Why Diving Makes Soccer Great
In defense of soccer's biggest villains.
The other most pervasive critique of diving is a nationalist one. Depending on who you talk to, Sunday's flop-heavy, four-red-card debacle between the Netherlands and Portugal was the fault of either Iberian gamesmanship or Dutch fakery. For Anglo-American commentators, crusades against floppers are often laced with a distrust of wily, olive-skinned outsiders. In March, the London Times initiated a campaign to "kick out the cheats." Playacting was said to have infiltrated English soccer from outside. "It's crept into our game lately, but it is a foreign thing," Alan Stubbs, an Everton defender, recently remarked. "They speak good English, it's not as if they don't understand what they're doing."
Whether or not you must know English to understand what you're doing, diving is hardly a recent conspiracy cooked up in southern climes. Reports of flopping go back to the early days of the sport, and—surprise!—Brits have been influential in its development. Manchester City striker Francis Lee, for example, was one of the first great divers of the television era. He won theatrical penalties in the 1960s and 1970s, long before the famed Argentine flopper Diego Simeone took his first fall. Fans who champion the "fair play" and the "work ethic" of traditional English soccer tend to overlook the dives of skilled English players like Michael Owen.
There is nothing more depressing than a player who goes to the ground when he might have scored. Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry, arguably the world's best players, will stay on their feet at all cost for the sake of a beautiful pass or a brilliant run at the goal. But the next time you see an artful dribbler derailed by a clumsy oaf, take a minute to think about whose side you're on. Doesn't the dribbler deserve a somersault or two to remind the world that the only way to stop him is through violent and graceless means?