It is universally recognised that falling over when no contact has been made in the game of football is a despicable act. It can wrongly get the challenger sent off and change the course of a match. It can even decide titles. But why is it that so called “tactical fouling” does not produce the same level of ire from certain quarters? Could tactical fouling be fuelling the acceptance and proliferation of diving?
I grew up in a slightly different football culture than most as a child. I remember my uncle’s frustration when watching me play at an inter school round robin. I desperately wanted to impress him, but with my slight stature I was struggling to gain any foothold in the match. It was in my nature to keep my feet and fight for control of the ball, but I found myself increasingly bumped and tapped out of the match. At half time my uncle approached me and said “A foul is a foul. The referee won’t protect you if you keep running when they have chopped your ankles off.”
Far away from suburban football grounds and schoolboy competition, modern professional players who spend longer periods of the match on the ball might go down easier because of the litany of tactical fouling employed to minimise their effect. Whilst staying on their feet might produce short term gains, the risk of serious injury and the effectiveness of the modern free-kick have convinced many that going down and seeking the protection of the referee is the better option. It could even be said that Greece used this tactic to great effect winning the Euro’s in 2004. They knew full well that their strength was at set pieces and playmaker Giorgos Karagounis did a fanastic job of milking and exploiting tactical fouls around the midfield. The South Americans have employed these tactics for as long as anyone can remember, and a culture of exaggerating contact has taken root in the east as the Asian Cup clearly demonstrated.
All those years ago, short of asking me to dive, my uncle awakened me to the reality that in order to be able to play my game, I would have to enlist the help of the referee. Was it diving to exaggerate contact? According to FIFA, “Simulation” is a cardable offence. So any motion not consistent with the contact (or lack of contact) made is not in step with FIFA’s fair play mantra. I was cheating.
This brings me to the subject of the tactical foul. For those not familiar with the term, a tactical foul is a “soft” foul that whilst not incurring a card, will force the referee to stop play and is employed to disrupt the rhythm or impede the progress of the opposite team. Whilst in many parts of the world this tactic is as despised as the dive there have been no efforts to wipe this equally cynical element of the game out by authorities.
The reality is, that tactical fouling, and the practice of exaggerating contact are co-dependant and for the most part, wiping one out, will see the demise of the other. It’s useless to enter in to a chicken or the egg argument. Whether diving is encouraged by the increasingly used tactic of soft fouling or that diving allows the use of the tactical foul to be effective is a never ending argument.
The solutions to the problems are a lot more difficult than making an observation in a blog. The first big issue to deal with these problems is the cultural divide across the football world. Whilst simulation is not viewed with the same level of disgust in Latin America and Asia as it is in Europe, tactical fouling is considered a necessary part of the game on the continent. I note than in response to Brazils somewhat pragmatic approach to the Copa America final, one email published in Tim Vickery’s column summed up what many in Latin America feel about the disparity in outrage over the two practices. Sandra N said "I've seen a lot of football since I was a kid. And I take no pleasure in seeing my beloved Brazil becoming the new Italy. I despair at the hypocrisy of Americans and Brits who feel such moral outrage about [diving] yet have nothing to say about their acceptance of tactical fouling..”
What do bloggers think? Are these two footballing crimes an equal blight on the game? Is diving a necessary protection in some cases? Is tactical fouling a justifiable stategy?