So you’re in the last minute of extra time, a few seconds away from a penalty shoot-out and the opportunity to put your country into the World Cup Semi Final. You’re defending a set piece, your keeper is beaten and the ball is coming at your head. Do you try and head it, knowing you may miss it and your team are out?

Or do you put your hands up and punch it out the goal, knowing you will inevitably sent off, but your keeper has a chance with the penalty? This is the very scenario which must have gone through Luis Saurez’s head last night. Or rather, it would have been if he’d had any chance to think about it.

Predictably, Suarez has been labelled a cheat, compared to both Maradona and Thierry Henry, and FIFA are discussing extending his ban to ensure he would miss the Final if Uruguay manage to get there. Is this justified? I’m not so sure.

Deliberate handball on the goal line carries a very severe punishment already. It leads to a penalty kick and a red card, unlike a handball further up the field. If the officials had seen Henry’s handball, he’d have just received a yellow card. Same for Maradona, yet both of these incidents were just as game-changing as Suarez’s incident.

Of course, Ireland fans may view this very differently to me. Suarez stopped a certain goal through ill means, and although Ghana had an opportunity to punish him with the penalty, they did not. Indeed, I remember a similar incident in an Old Firm game a couple of years back, where Bougherra handled a Nakamura shot on the line and was dismissed, only for Scott McDonald to miss the penalty. I certainly understand the feeling of being “cheated”, but then I blamed McDonald for not scoring the penalty.

So being able to see both sides of the argument, where do I stand? Well, I think if FIFA are looking to clampdown on cheating, this is completely the wrong place to start. I’d start by sending Joan Capdevilla, the Spanish left back, back to Spain with his tail between his legs for his disgraceful piece of cheating against Portugal.

The game we love is suffering from a cancer of players diving, rolling around, attempting to con the referee and get players booked and sent off. Watch any match and you’ll see this is the case. I can almost guarantee that an incident of “gamesmanship” will occur in today’s match between Argentina and Germany. Now this is something for FIFA to tackle, much like it was something for UEFA to tackle last summer, but they lost their nerve and gave Eduardo (and every other diver, for that matter) a reprieve. Is football now a game where conning the referee is “clever” or is that an act of cheating that needs to be punished? If it’s the former, then the soul of the beautiful game is really in trouble.

Handball on the goal-line already has a harsh penalty written into the rules of the game, yet handball is not what is killing the game. Some would argue that it is too late to stop players diving, it is now “part of the game” and we should just accept it. I cannot and I will not, so for as long as I have to I will continue to highlight the impotence of the game’s governing bodies until they take action against those conning us all.

Time to pick your side, folks.

There are a few thing in the game which really frustrate me right now. One of those is diving, but I’ve covered that one before. Another is defenders not being penalised for obstruction when they make no effort to play the ball as it rolls out for a goal kick, yet they do everything they can to stop the attacker from playing it. Thirdly is the number of players who aren’t penalised in the box at set pieces, despite their actions belonging in a WWE wrestling ring. But the biggest one by a million miles is players being penalised for slide tackles, despite winning the ball.

There were a few of these over the weekend. Celtic captain ‘Mick’ McManus was penalised on the edge of the box for a tackle where he clearly won the ball, but the worst one this weekend was in the La Liga match between Sportin Gijon and Real Madrid. Sergio Ramos made a fantastic tackle, clearly winning the ball, and not only was he penalised but he was booked too!

Now I appreciate that an effort has been made to protect the more skillfull players, and to outlaw the type of defending we used to see from the Italians and ‘Chopper’ Harris, but now it has gone too far. I don’t know about you, but when I go to games I like to see players showing commitment, fighting for the shirt, and the crowd can get just as excited about a great sliding challenge as they do when their team wins a corner.

However, FIFA’s new requirement to referees to book players for ‘violent intent’ is a nonsense. It makes me wonder if the rule changes are dreamt up while some clown watches the NBA, and is seriously something which needs to be reversed for the good of the game.

I want to see attacking football as much as the next man, but I also want to see a midfield battle and I appreciate ‘the art of defending’. However, the way we are going any type of contact at all is leading to a free kick. This makes an absolute mockery of the sport.

What is particularly annoying is that while fair tackles are being penalised, we also get to see actions like those of River Plate striker Ariel Ortega in yesterday’s River-Boca game. Ortega did his bit to get Boca defender Julio César Cáceres sent off by going down holding his face despite the tiniest amount of contact on his chest. Seriously, it was like Dida and Rivaldo all over again, and there is only word that accurately describes his actions: cheating.

The net result of this is a poorer game (or ‘product’, as some insist on calling it) all round, played by cheats and wimps more concerned with their hair gel than playing for their fans. Is it any wonder that English Rugby players know the Premier League as the ‘Brylcreem Premiership’? Football is supposed to be a contact sport, yet some players would be better off on a diving board, or maybe starring in the ‘Scottish Play’ than being on the football pitch.

I’d humbly suggest that FIFA sit down and reassess their priorities with the way the laws of the game are changing, or they’ll slowly start turning fans away from the ‘beautiful game’.

Still, there’s always basketball eh?

OK, I accept that this issue now is not as relevant as it would have been a month ago, but hey, it’s my blog, and I want to talk about it! But I’ll keep it brief or it’ll become an essay.

I think UEFA’s climbdown on their decision to ban Eduardo was a disgrace, and an open invitation for divers everywhere. Let’s face it, whilst Arsene Wenger could justify feeling upset that UEFA had made an example of Eduardo, he could have resolved the issue himself in house. But that’s going over old ground.

The problem here is that UEFA’s climbdown has just demonstrated that the big clubs are more important than sporting integrity. Arsene Wenger achieved a victory, but at what cost? Now, the likes of Ronaldo are free to roll around without any fear of punishment, where if UEFA’s charge had stuck, there was a very strong probability that the efforts to clean up the game would have gone somewhere.

What particularly riles me was the reaction of the Arsenal fans to Wayne Rooney winning a penalty against them a couple of weeks later. At least with Rooney there was contact!

However, as UEFA have now proved, contact isn’t a must to win a penalty anymore.

And I for one think that stinks.

Whose a silly Bhoy then?

August 30, 2009

OK, you may have seen my little rant at Arsene Wenger and co over Eduardo’s spout of cheating in Europe this week, and although I am writing this through gritted teeth,  in the interest of fair play it’s only right I address Aiden McGeady’s ill-advised tumble today.

I mean, what was the boy thinking? Surely he must have known Dougie McDonald was going to be all over any kind of ‘simulation’ after the week’s events? When I first saw the incident live today I like the commentators assumed he’d been caught. Apparently not. Not that you can see it in this video, but the look on McGeady’s face after the ref pulled out the red card said it all. He’d been caught out, and despite my affiliation to Celtic, the referee got it absolutely spot on.

What annoys me most though is that there was no need at all for McGeady to hit the deck. He was in the clear, and he had the full back in his pocket all afternoon. McGeady truely is the one exciting player in Scotland at the moment, but it seems he’s seen the Eduardo incident one too many times and decided to have a go himself.

The sad thing is, as Tony Mowbray has pointed out, both diving ‘incidents’ have gone against us this week, with Arsenal’s penalty and McGeady’s red card, but maybe this will let Aiden know he needs to stay on his feet.

Now I’m not saying he shouldn’t go down if there’s contact, ala Rooney yesterday, but at least wait until you’re actually touched, otherwise you just look like a nipple.

I hope once Tony Mowbray sees the incident he disciplines McGeady, because as I alluded to the other day, I believe strong management is the way to stop diving without any involvement from the governing bodies.

As for the match itself, I thought Celtic could have been better, but it’s the result that matters. Samaras put in a good shift, but if his last minute miss had cost the points he’d have been crucified. But the star of the day was Artur Boruc. Craig Burley described his late save as ‘save of the century’. Is that true? Probably not, but you don’t see saves like that every week.

Looks like the big man is back on form, which is good news for the rest of the campaign.

Hello world! Welcome to my brand spanking new blog, I’m going to try and pick up the big talking points from the sporting world, and I hope you’ll join in too.

Right then, the big topic of the week clearly took place at the Emirates,  so I felt what better place to start than here.

What can I say about Arsene Wenger? Brilliant coach? Clearly. Protective of his players? Absolutely. Hypocrite? You better believe it!

In 2006, Arsene Wenger told the world he wanted to see players who dived punished. In Monsieur Wenger’s own words, he said;

“We have to fight it and there is only one way to punish people diving obviously: suspension.”

Yet here we are, three years later and he feels it is an “utter disgrace” that Eduardo has been charged by UEFA. What gives? Whilst most of us who watch the game acknowledge Wenger has roughly the same eye-site as David Blunkett on a dark night, Wenger generally is respected by most fans throughout the country. However, he is now taking protectionism of his players to a new level, from where he’ll struggle to claw back any of my respect.

OK, Eduardo is coming back from a horrendous injury and is lucky to be playing again. But do you really buy that he was protecting himself? Is that why he threw himself to the ground, arms flailing? Was that why he had a Ronaldoesque grin on his face when the ref gave the pen?

Yes, Eduardo may seem to be a new case, a ‘precedent’ if you will, but trust me it’s happened before. That time it was the former Hearts winger, Saulius Mikoliunas who did his best Clark Kent over an outstretched leg at Hampden. The net result was a penalty, but also a two-game retrospective ban. But if you look at the bigger picture, Mikoliunas stopped diving. That should have been a light-bulb in the head of governing bodies, and Football Associations everywhere.

But what it should also have been, particularly now in the days of TV coverage, is a message to every player and every manager in Europe that if players dived there was a chance they could be punished. And at the end of the day, these are the two most important groups.

When players dive, managers should take disciplinary actions. Am I an idealist? Probably. But can you imagine if Eduardo had played for the late, great Brian Clough? He’d have been substituted, publicly reprimanded, dropped, fined and possibly placed on the transfer list. And managers are the the people here who can stamp out diving, so UEFA wouldn’t have to get involved.

Compare that to Wenger’s response, or Sir Alex Ferguson, or Rafa Benitez.

Now the chief of the SFA has waded into the argument, but it’s fair to say he should concentrate on cleaning up the SPL from the same problem. Glass houses comes to mind. However, Celtic manager Tony Mowbray has kept a dignified silence, despite the attempts of us ‘hacks’ to drag him into the argument, and he deserves a lot of credit for his stance.

Wenger, meanwhile has announced he will personally challenge ‘every decision made against his team in Europe’, stating that UEFA have changed the goal posts for this ‘witch hunt’, and that the referee’s decision is no longer final. Altogether now…wah, wah. Nonsense. If the decision was no longer final, the match would be replayed. And have we not been rescinding red cards for years? Or upgrading yellow cards to red ones (Ben Thatcher anybody)?

UEFA now have to demonstrate a degree of consistency, but what better place to start than in a Champions League game? Does this not send out a message we’ve all been crying out for? This act will have sent alarm bells ringing in the heads of Europe’s serial divers. Look at the bigger picture, and this move is just what European football needs: a sense of fair play. A sense that diving is out of order, and players WILL be held accountable.

Wenger could have nipped the issue in the bud with a simple ‘it’ll be sorted in house’ comment. He now looks like he’s losing the plot, blaming UEFA, the media, Scotland and my nan for the ‘attack’ on Eduardo. Here’s an idea Arsene. Blame Eduardo, and then yourself. Tell your players to stop cheating, grow some testicles and ‘man up’.

Then you’ll not only be a great coach, but a manager we can respect. A bit like Mr Clough.