It is a scourge of modern football that unites the bitterest of rival fans in universal condemnation: player simulation. Powerful, muscular men collapsing waif-like in an enervated heap pretending to be gravely wounded in Oscar-worthy performances that would put the world’s greatest thespians to shame.
The latest spectacle was on show last weekend when Tottenham’s Son Heung-min channelled his inner Laurence Olivier after United’s Scott McTominay had the temerity to brush off Son’s encroaching arm with his fingers, which flicked his opponent’s cheek. Down went Son in a theatrical crumple dramatically clutching his face as if he’d had his eyes gouged out in a particularly gruesome production of King Lear.
Common sense should have dictated it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. Unfortunately for United, it was controversially judged a foul after VAR intervened, and the resulting goal by Edinson Cavani was chalked off.
Unsurprisingly, Son’s play acting generated deserved post-match opprobrium from media and fans alike, worthy of a Shakespearean villain. Yet would the incident have drawn sufficient attention to have been referred to on-field referee Chris Kavanagh by the VAR had Son not gone down in such exaggerated fashion?
It is all very well to condemn players for dishonesty, but why should they be honest if dishonesty pays?
Somebody should tell Mason Mount.
In yesterday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, Chelsea’s young star naively stayed on his feet when scythed wildly by Fernandinho as he attempted a surging run through midfield on the half-hour mark.
At the time, advantage was played; once the move ended, the referee, Mike Dean – who else? – beckoned Fernandinho over. Surely, to brandish a deserved yellow card? Nope, not a whiff. Just a nice, reassuring chat along the lines of ‘do be a good chap and behave yourself.’
Would the referee’s response have been so benign had Mount flung himself to the ground like he had been shot at point blank range and writhed around in contorted agony? Or would Fernandinho have been lucky to stay on the pitch?
Ask any player why they do it and they will all plead the same justification: because referees won’t give the decision unless the foul is advertised in refulgent glory with a sparkling song and dance routine.
United’s Marcus Rashford spoke back in January about how former manager Jose Mourinho advised him to be more artful if he wanted to get the penalty decisions he felt he wasn’t being given. “Jose said, ‘if you’re not savvy about the way you do it, then you are not going to [get] give[n] it’.”
In other words, if you don’t go down when you are fouled, no penalty.
Therefore, rather than simply blaming players for faking it, surely the onus should be on referees to punish the intent of the offending player irrespective of the outcome. If players can see that staying on their feet is not going to be punished, then maybe they would stop going down so easily.
But that would require common sense, and since when has any kind of decision-making in football involved engaging a brain?