Update: between the time I started this post and the time I finished, Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch during the FA Cup quarter final between Spurs and Bolton. Puts other football issues (and football in general) into perspective: best to him and family.
Original post: My joy at the swashbuckling exploits of Gareth Bale up and down Tottenham’s left wing has been documented in these pages. However he has caused some consternation this season with a bit too much of what football’s delightful lexicon calls “going down easy;” that is, he’s been known to dive. The rule book calls it “simulation” and it’s a yellow card offence. Bale is the only Premier League player to have been cautioned more than once this season for simulation.
I figured that behind the scenes Harry Redknapp might have a word with Bale because having such a reputation decreases your chances of being awarded fouls when they really happen – and increases the chances of opponents going in to deliberately hurt you. But then along comes an interview with Bale in today’s Guardian, and of course they talk about the diving issue. Bale’s take on it is… Interesting?
“I couldn’t care less what [opponents] say, unless they’re coming right up to my face and saying it,” Bale says. “I don’t dive. It’s just the speed at which I’m running and, if someone tries to clobber me, I’m not going to let them, am I? I’m not taking a stud in my shin for the sake of it, so I jump out of the way. It’s still a foul. They’ve still illegally stopped me running and not touched the ball. The intent is there, so you don’t need the contact.”
So… If I’ve got this right, Bale is running with the ball, sees an opponent coming in to tackle him and, forecasting that the attempted tackle will be a foul, he leaps out of the way and goes down. This seems to have things in the wrong order. It’s not the players’ jobs to call fouls, it’s the referees’ job. Also, if Bale can see it coming, shouldn’t he be able to get out of the way of the tackle and carry on running? Perhaps that’s harsh, perhaps it’s not always possible to keep running, and the safest thing to do is to dive out of the way. Bale’s a lanky 6’2″, meaning it’s not as easy for him to stay on his feet as it is for other dribblers like Leo Messi. I’d also argue that kicking or tripping the opposition player because you can’t do anything else to stop them is a worse offence than diving, because it puts the player in danger. Still… While I sympathise with the guy for the frequent kicking he gets, I’d much rather see Bale making a concerted effort to stay on his feet and carry on playing as much as possible. Like Messi (video via kottke):