A Brazilian TV programme is launching a campaign to combat the diving that goes on in the country’s domestic game. Points are awarded for the ‘best’ dives and at the end of the season the winner will be presented with an award – and the idea is that he should bow his head in shame as the trophy is handed over.
The campaign is a protest, a recognition that simulation has become an all too characteristic feature of the modern Brazilian game.
Some sociologists have argued that the possibility of conning the referee has always been a small part of the appeal of the game to South Americans – a symbol for the street smartness needed to put one over authority in everyday life. Perhaps. But there is no doubt that the amount of diving going on in the Brazilian game has increased considerably in recent times.
To make the point an ex-referee drew attention to one of the goals the teenage Pele scored in the final of the 1958 World Cup against Sweden – the one where he receives the ball back to goal, turns and lobs it over the head of the defender and runs round the other side to volley home.
A little spotted detail of the goal is that the defender tried to trip Pele in the process. The great man shrugged it off, nothing deflecting him from his purpose of scoring a goal that will be talked about for as long as the game is played. Many a contemporary Brazilian player would have done things differently. So many times in Brazilian league games I have seen players choose to go to ground when they are one on one with the goalkeeper, willingly taking the chance of a penalty over the possibility of scoring.
So why the change?
My pet theory is that it has a lot to do with the way that players are developing their talents. To my mind there is no better producer of footballing quality than the good old fashioned informal kickabout, traditionally played on any available space, such as parks, streets and plots of wasteland.
This is where the youngster has to come up with his own spontaneous solutions – the best improvise the kind of flashes of genius that cannot be taught. One of the things that the talented player has to develop is a self-defence strategy. The kickabout can be a hard school, with hand ball as the only rule in operation. The gifted youngster needs to learn about the importance of choosing his moment – when to let go of the ball quickly and when to unleash the decisive dribble. He also has to learn how to protect himself.
The star player from the 1950 World Cup and the idol of the young Pele, Zizinho, once told me that he knew exactly how to break an opponent’s leg. It was a question of timing, he said, meaning that the great player was usually much better at it than the also-ran.
Armando Nogueira, once of the great Brazilian football journalists, told me that it was something he was always loath to mention, but that many of the big names from the past were proficient in such black arts.
No one would possibly wish for the return of the days when the skilful had to seek refuge in malice of this type. But it is entirely possible that things have moved too far in the opposite direction.
A casualty of Brazil’s development and urbanisation has been the decline of the informal kickabout. The old spaces that once played host to endless games have been swallowed up by real estate speculation, filled with traffic or rendered too violent. These days the talented youngster is much more likely to hone his skills in the protected, supervised environment of futsal.
Some see futsal as Brazil’s big secret. Brazil produces players by the thousand, goes the argument, and Brazil plays lots of futsal. Therefore there must be a link between one thing and the other.
Of course, there is great value in small sided games, with opportunities for extended contact with the ball. But the argument is a-historical. Brazil was producing players by the bucketload well before the age of futsal. And they were not always diving all over the place. The supervised element of futsal, with the frequent presence of a referee, cuts out the need for the youngster to develop his self-defence strategy. The referee’s whistle does it for him.
The contemporary media is also to blame. With the explosion of cable TV, and the extraordinary increase in the quantity of televised games a new profession has come into existence. In Brazil these days plenty of ex-referees make a living passing judgement on the work of their successors.
For all big games a typical Brazilian TV team contains a commentator, an analyst of the game and an analyst of the referee. Decisions are coming under the spotlight as never before. Increased pressure is being heaped on the referee, who errs on the side of caution by blowing his whistle for everything. After all, the main reason for diving is that the player believes that he will gain an advantage by going to ground. Make him believe that no advantage will be forthcoming and there is more chance that he will stay on his feet – although the roots of diving are now so deep that it will not be eradicated, or even brought under control, overnight.
TV has contributed to the problem, so it is only fit and proper that TV, or one programme at least, is seeking to find a solution. I wish every success to SporTV’s campaign to shame the simulators in Brazilian football.
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