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?