What is the football definition of ‘diving’?

I ask this, because over the last few weeks, the word ‘diving’ has been thrown around to describe all sorts of actions, yet none of them are actually true, and football is in danger of losing sight of the real problem at hand by focusing so much on ‘diving’.

Take football’s current bête noire, Dele Alli, for instance.

Alli, since his Premier League debut in 2015-16, has been booked for simulation more times than any other player in that time frame, and as a result, now has a reputation for ‘diving’. But the issue isn’t that he tries to con the referee into awarding him and his team a foul, the issue is that he’s really really bad at doing it.

Alli doesn’t stand out from other footballers by being one of the few that ‘dives’, he stands out because when he does ‘dive’, he looks like a deer falling through an icy lake whilst having a stroke.

Dele Alli’s swan song

His ‘dive’ at Anfield last week was so awful, he had time to pick himself up again and regain possession before the referee blew his whistle, such was the distance between Alli and the defender.

You’ll have noticed by now that I keep putting quotation marks around the word ‘dive’, because what Alli is doing isn’t diving, it’s simply cheating.

He’s trying to create a scenario that gives his team an advantage, instead of using his skill as a footballer to derive one instead.

Yet we seem somewhat reticent to call a cheater a ‘cheater’, it’s as if we don’t want to permanently label them with a negative connotation. So we call him a ‘diver’ instead.

It’s weird.

Over you go

What further complicates matters is how wide a scope we use to determine what a dive is, and how we narrow that scope depending on the player who is diving.

For the neutral, a ‘dive’ is usually what Alli attempted at Anfield, throwing himself to the ground whilst arching his back and feigning pain. But for anyone not of a Tottenham persuasion, Harry Kane ‘dived’ to win a penalty, and so did Erik Lamela.

Now, I’m not going to use an Arsenal blog to defend Tottenham players, but if I swapped the names above with Mesut Özil and Jack Wilshere, I’d have been screaming for a penalty at the top of my lungs.

Kane was taken out by Karius after he rounded him with the ball, and Lamela was kicked/shinned in the back by Van Dijk. Was either foul of an egregious nature? No. Did the contact warrant such an elicit display of discomfort from either player? Of course not.

But were they fouled? I think so, yes.

And this is where the problem with ‘diving’ comes in, because we’re too quick to label any foul against our team as a ‘clear dive’, yet thirty seconds later describe a foul of similar nature given for our team as a ‘clear foul’.

We never judge these events on their merits, but on their importance towards getting the result we want from them.

Just as there is a difference between ‘diving’ and cheating, there is also a difference between ‘diving’ and incidental contact. But the difference between the latter is far smaller than it is in the former, and the latter is far more problematic to the game.

Take Wilshere as an example.

Watch him when he receives the ball in midfield and he tries to accelerate away from his marker. If he succeeds in creating space, he’ll dribble forwards towards goal. If he fails, he’ll stick his backside out and stop running, causing his marker to run into him. He’ll then fall to the ground claiming he was fouled, and the referee will usually blow his whistle.

If this isn’t ‘diving’, then what is the difference between what Wilshere does, and what Kane did when he knocked the ball past the keeper and then stood still so that the keeper would dive into him?

Karius only needs to impede Kane for it to be a foul, so if Kane has to jump out of the way to avoid him, it’s still a foul.

Should it be a foul? Probably not, and this is where the issue of incidental contact rears its ugly head, because we’re so determined to ensure that there’s as much chance of ourselves getting a favourable call in that spot that we don’t actually care about the rule itself.

So Kane gets his penalty despite none of us wanting that to be a foul, yet all of us want a foul called if it happens to us.

How do we fix this? Simple.

VAR.

But not in the way you think.

There have been calls for a video panel to ban players who dive, and one was implemented at the start of this season. But it’s done behind closed doors, in private, as if it were a court case.

If we’re ever going to get players to stop ‘diving’ or making the most of incidental contact to draw a foul, then a ban or a fine won’t be enough. The only thing that will stop players from diving is if there’s shame involved, and that being labelled as a ‘diver’ means you’ll get laughed at, instead of shouted at.

How will VAR do this?

The player in this screenshot is Marcus Smart, a fine defensive guard for the Boston Celtics. His ‘dive’ (They call it a ‘flop’ in America, and it’s a better description imo.) is not frowned upon, or scoffed at, or called a cancer of the game, or any such pious nonsense.

The panel, which is TNT’s direct equivalent of Match of the Day, openly and loudly mock him for his actions. In a contact sport, just like football is, three former players are laughing at a current player’s reaction to contact.

‘Flopping’ was becoming as big a problem in basketball as ‘diving’ is in football, until TNT started showing these clips every Thursday. Now, players go out of their way to make sure they don’t end up on TV, because they don’t want to be made fun of in front of millions of people.

Shame has made players rethink flopping.

Dele Alli won’t stop diving because of the Kop throwing abuse at him, but he might if they laugh at him whilst he gets up. He might if he sees Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher falling off their chairs from laughing at his feeble attempts to draw a foul.

Until we refuse to take players seriously for making the most of every contact made with a defender, then players won’t take the rules seriously either.

Dele Alli’s attempts at cheating are a joke. It’s time they were treated as such.