The beautiful game of soccer is a contact sport. Hence, most of the fouls in the game are because of direct contact between players such as tripping or kicking that makes someone fall. Every contact, bar shoulder-to-shoulder and body movements to protect the ball without the intention of fighting for the ball is a foul. Exaggerating contact has become a major issue in soccer down the years, and until the inception of VAR, the sport was struggling to curb the efforts of play-actors. But why do soccer players fake injuries?
Why do soccer players fake injuries? Soccer players fake injuries to get an advantage in the game. This can be from retaining possession of the ball, getting an opponent sent off or in order to get a good goal scoring opportunity.
Indeed, depending on your opinion, simulation is either a cynical way to gain a minor advantage or culpable behaviour that undermines the values of soccer. Infact, some players have gone on to develop bad reputations simply because they have been accused of simulation or ‘diving’, as it is popularly referred to.
An astonishing statistic from the 2018 FIFA World Cup was that Brazil superstar Neymar spent more than 14 MINUTES on the ground throughout the tournament. Although bordering on shameful, a skillful player such as the 29-year-old gets fouled an unimaginable amount of times over 90 minutes; and perhaps needs to draw the referee’s attention to his culprits.
This piece delves into one of the famous dark arts of the sport, as we look at five reasons why soccer players pretend to be injured during a match.
Booking or sending off for the opponent
The worst result of play-acting and a simulator’s biggest reward. Most simulators just want to see their opponent get booked, for marginal gains. In a case where the player is an influential one to a particular team, part of the opposition’s game-plan might be to get that player sent off for their own advantage.
For example, in a game like Barcelona vs Real Madrid, you would likely see the Barcelona players go down as much as they can following the slightest of touches from a certain Sergio Ramos.
A player who simulates a foul successfully on an opponent who is already on a yellow card could get him sent off with a red card, which puts their team on an advantage.
Also, if a player fakes a foul against the other team’s last defender, they could get him expelled from the game too. Reward for simulators has drastically reduced in the current day, to be fair, with many TV cameras helping to identify what exactly transpired and who the culprit is.
Winning a penalty kick
The most common form of simulation is inside the penalty box. Any adjudged foul inside the penalty area is awarded a penalty kick for the victim which could decide the course of the game.
Most penalty kicks are scored and a team can literally win a game due to the efforts of a diver. Several matches have gone to a team who won via a dubious penalty awarding and players are well-aware of the lengths they need to go through to win a game for their team and fans.
Much recently, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has been severally accused of diving and trying to look for a cheap penalty. Infact, he is often given a second look when he goes down in the box, simply because of the ‘negative’ reputation he has now seen attached to him of late.
Frustration for opponents
The mental aspect of soccer is more important than talent or preparation to win a game.
As the legendary Andrea Pirlo once said, “soccer is played with the head. Your feet are just tools”.
Psychology and character make up most of a player’s success on or off the pitch, and temperament is often the difference between a win and a loss.
The mental warfare is essential on the pitch as players seek the extra margins that drive a contest in their team’s favour.
As a player, getting done by the actions of a simulator can lead to serious frustration for the team. In the end, if a team loses their mind it is more difficult to play well and be able to fight back.
Feigning injury could also be used as a delay tactic for players to either wind down the clock in the latter stages of a game, or to halt momentum and calm the tempo of an intense match.
Players often seek a cheeky timeout when trying to hold on to victory or when under serious attack from opponents.
A perceived injury to any player will buy them precious seconds for treatment and perhaps a botched substitution while their teammates have been able to catch their breath, refuel on fluids or receive quick advice from the coaching staff. However, this could also backfire as referees tend to have noticed this and now book players for time-wasting and add any such ‘wasted time’ to stoppages.
As much as time-wasting, defensive players also feign injury (or tactical fouling) in an attempt to unfairly regain possession after losing it under heavy pressure.
Midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers often use simulation tactics in their own defensive third when they have been robbed off the ball, so the referee can deny a goal-scoring opportunity if he deems it an illegal tackle. With the advent of VAR, this tactic has worked well for some on several occasions but can also lead to them getting booked if replays show there was no such foul play.
Many-a-time these days, you see a defensive player turn his back when facing an intense press and about to lose the ball, then buy a cheap contact from the opponent to fall over the ball.
Will Fake Injuries Stop
Video Assistant Referee, VAR, has massively helped to stomp out simulation and unfair refereeing decisions. Although many grey areas persist as soccer at the top level continues to come to terms with VAR decisions, rule changes will help to fine-tune the system and hopefully punish simulators.
One thing is certain though, simulation and faking injuries would remain a practice in top-level soccer. It is simply something that cannot be eradicated from the beautiful game. As every other thing in life, it bears its benefits for some and extreme anguish for others.