving?
Let’s go back to that dive from Arturo Vidal. He gets the penalty and scores it, with Juventus directly benefitting from his cheating. But if the Italian league, Serie A, had VAR back then it could have played out like this:
Arturo kicks the ground and goes down in the box. The referee’s angle makes it look like the defender has fouled Vidal in the box and awards the penalty. As the players take their positions, the VAR official radios down to the match official and advises him to review this event.
The match official makes his hand signal that he is going to the pitchside monitor where he will be fed the video of the incident from multiple angles by the VAR official.
After a short review, the referee would be able to see that Vidal kicked the ground and no contact was made by the defender. He would then run back to the penalty area, make his little hand signal again and wave the penalty off.
Then, depending on the referee, he might approach Vidal and show him a yellow card for “simulation.” In this scenario, not only is diving not rewarded it is actively punished.
Simulation is a newer foul introduced to help combat diving in the game and it is only issued when a referee believes a player has simulated a foul and dove to gain an unfair advantage.
While some might say this isn’t the end all be all it is certainly a start. The foul for “simulation” paired with VAR is a powerful tool to help weed out the worst of diving in the game.
So let’s review, diving or faking an injury is an oft reviled old trick to gain an unfair advantage. Diving is also a clever tactic to gain or regain an advantage that was lost.
So which is right? Should we be trying to root out diving from the game entirely or does it have some merit?
Ultimately, I probably can’t convince you but I hope at the very least you can see how diving may not JUST be cheaters finding ways to cheat.