Gareth Bale missed Tottenham’s 3-1 win over Reading on Tuesday, sitting out a yellow-card suspension earned in large part by three recent cautions for diving.
The latest yellow card — Bale’s third for diving in just over a month — was awarded after he tumbled at the feet of Sunderland’s Greg Gardner on Saturday. As usual, a minor bit of contact led to his willing submission to gravity. You decide if the card was proper:
Frustrated by the cards, and inconvenienced by the suspension, Bale and Tottenham are starting to push back. Bale’s manager, Andre Villas-Boas, said the recent treatment of his star by Premier League referees was beginning to look like “persecution,” even though he met with Bale and the referee Andre Marriner recently at Tottenham’s training ground to discuss the player’s growing rep as a diver.
Bale defended his honor by saying that he has little choice but to go down when he was fouled.
“It’s not something I’m doing,” Bale said. “It’s people thinking I’m diving.”
Rob Hughes writes that he, for one, is not yet ready to label Bale a cheat, as some have.
Some might say that, at the exceptional speed at which Bale moves, the slightest kick or tug might unbalance him. Others claim that they know a diver when they see one — and that Bale is a diver.
The media feast on the good-guy, bad-guy controversy. Similar reputations grow around Luis Suárez of Liverpool and Ashley Young, the English winger of Manchester United.
But who among us knows the truth? Which commentators ever moved so fleet of foot as these? And how can they judge whether a winger is brought down by a crafty nudge or kick, or whether he is artfully faking his own fall?
Bale’s problem appears to be that he often falls too artfully. This is Suárez’s problem, too; he is a master of the kind of tumble that Run of Play’s Brian Phillips once described as “quenching an imaginary uniform fire.” (N.B.A. players are increasingly being punished for flopping too, this season, though outrage for it among basketball fans from high school to the pros is curiously absent.)
Is Bale hurting his case by overselling the fouls against him? The goal of going down should be to get the referee to blow his whistle. It should not make everyone want to shout: “C’mon! Get up!” This clip makes that point, and also includes Bale’s recent cards against Liverpool and Fulham.
Let’s not be naive. Every player in soccer dives; some just do it better than others. (Phil Neville is, by his own admission, among the worst at it.) And a player falling on the ball to get a free kick in his own half, or a midfielder tumbling along the sideline, ought to earn the same scorn and sanction. But they don’t.
Embellishment of an actual foul, though, even if it’s only a nudge, is certainly not not the worst kind of simulation. Or is it? Doesn’t matter — it’s all diving in the end.
The question as we start the new year is the same as it has always been: is it cheating?