From Schumacher to Santi: Are they really cheats or is it just part of sport?

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A hot, loud afternoon in Spielberg, Austria. It’s Sunday May 12th, 2002 and the usual site of a scarlet Ferrari is out in front of another Grand Prix. As usual, the Marlboro backed outfit had dominated since it rolled off the truck Friday morning, leading all sessions and now the race on its final lap. The crowd had expected to see this scene, except the driver and the number on the front of the car. Out in front was Rubens Barrichello’s number two Ferrari, not the number one driven by Michael Schumacher, who trailed behind. Despite dominating the entire weekend, Barrichello was then instructed by his team to slow down on the final lap and allow Schumacher through to win the race. Later the German would lift the Brazilian up to the top spot of the podium as the sound of boos sent a message louder than any car had done all day.

It would prove to be a landmark moment for the sport, a black eye that left a mark for some time. Schumacher, already comfortably ahead in the pursuit of the World Championship, didn’t need the extra four points he was given and the crowd didn’t appreciate seeing a result altered so obviously in front of their eyes. Many felt cheated and in the wake of such negative publicity the race left the calendar after 2003 and has not returned since.

After Austria 2002, the sport’s governing body, FIA, introduced a new rule within the F1 Sporting Regulations: “Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited”.

With a stern rule in place Formula One teams spent the next eight years, led by Ferrari, finding ways to navigate it by still manipulating results to do what is best for their team. In short, the only difference from 2002 was the culprits were now too clever to be found guilty. In 2011 the Team Order ban was eliminated.

‘To do what is best for their team’.

cazorla dive
During Arsenal’s home match against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday Santi Cazorla made a split second decision to do what was best for his team. As defender Steven Reid swung his left left carelessly in his direction, missing the ball, the Spaniard decided he would fall down, resulting in three possible outcomes.

  1. The referee would wave play on and not consider it a dive or a foul.
  2. The referee would show him a yellow card for simulation.
  3. The referee would consider his fall to be a result of a foul that then gives his team a penalty as it is in the penalty area.

We all know by now that referee Mike Jones went with option three. He had a split moment to make the decision and appears to have gotten it wrong. Cazorla won a penalty, duly struck home by Mikel Arteta, and got his side the lead at a time when the club needed some confidence. In return he had his name dragged through the newspapers for a day and got a little bit closer to having a reputation for being a diver, but nothing close to that now facing the likes of Ashley Young, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, for example. Sounds like a fair deal for the midfielder.

Cazorla’s manager Arsene Wenger chose his words carefully post match saying he would review it and suggested he would speak to the player if he had not been touched, but added: “I am sorry if it was not a penalty but I have spoken to Santi and he said he has been touched and lost his balance.”

And that appears to be the end of that. Arsenal went on to a comfortable 2-0 win, Cazorla – through his manager – got out a message that he was touched and with that, like most public charges of simulation, the Spaniard is guilty in the eyes of some and not guilty in the eyes of others.

Although this case was clearer than most it is still not clear that the player had intent and desire to cheat the referee. This, of course, begs the question if something is so hard to prove then why are so many attempting to do exactly that?

Whenever someone is guilty of something those accusing must always be clear of the rule itself and it is worth quoting the rules on simulation which comes under FIFA’s Law 12 on fouls and misconduct.

Unsporting Behaviour
(Simulation)

Directive
 If blatant simulation, caution
 If minimal contact, consider cautioning player

For the worst part of the crime – something they call ‘blatant simulation’ – the guardians of the game instructs referees to give a yellow card. Exactly the same card that players receive for a poor challenge or time wasting, for example. When such a moment happens that directly impacts a match it is worth noting UEFA’s stance explained in article 10 under 1C on suspensions applied to misconduct:

suspension for two competition matches or for a specified period for acting
with the obvious intent to cause any match official to make an incorrect
decision or supporting his error of judgement and thereby causing him to
make an incorrect decision.

That rule was applied in 2009 when UEFA banned Arsenal’s Eduardo for simulation against Celtic in the Champions League. However, as this case proved, it is very difficult to judge whether a player has ‘obvious intent’ to dive. Arsenal rightly challenged the two game ban applied to their striker and it was overturned.

eduardo-dive_o_GIFSoup.com

Formula One teams have had ‘team orders’, as it is commonly known in the pitlane, since the World Championship began in 1950. Back in the fifties drivers would pull in and hand their cars over to their senior team-mates if they had already been eliminated. As time went on, rules were enforced and most decided to do it a little more tactfully than the way Ferrari chose to in 2002. Their act in Austria forced a rule change but to this day teams easily get around it and team orders are expected by competitors, which is why the 2002 rule was taken out.

The rule applied to footballers being suspended for two games for causing a match official to make an incorrect decision will not be eliminated but it is one that is incredibly hard to force unless a player is as obvious as what Ferrari were in 2002.

No one knows this more than footballers themselves and although those of us watching would want them to be role models who would not look to fall easily to cheat an opponent, the truth is most see it as a way of ‘out-witting’ them, not cheating. For many, the quest to succeed far outweighs the need to do it the right way. Just ask Ferrari. And if the sternest realistic penalty for simulation is a yellow card it is little wonder this is happening more and more in the Premier League.

More evidence, of course, brings more awareness on this side of the game and players are now getting booked – and sent off – for simulation when they haven’t committed such an offense, but that is the environment the players themselves have created. At this stage referees should not be the ones questioned. If a player is handed a card for diving, whether he did it or not, then it is his fellow professionals who should have a finger pointing at them, not the referee.

However, everyone involved in the game should be careful in cracking down on such cases. As officials continue to hand out yellow cards, fairly or not, for simulation, what has been forgotten is that no matter how hard it tries the sport cannot, by the letter of the law, stop this part of the game. It doesn’t matter how many yellow cards it hands out or how many times Tony Pulis talks in front of a microphone. The competitors – whether they are racing drivers or footballers – are the ones who will always choose ways to get an edge over their opponents and proving a player had ‘obvious intent’ to cheat a referee by diving is as incredibly difficult to prove as team orders are in Formula One. F1 has learned to stop fussing about it and it is time football did the same before too many ‘did he or didn’t he?’ cases make a mockery of the game.

PSG 2-1 Porto – On Pastore playing on the left & the movement of Porto’s front three.

Both these sides had already booked their place in the last 16 of the Champions League but top spot was up for grabs in this final Group A match Tuesday night in Paris.

For the home side it presented them with an opportunity to turn the corner. Carlo Ancelotti’s future was reportedly on the line entering the game after picking up just 4pts from their last 5 league matches and the biggest surprise in his team selection was the omissions of Nene and Marco Verratti.

football formations

Porto boss Vitor Pereira insisted his side were in Paris to win the group and brought back many of his regulars after resting them last Friday in the domestic cup loss to Braga.

football formations

PSG use Menez, Lavezzi and Maxwell to get more width early on

A big part of PSG’s problems this season has been how narrow they have played. They have struggled to create chances in wide areas mainly because of the amount of central players Ancelotti has tried to feature in the side. In this match there was a clear indication from the start that the home team would stretch the play, particularly down the right side. The inclusion of Lavezzi from the start occupied Alex Sandro and Jeremy Menez alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic offers a lot more than the standard striker normally would. The French international worked very hard with regular lateral runs that confused the defenders and it was no surprise that it was the former Roma man who got the beating of Nicolas Otamendi in the 29th minute, winning a free kick that led to the goal.

Porto struggle to defend set pieces 

PSG’s improvement in wide areas helped them get nine corners in the first half alone. Porto struggled to defend these and once again failed to get a commanding clearance on Maxwell’s free kick which was brilliantly headed home by Thiago Silva in the 29th minute.

Brilliant movement from Porto’s front three – a lesson for any team playing this system

It would prove to not be Porto’s evening but their front three still had an excellent night. Jackson Martinez, who would score an equalizer just four minutes after Silva’s header, was an excellent reference point centrally but showed signs of his versatility by occasionally moving left to allow James Rodriguez to get into the game. James is a very intelligent player who loves to come deep and when he did he had the luxury of Jackson to his left and Varela to his right. All three started the way the graphic above shows but interchanged brilliantly and never made their team too narrow because they occupied opposing full backs and helped their own full backs get forward.

The Pastore Project continues

The placement of Javier Pastore on the left was a strange one and at first seemed like a way of just getting the playmaker on the pitch. The Argentine rarely got forward beyond Danilo, coming narrower into his comfort zone, and therefore Maxwell had to be the one to get forward and bring width to the left. The PSG left back did this regularly early until Danilo played a huge part in the equalizer and forced him deeper. The goal wasn’t a good one for Pastore who allowed Danilo to easily get by him before sending in a cross for Jackson Martinez to poke home.

Despite the setback, Ancelotti stuck with Pastore as a left midfielder for the majority of the game (even when they went 4-1-4-1 when Verratti replaced Ezequiel Lavezzi) with a 2-1 lead and he seemed to grow in confidence in his battle against the forward-thinking Danilo. Clearly Pastore is suited to being a central player and looked at his best when he did play two long balls from central areas for Menez to successfully run on to. However, despite the defensive issues against Danilo, the placement of the Argentine helped PSG on the counter. With Danilo enjoying the freedom of the flank, he often would leave gaps behind him and when the play broke up the first man to start the counter was Pastore, which given his intelligence and passing ability makes sense.

In the 51st minute he broke immediately in this fashion with Menez and the pair intelligently worked a 1-2 around the impressive Nicolas Otamendi only for Helton to palm away Menez’s effort. Having Pastore play left, but not hugging the touchline, also helps PSG fall into a 4-3-3 with the ball with Lavezzi running on and Menez tucking left. Pastore can then feel comfortable joining the attack centrally, which is what happened late in the game when he had an excellent volley saved by Helton. Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have scored on the rebound, one of three really good chances he missed on a quiet night for the Swede.

Helton’s howler hands PSG the group

It was a real shame that an excellent football match was decided by a shocking goalkeeping error as Helton allowed Lavezzi’s shot underneath him at the near post. Helton, who is clearly Porto’s weak link, cost his side top spot in the group and now gives them a chance to meet the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United or Borussia Dortmund in the last 16. For PSG it was the slice of luck they needed and although they are far from the finished article they now have a real good shot at a Champions League quarter final, particularly if they can avoid Real Madrid and keep Javier Pastore confident. He remains a very key figure, no matter where they decide to play him.

Kristian Jack

MLS Cup – LA Galaxy 3-1 Houston Dynamo – 4-4-2 vs 4-4-2 but set pieces help Beckham go out a champion.

All it took was five minutes. The home crowd were restless down 1-0 and 300 seconds later a party had started. As the clock moved to 58:58 the game seemed to almost freeze in time as Omar Gonzalez rose high at the far post unmarked and headed his side a vital equalizer. This was now Houston’s acid test. We’d heard all week about how great it was for MLS to give the highest seed home advantage and now it was time to see why it was called home advantage. The energy inside the Home Depot Center changed, the confetti flew everywhere and on the pitch Houston couldn’t keep the ball. For the next five minutes they failed to put together three successive passes, allowed Robbie Keane to put the ball in the back of the net (disallowed for a foul in the box) and crucially committed three fouls, including one on Keane by defender Bobby Boswell that led to a David Beckham free kick. While everyone watching expected the Englishman to swing it on target he went short, over the wall, and on to the familiar head of Gonzalez. As the defender won the crucial header in the box, the time showed 63:58, and a second later Mike Magee’s overhead effort hit Boswell’s hand in the box and LA had a penalty. Landon Donovan would step up and make it 2-1. Game over. Five minutes is all it took for LA to find top gear and undo all of Houston’s good work for the previous 59.

Coming back from 1-0 down, scoring an equalizer that triggered a barrage on their opponent that led to a penalty to make it 2-1 five minutes later is exactly how LA had started their playoffs against Vancouver on November 1st and it proved the potion for success precisely one month later.

Until those five wild minutes, the MLS Cup final had been an excellent tactical battle between two very different versions of 4-4-2. Bruce Arena again went with Donovan playing just off Keane with Mike Magee and Christian Wilhelmsson playing as true natural wingers.

football formations

Dominic Kinnear’s Houston also went with two up top but had two wide players, Oscar Boniek Garcia and skipper Brad Davis, who were very comfortable cutting in and playing in behind the strikers. It proved to be a vital tactical difference that made a significant impact on how Houston played and why LA struggled to.

football formations

Davis and Garcia keep Juninho & Beckham occupied

The first half of the match was not played at such a high tempo that the second half was and that suited Houston and allowed their wide players to take hold of the game. Captain Davis, who missed last year’s final through injury, was, not surprisingly, their most influential player when they attacked and it was his overall intelligent movement that turned the tide towards his side early on. A look at his successful passes on MLS Chalkboards shows just how much room he covered. Only one other player in the match completed more passes than Davis and that was left back Corey Ashe who benefited from his team-mate’s movement down the left flank.

When Houston would break, one of Davis or Garcia would always come inside making up a three in midfield, which meant neither Ricardo Clark or Adam Moffat felt the pressure to get forward and out of their defensive shape. This also pushed Juninho and David Beckham, LA’s two best passers by some margin, deeper, limiting the amount of danger they could cause. In fact, LA’s best two chances of the first half came through Beckham, one at a free kick which Magee headed wide and the other when the 37-year-old picked up the ball in front of his own box and sent Keane loose on the left side. With Donovan sprinting alongside him and then being fed the ball, it was an attack that should have put LA ahead, but instead the American shot wide.

Moffat & Clark’s gameplan

It appeared to some – including ESPN’s panel at half time – that Houston’s midfield duo were too deep and needed to get higher on Beckham to stop such great long-range deliveries. To me, they were exactly where they needed to be. Clark and Moffat were doing an exceptional job sitting deep and being outlets for a backline, and goalkeeper, who like to play out from the back. With Davis and/or Garcia cutting in there was always someone for them to be able to find and with Beckham and Juninho being pinned deep, Moffat, in particular, had licence to often pick the ball up and stroll 30 yards without being pressed, which is precisely what happened in the 43rd minute when Houston scored. The play was started by Hall who rolled it out to the Scotsman who then played an easy 1-2 with Garcia, before strolling into space untouched. The lively Calen Carr then made a great run in between both centre-backs, stayed onside, and was picked out by Moffat and sent in clear on goal. Carr then took his time, waited for the poor Josh Saunders to go down,¬† and slotted home at the near post.

Donovan & Keane – 2 men doing 4 people’s jobs.

You can always tell which players are tactically intelligent by watching trends develop in the first half and seeing which players react to it without waiting for instructions from their manager at half-time. Seeing what Moffat & Clark were doing, both LA’s front men started coming deeper and pressing them. In fact, at one stage late in the first half, Donovan won the ball that way and the transition led to another chance but the pair couldn’t do it regularly because they needed to occupy Boswell and Jermaine Taylor up top. Galaxy’s wide men in Mike Magee and, in particular, Christian Wilhelmsson did very little work in this area. They may well have been instructed to stay close to the line and stretch the side’s shape but LA suffered because of it. At half-time I wondered if Arena would bring Donovan back to right wing for the Swede and ask Edson Buddle to play alongside Keane. This would put his captain in a place where he could defend the position better when Houston attacked and occasionally cut in and create triangles inside when he had the ball, something he has done exceptionally for the USA in recent years. It was a move Arena made later in the match but not until his team had scored twice.

Set pieces set LA on their way

Houston’s shape and tactical awareness always meant LA would always struggle to score from open play. It seemed like they were at their most dangerous on a fast break or via a set piece and it was the latter that would lead to their two goals. A minute before they conceded the first they crucially lost Carr to injury and he would be prove to be a big loss in the air when it would come to marking opponents in the box. Davis, now back defending his left flank, was the first culprit when he defended a cross with his arm and gave away a free kick on the right side. Swung in by Beckham, it was knocked out for a corner and although that was partially cleared, Gonzalez and company were still in the box when Juninho swung a ball in that the central defender headed home. After that the game changed, five minutes of madness for the Dynamo and a quicker tempo from the Galaxy culminated in the penalty that put them ahead for good. By the time Robbie Keane won another spot kick it was injury time and Houston were over committing knowing the game was practically over. The Irishman made it 3-1, Beckham was taken off to get his final moment and seconds later he was back on the pitch celebrating his second successive Major League Soccer Championship. He was not the game’s best player – that vote would rightfully go to Gonzalez – and for a stretch of the game he got outplayed by his direct opponents in midfield but it was fitting that in his final game he was the architect of Houston’s downfall. Beckham has always been at his best behind a set piece and it was those that made the difference in his final match in MLS.