Wenger flippeth outeth
[Note: This piece was intended for Friday but our site issues held it up a bit.]
“I find it a complete disgrace and unacceptable,” said Wenger. “We won’t accept the way we have been treated in this case for two reasons. I believe that you can debate whether it was a penalty or not. For me it’s a witch-hunt that we see and not an objective judgment of a case.
“This charge implies there was intent and a desire to cheat the referee. Having watched the pictures again there was nothing conclusive. It singles out a player in Europe to be a cheat and that is not acceptable. Uefa has taken action that is not defendable.”
So Eduardo made a run at goal and supposedly went down too easily. Now he’s being reviewed. This is “undefendable”? In the immortal voice of Bill and/or Ted, you, like, protest way too much, dude.
Is it worthy of review by UEFA? Was this a sinister act by Eduardo? Watch the play and replays and you decide:
Here’s my reaction: Wenger says we can debate whether or not that was a penalty, but unless I’m missing something on it, there is no debating the tape. Boruc touched Eduardo the way you might touch someone to ask if they’d like another cup of coffee. As I watch it repeatedly, I’m not even sure he touched him at all. I defy anyone to use the tape to argue it should have been a penalty. There is no debate; it was clearly not a penalty.
What may be open for debate is Eduardo’s intent. Did he mean to dive? Was he trying to draw an unearned penalty kick? On top of that, we can debate whether or not it’s a big deal for a player to flop for a PK and/or whether or not that should be punished if it happens or it’s just bad refereeing.
Eduardo’s intent: He kicked both legs up despite not being touched. He made the universal arm flail. Nobody kicks both feet up like that unintentionally or in the flow of the game. I think there’s evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that this was a flop. And he knew that by flopping on the keeper, he’d draw a PK if they called it.
Impact: So if he flopped, does it matter? Isn’t it the ref’s job to sort out who actually got fouled and who didn’t, and good on anyone who can fake his way into a penalty? I say nay. There is so much flopping already, in and out of the box, that it’s the primary smear on the game of football (not counting off-field issues). It tarnishes the spirit of the game. This is particularly true in the box, where a player is attempting to earn an easy goal in a game designed to make them hard to come by. A free kick might be an advantage, but a penalty kick is crazy advantage. And if you can see beyond a reasonable doubt that a player is trying to steal one, then they are actively hurting the game and deserve a punishment. It should be deterred.
Obviously, the ideal solution to all of this is to add at least 2 more referees to the pitch, similar to a ref crew in basketball, with each official watching certain parts of the field for fouls. This would put more eyes closer to more players and reduce the ability to dive, grab, or slash open Fernando Torres’ adorable little face. But this doesn’t look to be happening any time soon. And so the ref is almost always at a disadvantage when it comes to making calls. The players know this, and that’s why they flop. But because they know this, and we know this, it’s not always fair to blame the ref. The duty falls on players to play fairly; if it didn’t, then we would all be cheating at every board game or pickup basketball game we play. It isn’t often easy to prove when someone is attacking the spirit of the game, but that tape on Eduardo is about as convincing as it gets.
My problem is that the punishments aren’t harsh enough. Other than elite strikers on teams that aren’t loaded with them, isn’t a decisive penalty kick worth the small risk of being proven a faker and given a two game ban? Arsenal will be fine without Eduardo for 2 games. Other than Torres and Rooney, I think every EPL team would be fine in Champs without any single player for 2 games, including Drogba for Chelsea. A key goal in a huge match is worth more than a couple missed games for almost any player (and that’s *if* you’re caught).
To me, that also speaks to the severity of the crime. If it’s almost always worth a potential two-match ban to do it, it’s pretty devastating. I would argue that the punishment should be a player ban from UEFA competition for the year, or a goal taken away from your next match’s aggregate, or forcing a rematch without the offending player. Again, none of those things will ever happen, but I believe they come closer to matching the damage done by successfully pulling off a flop in the box.
There probably won’t be a clearer PK flop this entire year than Eduardo’s. If Wenger wants to say that it’s not a big deal, or that everybody does it, or that it’s the ref’s job, that would be expected (though flawed). But the only person engaging in an undefendable action is Arsenal’s manager when he calls this a witch-hunt.