Rivaldo, David Ngog, Morten Gamst Pedersen, and now the majority of a 22-man El Clasico line-up. The Champion’s league semi-final first leg between Real Madrid and Barcelona was the third fixture between the two sides in the space of a month. Never have I thought I’d say this about such a salivating tie but quite simply: It’s beginning to get boring. The blame is spread throughout both clubs right from the substitutes’ bench all the way to the managers. Jose Mourinho is decibels louder than his Spanish counterpart Pep Guardiola in terms of media coverage, but all three fixtures so far have been far from the fast-paced thrills you’d like to expect when such quality players clash on the pitch.
Diving has been with us since the very inception of football. Never before though has it been such a constant issue the world over. As players’ wages increase and the game, in my opinion, gets easier to play, some of our labelled ‘superstars’ develop an arrogance that culminates in a ‘who the hell do you think you are?’ reaction whenever they are touched. Long gone are the days when passing and shooting were the only weapons in a players’ arsenal. No, now an attacker has to contemplate “Well, if I go down here, he’ll get sent off too, so that’s a plus”. Where has the honour gone?
Last night’s biggest actors included Pedro, Sergio Ramos and a more surprising blockbuster role came from Lionel Messi. Instead of taking advantage of perhaps more open space or a better shooting position, players now would much rather flail to the floor, creating as much personal wreckage as possible in the hopes that the opposition player will be brandished with a yellow, or the even bigger prize of a red card. Not only does this happen when there is minimal/no contact, but ‘victims’ of an actual foul must flounder on the ground again in an attempt to influence the referee.
Thus was the case last night when a Pepe challenge left Dani Alves on what seemed like Death’s door. It’s arguable that had a fracas of players not congregated on official Wolfgang Stark and Dani Alves taken the challenge like a man, Portuguese Pepe may have finished the 90 minutes. As it was however, the centre-back was dismissed and wouldn’t you know it, a mere 15 minutes later, the resilient Real conceded the opener. Mourinho was also sent to the stands after appearing to have mouthed ‘well done’ to the fourth official and will be without one of his best defenders in the second-leg. Not long after the first had gone in did Barca find themselves two up after a bit of magic from Argentine Messi.
So why is it that I’m beginning to find this fixture boring you ask? Well, although the scoreline changes every time, the matches are tight, samey and ultimately the teams just end up cancelling each other out. As was hinted at earlier, whether this is the tactics of the managers at work or just a lack of skill on the pitch is for anyone to decide. My guess is that when playing away, each manager’s midfield is tightened to the same degree that Roberto Mancini deploys when going up against just about any big side. In any respect we couldn’t be further from Barcelona’s 5-0 drubbing in November.
Short and simple, diving has to stop. If a team can’t win a game without emphasising an injury just so they can play against ten men instead of 11, they shouldn’t be in the most prestigious European competition of them all. I wouldn’t like to say this a particularly Continental influence on football, but last night’s ‘El Clasico’ does pay testament to that theory. Simulation is an offence which referees are beginning to pick up on but players crowding around officials is another breach of the rules which needs to be inspected further.
Until a review system is introduced into the sport, which Michel Platini seems adamantly against, I can never see diving being completely cut out of ‘The Beautiful Game’. This article didn’t begin based on technology in football, but if balls, boots and players are changing, why is it taking us so long to make this one, logical decision?