Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Diving a blot on beautiful game

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Chelsea's Fernando Torres, right, competes with Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand. Photo / AP
Chelsea's Fernando Torres, right, competes with Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand. Photo / AP

Soccer is making a show of trying to eliminate racism in the game. They've even got the T-shirts to prove it.

From a spectator's point of view though, the world game formerly known as the beautiful game has a far bigger problem to solve - diving.

Soccer has never been so good. The English Premier League is a wonderful melting pot of nationalities, personalities and styles, a brilliant mixture of skill, gusto and drama all broadcast live, to the other side of the world, in bulk and HD. Twitter battles, banned players, banned managers, extravagant celebrations, nutty fans ... whoever is writing these scripts deserves an Oscar. Now a referee is accused of making racist comments. Bizarre.

If you can forget about the obscene amounts of money paid to the players and the way this limits the number of genuine title contenders - a head in the sand position which is reasonably easy to attain from this side of the world - the Premier League is magnificently compulsive viewing. And the Champions League - the European Cup in the old money - also conjures worldwide interest.

And yet there is diving, the act of pretending to have been fouled in order to win free kicks and penalties.

This blight on the game is not confined to the glories of the English game, as the weekend's Phoenix controversy in the A-league showed.

In the big moment at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea striker Fernando Torres was red carded, after receiving a second yellow card, the last offence being for a "dive".

This highly debatable decision by referee Mark Clattenburg came after Torres was clipped by the Manchester United defender Jonny Evans and then stumbled to the turf, having lost the ball anyway. Put it this way, Torres didn't do everything possible to remain upright.

Clattenburg, displaying a lack of balance to match Torres', decided not to keep his cards close to the chest. Referees are allowed to yellow card players for trying to deceive them, even if the player was fouled. But a more pragmatic man would have taken a breath and realised the case against Torres was nowhere near clear enough, especially as Chelsea were already a man down. The sky is now falling in on Clattenburg, who is being accused of making racist remarks to the Chelsea players.

Leaving the specifics of this match aside, referees are in a tough-to-impossible position dealing with diving. Now and then there are clear cases. But a lot of diving is much more subtle and almost impossible to punish with great certainty.

Managers can take a fair deal of the blame. They have the real power to get rid of diving, as much as it can be removed from the game.

They do pipe up, but only out of self interest, backing referees when decisions go in their favour, and decrying them when they don't.

Far from discouraging diving, players are expected by their bosses to go to ground under challenges in the penalty box if the prospect of a spot kick is greater than the chance of a legitimate goal. And it is hard to remember a manager ever criticising one of his own players for diving anywhere on the field.

Diving, or stumbling, sadly, is here to stay, because there is no way of eliminating it completely. It is one of the unfortunate symptoms of a game driven by ruthless personal ambition. Soccer has a better chance of excising the appearance of racism and maybe even some racism itself, although what lies in the heart is always more complex than a T-shirt slogan.

Straight talking

On the same theme ... how refreshing to hear Phoenix captain Andrew Durante talking straight, describing Adelaide's Jeronimo Neumann as a cheat for diving in their A-league clash. Durante did back track slightly in the same breath, but we got the drift loud and clear. Our sports coaches and stars cover their tracks with so much gobbledygook it was a relief hearing someone talking straight, using language we could understand. There was no doubt that Neumann deliberately rolled to the ground, well after being nudged by Ben Sigmund. Here's the big problem though - will Durante be so honest when one of his own players dives in future? Because they will. Diving has become an integral part of soccer and no team can claim to be innocent.

Trouble at Warriors' mill

The drum beats indicate people within the Warriors are very disappointed in the way assistant coach Tony Iro has been treated. The universally respected Iro, one of the most popular men I ever met in league, was the assistant coach who became the caretaker coach after Brian McClennan was axed for the final two games in 2012. Iro was then overlooked for the top job, given to Matthew Elliott.

The sacking/appointment timing was not conducted well in many people's opinion, although given the collapse of McClennan's side the club was in a tricky position. But the fallout is believed to include a loss of any confidence in chief executive Wayne Scurrah.

Iro has still to announce if he will continue as assistant coach and you could argue that a shift could do wonders for his development. But he is a respected figure needed at a club trying to rebuild, yet again.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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