Diving is Smart


Drogba in full flight at 2006 world cup

Foul simulation says a lot about a player or team. It is a good indicator that they have “street smarts” on the field. Whether it is an attempt to give your team a free kick, waste time, or persuade the ref into giving an opponent a yellow card, the idea is to give your team an edge.

A lot of people in this country just focus on the superficial part of player’s diving – it is labeled as cheating.

Whether it is defined as cheating or not doesn’t matter.

The only thing to consider is diving exists. It is part of the game whether we like it or not.

If a player or team wants to take the high road and not participate in this practice, good for them and I wish them the best. In the mean time, they might find themselves watching the “smart” team lifting trophies.

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  1. Ben Rogers says

    Hey Gary, I was just wondering. Is it good to dive more than half the time you get “fouled” ? And when is the best time to dive?

  2. Gary Kleiban says

    What’s up Ben!

    You ask a very interesting and tough question. It depends on many factors:
    1) The referee.
    2) Are you going to lose possession?
    3) Do you want to slow the game down?
    4) Do you want to try to get the other player a yellow or red?
    5) Does your team need a free kick in the opponents final third?

    And the list goes on and on. There are so many scenarios to consider, and the correct decision to “dive / exaggerate” is a split second one that comes with experience.

    I’ll touch on point #1 (the ref), and leave the others for separate articles …

    You have to judge what “kind” of referee you have. Is he calling any tiny foul? If so, no need for diving.

    If people are getting hacked and the ref isn’t calling anything, then exaggerating a foul is probably in order.

    Is he pulling yellow cards like crazy? Maybe you can get an opponent a card with exaggerating …

    Does the ref seem like a “no-nonsense” guy. Then you might want to be careful, because you’ll get a yellow for diving.

    Again, experience and experimentation …

  3. Oliver Brossmann says

    I have to disagree with you on this point Gary. Diving is detrimental to the game in all respects. For example look at Messi. For a top forward in the world he is one of the most honest and non-diving players I have seen. One might argue that he should dive more and draw fouls and penalties for his team, but I think his honesty has done just that on its own. Refs watch soccer. They know the players who dive, even if they don’t get it right every time. It seems Messi sometimes gets calls just because of his clean, honest play.

    I’ve read a lot of your posts, and I think you love the game of soccer just as much as I do. From my experience when you love something you respect it. You don’t cheat on it because in the end it all comes back around. Respect for the game is a missing ingredient in the modern soccer experience. I think soccer is the best game in the world, but when i see diving, pulling shirts, hand ball goals, reckless tackles, dissent to refs, disrespect for refs, and more, I am ashamed to be so readily affiliated with the sport.

    With the right attitude, passion, honesty and love for the game there is no way to lose. Even in defeat we are humble and can appreciate the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Its a win-win situation.

    When you cheat its a lose-lose situation. When you win a game the joy and fulfillment is hallow and fleeting. Your subconscious knows the truth.

    Looking forward to a response.

    • Gary Kleiban says

      Hi Oliver, and thanks for your thoughtful comments!

      I am dedicating an entire post to respond.
      I’ll try to publish it by tomorrow …

  4. Hincha says

    Really Gary??? I love this blog and overall you are right on, but on this one you are just way off. You profess to value soccer development over results but in this case, you are doing just the opposite. To teach a young player to dive is counter productive to his soccer development. Sure it might win your team a game in the short run, but in the long run it teaches a player to to CONCENTRATE on falling at the slightest contact instead of teaching balance and fighting through fouls. It stunts a young players growth because he will never learn (like the poster rightly pointed out Messi) to concentrate on what he should be concentrating on: continuing to play and make decisions on where the ball should be going rather than should he go down or not. The same thing with defense. We do not teach our players to grab etc. because we make them concentrate on proper defensive positioning. If they can resort to grabbing etc at a young age they never develop the good positioning technique they will need to get to the highest level. When they are 17-18 and they need those tools they will be ahead of the other players because they have not had to resort to them yet to get to their level.

    • says

      There are soooooooo many ways to respond to you here.
      Especially with things of this nature and on how your mind is made up, there’s no way I can convince you of anything. All I can hope is that you’ll keep an open mind.

      So at this point two things:

      1) The post is directed above all else to the men’s game. As for the youth, they should appreciate what’s REALLY going on (not the superficial “cheating” rhetoric).

      2) We don’t go out their with our youth and have “diving” sessions. Nor would we advocate for it. But we absolutely will not scold them for doing things at the right moments and in the way the best players and teams in the world do it.

      For example, consider if our players are getting hacked and the referee is not calling the game the way we believe it should be called (fouls, yellows, reds, whatever …). I have absolutely no problem if one of our boys goes down and decides to “unnecessarily” stay down for an extended period simulating he’s actually hurt. This is merely one example.

      This stuff is way more subtle and “necessary” than people appreciate.

      My position is this part of the game is essential to its regulation. Players will not entrust the regulation to the refs. It will never happen.

      And the best players and coaches in the world agree with me.

      • Eric says

        “But we absolutely will not scold them for doing things at the right moments and in the way the best players and teams in the world do it. ”

        This argument doesn’t make a great lot of sense. There are a fair number of behaviors that pros engage in that the game would be better off without and certainly youth should not emulate.

        Just one example – disrespect to referees, such as angrily approaching or even surrounding referees after a call.

        I think, for development, the focus of the player should always be on the things they can control, their approach and mentality. The more you can limit distractions related to referees and the opposition and focus the player on their improvement, the better.

        I do think other readers might give you a break if they could see your games. I imagine your technically and tactically superior players often face an opponent focused on “making your life difficult” with physicality. Much in the same mold Arsenal has faced over the years in the EPL, and to a lesser extent Barca in La Liga.

        Although not really defensible in a philosophical sense, when you see the boys you care about repeatedly exposed to injury due to reckless challenges, you might be more open to teaching them to use gamesmanship to protect themselves.

        I still disagree, but I think I understand it. The long term answers are for better reffing and more widespread focus on development at the youth levels, but it might be kind of hard to wait on that when you perceive your boys are in danger today. FC Barcelona did just play a final without one of their key players due to what Brian described as a “brutal challenge”.

        Diving and cynical gamesmanship don’t have a legitimate place in the game, in my mind. But the place to start isn’t with the coaches trying to teach players to play the right way, it it with the coaches teaching players to use physicality as a shortcut to youth level wins and the refs that allow it.

        • says

          Like I’ve said many times Eric, I can’t convey the totality of a philosophy / position in a sentence, paragraph, post, or short series of posts.

          That’s why the book is an incredibly powerful medium. That’s why books are both treasured and burned.

          Again, what we have here with “diving” is perhaps the greatest clash in worldview on many different levels, and between two clear sides.

          I happen to share the same view and understanding as that of the greatest players, coaches, and footballing nations of the world.

      • Hincha Tim says

        There are soooooooo many ways to respond to you here.
        Especially with things of this nature and on how your mind is made up, there’s no way I can convince you of anything. All I can hope is that you’ll keep an open mind (which even though you implore other people to do, you seem not too. insisting you only have all the answers and not really welcoming differing opinions. Very disappointing).

        So at this point two things:
        Your blog is supposedly about developing young players and your post and follow up posts seem to indicate that you were talking about teaching young players how to dive, so you shouldn’t be surprised when your post is interpreted in this way, especially when you could have stated clearly in either of your previous posts that you do not condone teaching young players how to dive (and you never did).
        How about, instead, to teach players to deal with bad refs and badly reffed games (which they will have to learn to deal with their whole career) by not losing their concentration, shrugging off bad decisions, and fighting through rough patches? Why not teach a player to keep their feet and fight through a foul (which could be rewarded with an advantage call which, in essence gives a player two chances- to continue with a successful play or get the foul called retroactively)? If a player is taught to instinctually stay on his feet and continue to concentrate on what he should be concentrating on- keeping, passing or shooting the ball- instead of the decision on whether to go down or not.
        You clearly did not read my post thoroughly as I stated as the players get to an age 17-18 (and a level) where the game (which I don’t think it does) demands such conduct then they have that additional tool to turn to. I understand its a part of the game (now) but how can you be sure that it will always be? With increased videotaping of all games, how do you know that there won’t be an increased crackdown 5-10 years down the line (like the MLS is already starting to do)? Then what will your players do? Just magically turn off that switch to fall at the slightest touch when you and your coaches have bred it into them during their formative years (and which is very hard to unlearn when it is learned at that age)? If you are as good a team as you say you are you should be able to win WITHOUT teaching your kids to do dive. Think of it as an extra challenge for your boys to meet as you beat up on all the teams around you.
        If you are trying to raise the level of the game why are you trying to bring your players down to the lowest denominator of the game? Show you can win without doing it! Not much confidence in your players!
        ALL the best players in the coaches in the world agree with you? As a previous poster rightly the pointed out THE best player in the world, Messi, clearly does not.

        This is a valid discussion (that I have had with other coaches in our club) and I think a very important one for both sides to air their opinions. You imply that I have a closed mind and don’t think or value other opinions which could not be further from the truth. You should respect and welcome a considered opinion from someone who is largely from the same school of thought as you as far as developing young soccer players. My stance on this does not come from some rosy/idealistic source (although who really thinks diving is good for the game), but from a pragmatic standpoint of childhood development- you teaching a kid to fall to concentrate on the decision whether to fall or not during his formative athletic years, you are stunting his development in two key areas- balance on contact and concentrating on what he should be- what he should do with the ball in that moment and the moment to come..

        • says

          This is the problem with online forums and blogs.
          They have their limitations as communication mediums.

          I don’t know you, or the nuances of your positions. So it’s hard to respond appropriately.
          My intention was never to insult. I just have no choice but to make general statements such as “keeping and open mind”.

          You may very well consider the other side of this topic a lot. I just can’t possibly know that.

          Do you have ideas as to why Messi “doesn’t dive” while say a Ronaldo and in general everyone else does?

          • Hincha says

            Gary, thanks for your reply. I appreciate your blog and what is most valuable is to share differing opinions with the same objective in mind.

            One thing to keep in mind is that the amount and level of “diving” and simulation has, in fact, increased over the last 30 years. I don’t deny that, at the moment, there are certainly short term advantages to do it at times until the level of refereeing catches up to it (just like cheating with Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) were (and are being) done by everyone in baseball, cycling, football, soccer and other sports until testing catches up). But can you be sure, as I pointed out in the last post, that it will be this way in 10-20 years when video technology and the baffoons who lead FIFA catch up. In fact, simulation and diving could have been largely eliminated from top level soccer if FIFA wanted it to be by retroactive yellow/red cards (or worse) for simulation (like MLS is doing). I happen to think that there is a chance that soccer may be inclined to eventually go in that direction and that this fad, like certain PEDs will have had its time and will be cut back, if not ended.
            I understand that it is a part of the game now, but it does not have to be, and just because it is is no excuse to say it should be a part of the youth game (just as encouraging, condoning or turning a blind eye to youths taking PEDs or arguing with refs just because all the best players in a sport do it is wrong, or allowing boys to fight in youth hockey should be allowed (it isn’t) just because it is in the NHL).
            And at what point (these are kids don’t forget and there is more to life than soccer, just as Barcelona stresses even in its developmental system) is it correct to teach that anything is acceptable as long as it gives you an edge?
            My stance is that teaching, condoning, or allowing boys to dive at young ages is STUNTING their development, not enhancing it. And if you think about it honestly, you are having your players do it, not for their development, but for the short term benefit of winning a game. It’s very hard as a coach to avoid the lure of avoiding the temptation to teach your young charges something that could win games in the short term while stunting their development in the long term. Many a coach has fallen victim to this (allowing players to use PEDs, use overage players, or play a system of play which might win in the short term but is not condusive to developing players (sound familiar) ) all the while justifying it by saying necessary for them to reach the highest levels.

            Why does Messi not dive. Because I believe Messi understands (like a good running back) that he is actually more effective staying on his feet and that he scores more goals by NOT going down with contact than to go down with any contact. Watch many of his goals and see where those goals would NOT have been scored if he had gone down with some contact. On the reverse side, watch Nemar. Watch how many times if he had stayed on his feet he would have increased his scoring opportunities instead of collapsing at every contact. I see the same thing with many youth players who, if they had continued the play instead of falling, would have been in a much better position than by falling. A mind (especially a young mind) cannot think of two things at once, you are either thinking about whether you should fall or not, or you are thinking about what you should be doing with the ball. You can’t do both. I’d rather have my young players thinking about the latter.

            As far as trying to turn officials in your favor, I do not allow my players to speak with a refs about calls. Their job is to concentrate on playing the game and to deal with the conditions (weather, reffing, other team) that is dealt to them. My job, as the coach, is to deal with the refs and point out problems and to be their advocates.

          • says

            I don’t know how long, or how many posts (maybe even a book :) ), it will take for this other side of “diving” to be made more clear.

            We can both pick each other’s sentences, analogies, points here apart until we’re blue in the face.

            As probably you do, I have responses to everything you wrote.

            That’s why I originally wrote: ” soooooooo many ways to respond”. I wasn’t meaning to be an asshole, just trying to say there’s an iceberg worth of stuff behind the position.

            Maybe I’ll start bringing all that stuff to light little by little in posts?
            Pretty sure >90% of readers here are going to get pissed! :)
            But oh well, fuck it.

        • says

          I should also be clear that this blog is about soccer development. Youth player development is only one component.

          p.s. My personal development as well. :)

          • Hincha says

            Believe Gary, this is an issue I have thought deeply about. Our team usually has a vast majority of possession, is usually the smaller team on the pitch and are fouled much more than the other team. Most refs, in the interest of what they misguidingly think is calling a fair game, don’t call most of the fouls on our team in order to keep the number of fouls called on each team somewhat equal. My players are getting hacked up and down the pitch. I have had to decide how I am going to deal with this. Do I deal with it like Barcelona resorted to against Mourinho’s hacking tactics (by having my players falling, simulating on every contact to make a point). After much soul searching we decided that we would teach our players to learn to play through it, learn to not get bothered by it and that we would address it from the sidelines as coaches. We videotape our games and we sent an edited version of one of games to the State Association who were appauled at what they saw. I understand they are now using to help educate youth refs in our state. This is how I choose to address this: overcome rather than succumb. I think it will hold them in good stead. I have other coaches in the club who think we are crazy not to have our kids do this (or grab jerseys, clutch etc). They call it naive. I counter that we have only lost 4 games in the last 6 seasons at the state’s highest leve, and maybe that is the reason we are so successful: we concentrate on having our kids learn solid fundamentals instead of “tricks”. I have no doubt they will eventually be taught those things as they get older, but maybe they will be at a higher level than all the other players who have been using those “tricks” since they were very young, because they have learned to play without them. Then when they finally do have them they will have a step up on all the kids…

  5. Dave C says

    Doing something “smart” or “clever” doesn’t automatically make it separate from being cowardly and pathetic. I don’t consider going to ground when you are actually being fouled a dive. That is smart. However, diving, or simulating a foul and then most likely an injury is spineless, pathetic and detrimental to the beautiful game.

  6. Nuno says

    The two sides of the coin: bad challenges, deceptive fouling vs diving, simulation
    One important difference though…the second one doesn’t tend to result in broken bodies or the end of careers:

  7. Nuno says

    For the purists out there.
    How do we end shirt pulling inside the box on corner kicks and free kicks??
    Who are the spineless here??
    The defenders of virtually any team in the world doing the sneaky pulling and getting away with it most of the times, the forwards being pulled and not getting the calls, or the referees not making the calls??
    Can we stop this or is it just part of the game??

    • John Pranjic says

      One of my most fond memories of youth soccer…

      I remember WAAAAAITING for a chance to be apart of a wall and having a forward from the other team to try to step in and interfere with us. The other center back and I would literally rape anyone who tried. The referees couldn’t see what we were doing and the forward would throw a fit every time. Needless to say, that forward never came anywhere near the wall again.

      As a defender, it used to drive me nuts when forwards would dive or embellish. I took advantage of every opportunity I could to “get them back” with those clever little shirt pulls and “half fouls”. And for each time I did that- they returned the favor with a dive or embellishment.

      Were either of us going to stop what we were doing and risk losing the upper hand? HA! Never.

      Was I ever coached to do such things? No. Will I ever coach players to do some of those things that I did? Probably not.

  8. Nuno says

    Fabio Cannavaro led Italy to glory at 2006 WC, and deservedly won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2006, making him the first, and so far, only defender to win the award, as well as the oldest recipient.
    Cannavaro was a master at reading the way a referee was calling a game and what he could get away with. He was in particular masterful at half-fouls (just doing enough to stop the opposition without getting called on the day.)
    Was Fabio a cheat by by system playing on the limits of legality and adjusting how far he was going to push it based on the referee?? Or was he a smart, shrewd defender and soccer player??
    Should he be someone he should try our young players to emulate or another example of what is wrong with the state of the beautiful game??

    • says

      It’s natural to only look at the players in possession, and not “see” the “dark arts” being employed by the defensive ones and the impact it has on the match.
      This is the game within the game!

      Klinsmann is being given a hard time by the American media for his recent comments on our players being “naive” and not “nasty enough”.

      And I think he’s right!
      But for being honest, you pay a price.

  9. Wolfgang says

    I think THE KEY point to this discussion is that players and coaches need to develop a COMPLETE understanding of the GAME. Once you have a complete understanding then you are free to choose how you as an individual or team are going to play the game. Messi and Cannavaro both have a highly developed understanding of all aspects of the game. They each make different choices about how to put that knowledge to use. Without this knowledge neither of them would be as successful as they are/were. The same goes for coaches. Look at the “discussion” between Mancini and Fergie at the end of the EPL season. Both these coaches understood aspects of the game most Americans completely miss.

  10. John Pranjic says

    I think there is a line that most don’t see between diving and embellishing.

    To dive (COMPLETELY simulate a foul) is shameful. I’ll even call out one of my Croatian countrymen for his acts in Europe. Croatian forward, and former Arsenal striker, Eduardo, was punished for simulating a foul inside of the penalty area a few years ago. He was even banned by UEFA after video replay showed he just out to dupe the referee. Do I think its fair that received a ban? Yes. If you’re out there to cheat and you get caught- sorry pal!

    Embellishing an actual foul, in my opinion, is smart. Sometimes the referee just needs a little help with raising his whistle to his mouth. He can see the kick to the ankle, but thinks you might be able to play through it or that it wasn’t that bad. Going to ground when things like that occur- smart! Smart, smart, smart!

    • says

      That’s actually the video I had posted here, but at some point UEFA blocked it on copyright grounds. Interestingly, I’m having a tough time finding another.

      Also interesting was Wenger’s take on the UEFA ruling.

      • says

        And before anyone goes bananas on interpreting Wenger, understand that it is not intended as proof for or against this argument.

        It is a single puny data point which can be interpreted however you want.

        I am not one of those newbies who think their positions are held afloat by 1, 2, or 10 examples.

        • John Pranjic says

          I think Wenger hits the nail on the head when talks about them “opening the door for every single decision by a referee to be challenged.”

          That’s sort of what MLS is doing now with their disciplinary committee. The example that comes to mind is the recent Brek Shea incident. The referees chose not to punish him for deliberately volleying a ball at the assistant. Wrong? Well, who is the judge? The referee and his crew? Or the commish and his?

          If FIFA and UEFA want to hand out bans and review game footage- I think it needs to be consistently. Sporadic punishment will only cause controversy. If they want to do it- stand behind it and thrown down the gauntlet.

          But I could argue the same for divers. If they want to do it… they need to understand that there could be consequences. They could help their team win the game. Or they could see a card in their face as soon as you’re done rolling around on the ground and maybe see themselves in the stands for a game or two.

          I don’t know if this will ever be a black and white issue.

    • NOVA Mike says

      To any anti-diving crusaders out there – where’s the uproar over this non-call in the Barca-Benfica game? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tH1lR46TR4. The injury was actually the 2nd clear foul on Messi inside the box, but no call either time b/c Messi stayed on his feet, and there isn’t even any controversy about it. If anyone was truly serious about reducing diving they would be screaming at the top of their lungs right now, because as long as fouls like this continue to go unpunished, players will continue to have a powerful incentive to drop like a ton of bricks at the slightest contact. This should have been a clear penalty + red card for the keeper. Instead, it is used as another lesson for what smart players should do in these circumstances in order to help their team. Arguably, Messi’s refusal to go down cost his team the game (although they created precious few chances at all prior to his insertion near the end). It turns out that this was essentially a meaningless game for Barca, but if it were something like a CL semi-final, would Messi find himself coming under criticism for not making a “smarter” play under that circumstance?

      As a coach I imagine there might be a level of frustration there, but as a fan I have to say I absolutely love that part of his game. It’s part of what makes him who he is, and there is something nearly universally appealing about rooting for “the little guy who won’t go down”.

  11. Arsenal Fan says

    I agree with Gary, the professional foul is seen as a smart way to stop a dangerous play, but is just plain cheating. Diving is a smart way to create offensive opportunities, and is also just plain cheating. But unfortunally it does not get punished enough, so it just continues to happen. At what age should it be thought? I’d say about U13, my son plays at this age, and shirt grabbing and the proffesional foul is going on through out the game, so I’m sure by the end of the year he will adapt and also learn the the art of diving….

  12. KC says

    Great blog. I have been reading it since the US U-23′s Olympic Qualifying FAIL.

    Anyways, it seems like this post has caused a few readers to rage on you about ethics and cheating.

    In Gary’s defense, he never states that diving is not cheating and he never states that it is cheating. He simply states that in the game of soccer, diving exists and that at times it may be the optimal decision for a player to dive/simulate.

    I understand that it can be difficult to seperate ethics from the topic of diving. I would say that diving is unethical. It is deception. However, one would be hard pressed to counter the fact that in certain situtations, diving is a RATIONAL decision.

  13. Nuno says

    “We’re here to win football matches; we’re here to win Premier Leagues, Champions Leagues, World Cups, European championships. You do whatever it takes to win that game. Referees, organizations and associations are there to judge right or wrong. It’s win at all costs. Let the umpires and referees judge. You think about the best cricket teams the Australians – they were horrible. Think about our Olympic cyclist Phillip Hindes, he’s taken an “intelligent fall” – they’ve trained for four years for that one moment – he decides to throw himself off his bike. But he’s got a gold medal around his neck. If you are disgusted by Philip Hindes or Gareth Bale – don’t watch elite sport. Go sing in a choir or play a recorder. Do something that’s got no aggression. Because you’ll be disappointed in sports people. I guarantee you they will – because they’ll always try to find that edge.”
    Gary Neville on diving

    Reality check

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