Today's FA Cup tie between Manchester United and Liverpool, like any football match, contained key turning points, namely, a controversial penalty decision and red card. Watching the match, you see such events unfold and can already predict the inevitable furore and debate that will follow.
People will always be divided on such key incidents and with them larger discussions will usually arise concerning the state of the game and the problems that seem to haunt it. Berbatov dived. Didn't he? There was contact from the defender, albeit very minimal. No one would condone such blatant acts of 'simulation' and yet it can be argued that if a defender is going to be foolish enough to stick a leg out in the box then he should expect the worst. Nevertheless, it was not a penalty and it was an example of a footballer cheating the referee with ultimately decisive consequences.
Likewise, Gerrard's tackle on Michael Carrick, that left Liverpool down to ten men for an hour of the match at Old Trafford, will too split opinions. People say that we want to see strong challenges in the game, it is part of its attraction. Others would argue that he did, indeed, use unnecessary force and warrant his punishment. Gerrard left the ground and lunged in, in what was surely an honest attempt to win the ball and increase the urgency from his team. It was, ultimately a dangerous tackle which deserved the red card, in my eyes at least.
Liverpool fans will say that Howard Webb single-handedly cost them the match. Others would say that they beat themselves by making the mistakes that we see impact games week-in-week-out. These debates are, of course, the reason we love football. Such differences in opinions, interpretations and preferences towards the game of football is why it can and does dominate so much of our time.
Moving past that aside about the virtues of football chatter, let's look at the wider issue raised in the game today. Simulation. Berbatov's act of simulation, diving, cheating or whatever you may want to call it proved to be the decisive moment in the match. The Bulgarian has claimed that there was enough contact to force him to go to ground but the replays appear to clearly contradict that. The only way, in my opinion, that such incidents can be eradicated from the game is through severe repercussions.
If the FA or FIFA want to help remove this problem then a firmer stance must be taken. Fining Rivaldo a fraction of his weekly wage for rolling on the floor, clutching his face in the 2002 World Cup when a ball struck him on the shin (which in turn saw his Turkish opponent given a red card) is barely a deterrent. A slap on the wrist for Theo Walcott's dive yesterday, regardless of the fact he went on to apologise for it, is not an example that needs to be set. Stronger sanctions must be implemented, for example, a new fair play system that would prevent these acts of simulation from being so commonplace.
Such a system would have to involve cases being reviewed by a governing body after the match and then suitable punishments awarded. This may include suspensions for players, which would increase for repeat offenders, and reductions in prize money for clubs. Thus after today's match, Berbatov could be given a one match ban (or perhaps his first and final warning) and Manchester United could be fined 5% of their FA Cup prize money.
That hurriedly thought out system may never work but the fact remains, changes need to be made. There will more obvious cases of diving throughout the rest of the season, some will be met with a yellow card for the simulator, some with a foul being unjustly awarded and others with a simple gesture from the referee for the player to return to his feet. Either way, it is an issue that ought to be addressed so as to prevent it from detracting from the other aspects of the game that we want to talk about.
Thoughts, comments and opinions please...