Time to change penalty laws?
YEARS ago the word ‘dive’ only had a tenuous football connection by referring to the seedy nightspot you might end up in after a Saturday afternoon at the match and the evening on a pub crawl.
These days, however, diving is a controversial issue and some Premier League stars, such as Manchester United’s Ashley Young, have gained a reputation as serial offenders.
There’s no doubt that fans hate players cheating in this way. There’s no doubt, too, that referees have an almost impossible task in deciding in a split second if an attacker has been fouled or has over-dramatised his clash with a defender.
Even pundits with multiple slow-mo replays can’t work out if there’s been a genuine foul or a less-than-genuine act to gain an advantage.
Advocates of video technology might admit that halting play to work out what happened would, in the case of diving, create more problems than it solved.
Clearly the rewards, especially in the Premier League, are massive. Nicking a goal to creep into a European spot or climb out of the relegation places can earn a club and its players millions.
Managers and coaches are bound to want to seek out every way of gaining an advantage and their players are, too.
Throwing yourself down in the penalty area has crept into the game and there doesn’t
seem to be any way to stop it. When scoring in open play is so difficult, then getting a penalty can be a godsend – even if you don’t deserve it.
Even better if you are awarded a penalty and the opposing player gets an early bath.
Maybe it isn’t just the act of diving the football authorities need to concentrate on to solve the problem.
In sport, just like in life, the adage ‘the punishment should fit the crime’ is pretty much universally accepted.
So if a golfer drives his ball into a lake, he or she isn’t penalised a draconian number of shots. A batsman who runs a run short has it deducted from his score; he doesn’t have to make the slow depressing walk back to the pavilion.
Looking at offences in the penalty area during matches in the flesh or on television, you can probably safely assume that if they hadn’t occurred and play had continued a goal probably wouldn’t have followed.
The attacking player might have been near the goal-line or even going away from goal. Alexis Sanchez was fouled in the penalty area in a recent Arsenal game as he ran with the ball towards the side-line.
Commit the foul though or, in the case of diving, suffer the sight of an attacker falling as if felled by a weapon, and your opponents have an unopposed shot at goal from 12 yards.
This gives them an 80 to 90 per cent chance of scoring. Little wonder then when you can convince a referee you’ve been wronged even when you haven’t. Managers and players don’t rule out anything if they can get a real benefit from it.
So perhaps the penalty laws need to be looked at, not just the offences, legitimate or otherwise, that lead to them.
Maybe, although difficult, changes can be made so that the penalty area punishment fits the penalty area crime.
A shot at goal in the 18-yard box but from further away than the current penalty spot might be a fairer outcome for a foul committed only just inside the penalty area.
Keep the current rule for an offence nearer than that. Draw an arc inside the box to define the two.
Who knows, I certainly don’t, but at least let’s have the debate. Football fans are fed up with cheating.
There doesn’t appear to be any likelihood that players are going to stop claiming everything. They’ll carry on trying to get one over their fellow professionals and conning referees when the rewards are so great.
So let’s see if we can change the one anomaly where an offence, sometimes false, is penalised so heavily. Then players might think that staying on their feet and creating a genuine chance on goal is the best option.
Manchester United’s Ashley Young take sa tumble over Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris