Burley rants against diving -- and gets it badly wrong

By Paul Gardner

Craig Burley, I must say, comes over rather well on TV. Down to earth, with an attractive (and understandable) Scots accent, and a lively personality to deliver his various views.

I’ve watched quite a lot of his TV spots on ESPN, and haven’t even come close to falling asleep yet. Some of his opinions I agree with, some I think are pretty nonsensical, but that sounds like a pretty normal assessment by one soccer person of another.

Just one point, though, Craig. Diving. We’re light years apart here. Your -- typically Brit -- view that diving is destroying the game, and my view that diving is a “problem,” vastly exaggerated, even created, by the Brits.

But this is not just a normal difference of opinions. This time, I cannot accept Burley’s argument ... because he is getting his basic facts wrong.

It puzzles me why Burley and the anti-diving fraternity are so frantic not only to condemn those they see as divers, but to make excuses for those players on the other side of the diving coin -- the tacklers.

In his most recent anti-diving rant, Burley directed his wrath at referees (specifically those in the EPL), declaring that they are not doing their job. Not only are they not yellow-carding divers, says Burley, they are also calling, even carding, tacklers for fouls that aren’t fouls.

How so? When it comes to tackles says Burley, “The referees have a responsibility to distinguish between mistimed and malicious.”

Burley has got that seriously wrong. It is not the referee’s job to decide whether a dodgy tackle is accidental (e.g. mistimed) or intentional (e.g. malicious). Intent does not come into it. All the referee is asked to do is, first of all, decide if there was a foul -- e.g. was the victim tripped up? If so, regardless of intent, the foul must be called. If the contact was violent or dangerous -- again, regardless of intent -- then the referee not only calls the foul but has to decide whether a card, yellow or red is called for.

Burley’s description of a mistimed tackle is a gem, really putting the blame for it on the victim, who might suffer a serious foul because he was “a bit quicker” (meaning, more skillful) than the tackler. We are asked to imagine a tackler aiming his tackle at the ball, but then finding the ball has gone and his tackling foot -- unfortunately -- crunches into the foot of the victim. Part of the game, says Burley. Adding, inevitably, that it’s a contact sport, and that everyone accepts the possibility of getting hurt.

A version of tackling that it’s difficult to take seriously. If, as Burley maintains, tackling is “a talent,” that talent should surely include the skill of knowing when to tackle and when not to.

But, again, it is not the referee’s responsibility to decide whether a tackle is mistimed or not, or whether it is malicious or not. He is not being asked, as was once the case under older rules, to read the tackler’s mind.

Nothing is being done about diving, cries Burley. Which is a pretty silly thing to say when the EPL referees are in the middle of an overt witch hunt against diving. It gets even sillier because Burley then turns to the recent Chelsea- Hull game to make his point. Referee Chris Foy gave out two yellows for diving to Chelsea players. Nothing being done? And he should have given a third, says Burley. Correctly.

But why is Burley so keen to accept Foy’s decisions? The yellow against Willian, for instance, was highly debatable, as Hull’s Curtis Davies can be seen to take a step into the path of Willian, before partially drawing back -- leaving enough of his body in Willian’s direct running path to ensure some sort of contact. Contact, grazing contact, there was.

But no benefit of doubt is ever allowed to the dreaded diver. He must be found guilty. This was not a good call. The call against Diego Costa was even worse, with replays showing Hull’s Tom Huddlestone clearly sticking out his leg and clearly tripping Costa.

So, without checking the merit of Foy’s calls, Burley rants on. He says that Gary Cahill should also have been booked for diving. Indeed, he should have been. Cahill’s was the most blatant dive -- the only one, actually -- of the three. Burley can’t understand it, says that Cahill is “a big, strong, English center-half ...” -- now why did he have to emphasize English I wonder?

Burley’s solution to this terrible blight? Post-game tape analysis by a three-man panel -- “if it’s beyond doubt, the player is suspended for one game” -- if he does it again, he gets two games, next time three games, and so on.

Well, there’s the problem. “If it’s beyond doubt.” There are not going to be too many of these calls that are that clear, but Burley seems unaware of the problem. “I don’t like cheats,” he says, as though that solves everything. Funny though, I do not remember hearing a Burley rant after last season’s worst -- by far -- example of cheating, when blatant goalkeeper cheating in the shootout allowed Sevilla to claim the trophy.

In conclusion, let me counter-rant Burley. The essence of his argument is that tacklers are unlikely to foul, but they may mis-time their tackles. And that’s OK. Even if it results in serious injury.

Whereas the divers are, quite simply, cheats. Burley has given us no definition of how much contact a victim must suffer before he is deemed not to have dived. One has the impression that nothing less than a really hefty kick or body-thump will do.

Sadly, Burley comes over as an anti-diving zealot. And zealotry is certain to cloud judgment. Listen to this: his three-man panel might get the odd decision wrong, “but that’s better than doing nothing at all.”

Threaded through all that is the most amazing assumption of all -- particularly from an ex-pro player. The assumption that tacklers will not take advantage of the situation he is pleading: that referees should excuse clueless and dangerous tackling as “mistimed.”

A sure-fire open invitation to rougher play, even from the wondrously clean defenders that Burley talks about. Rougher play means more injuries. It moves us closer to broken limbs. Surely that cannot be what Burley is recommending?

10 comments about "Burley rants against diving -- and gets it badly wrong".
  1. Joao Santarita, December 24, 2014 at 1:37 p.m.

    Indeed. I keep hearing commentators talking about "intentional hand ball" and "not intentional hand ball". How shuld a ref know?

  2. beautiful game, December 24, 2014 at 2:45 p.m.

    FIFA has lapsed into a coma. The game is stagnant and needs a total game rule revamp in order to bring it into the 21st century, i.e., off-side, diving, encroaching, time wasting by handling the ball or interfering with free kicks. Politics in awarding the World Cup needs to be addressed, and the current complacent FIFA regime needs to be replaced.

  3. uffe gustafsson, December 24, 2014 at 4:49 p.m.

    Can you be more specific in how you want rule changes. Especially offside rule?
    The others you mention have rules in place to stop time waisting, interfering w free kicks and so on. You get a yellow card if you do those things.
    So not sure what you asking for.
    Maybe you referring to more enforcement of those items? And for diving I'm not sure I see that is a big issue, a foul is a foul even if the player is exaggerating his pain and get up to full sprint 2 minutes later. It's annoying to see that but still a foul.

  4. Chris Sapien , December 24, 2014 at 4:51 p.m.

    A foul is a foul, and that is how the ref should call an occurrence, embellished or not. The most confident ref, can both award the foul, while at the same time address the embellishment through cautioning. Solves both acts, equally and justly in my book.

  5. R2 Dad, December 24, 2014 at 9:16 p.m.

    I'm a little confused. Is this regarding the Burley Rant talking about the red card for the late tackle last weekend? I can't find it on ESPN anymore--seems like they've buried it. That rant seemed to be that Burley didn't understand why coming in with excessive force into a player resulted in a red. "Excessive force" vs "Reckless" didn't appear anywhere in that discussion, so I think Burley's got it wrong there. re: Diving, there is always the option to let play continue, which seems to be the best way to deal with this vs carding. Contact in the penalty area doesn't always mean a PK--let's talk about that more and talk about carding less, since that leads down a subjective rat hole referees don't want to go down.

  6. Kent James, December 25, 2014 at 12:53 p.m.

    Paul, I have to vehemently disagree with you on your observation that there is no difference between a mistimed tackle and a malicious tackle. While both are fouls, one should be no card (or a yellow card, if it was badly mistimed) and the other is potentially a red card. No player is perfect, and while good defenders try to time their tackles correctly, defenders will occasionally make a risky decision to attempt a tackle they may miss (often because the alternative is worse, such as an unimpeded shot or cross). This might warrant a yellow card (especially if the decision was tactical, as the scenario I suggested was), but may require nothing more, because such an action is within the realm of fair play. On the other hand, if the defender has no chance at making the tackle, but does so anyway, at the very least that should be a yellow card, and possibly a red card. Because that sort of play has no place in the game, and needs to be stamped out. It's the difference between me running down the field and catching a player coming around me with my elbow accidentally, and me knowing he's coming, and purposely hitting him with an elbow. Both are elbows to the face (so the damage to my opponent may be the same) but in the second case, if I'm not immediately ejected, all hell will break loose. Yes, they took "intent" out of the rule book 20 years ago because "refs can't be mind readers", but I would argue most of the time, refs (as well as most players) do know what a player's intentions are based on their abilities, the context, and most importantly, their actions (often where they look; when a player is challenging for a ball in the air but his eyes are on his opponent instead of the ball, chances are, he will be committing a foul). If referees do not treat malicious fouls differently then accidental ones, the players will, and the game will quickly degenerate into a slugfest. A quick card for a malicious foul will often defuse the situation.

  7. Lou vulovich, December 25, 2014 at 4:14 p.m.

    Sorry James. They are one and the same a badly timed tackle is a reckless tackle which results in an injury with the same result as a intention to injure an opponent. No one knows the tacklers intent other than he himself so the punishment has to be given regardless. As for diving and harsh fouls, why can't soccer have a video referee or group view the dive or harsh foul the following Monday and upon clear mistakes by the referee let the goal and the game stand but suspend the diver for games, the same with a bad tackle upon review give the deserved red card Monday and a proper suspension.

  8. Rick Estupinan, December 25, 2014 at 5:08 p.m.

    Paul is like a little girl,he complained about some guys,sometimes playing rough,but it is okay for this "bad actors", falling and rolling all over the place with their big mouths open in agony as if they are dying.In most cases,any one can see they are fakers.

  9. James Madison, December 27, 2014 at 5:25 p.m.

    Bravo, Paul. For all your moaning that the Laws of the Game should be called "rules," you at least have it right when you note that "intent" is no longer part of the Laws. Rather in deciding whether a tackle involves misconduct the Referee is to judge whether the tackle is reckless, i.e., without regard for the safety of the opponent.

  10. Allan Lindh, December 27, 2014 at 8:46 p.m.

    Someone asked for a specific change to the offside rule, a simple change is obvious. Offside requires daylight between attacker and defender -- period. To make it more specific, daylight between the trunks of the body, belt to shoulder. It will be easier (that is much clearer) to call, and will give an advantage to the attacking side.

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