I do love autumn. The air freshens. The leaves turn, and drop, reminding us of life’s cyclical nature. Although this task is also served by the world of sport…
In the United States it’s known as flopping. In Germany - which has produced some noted exponents of this practice - it’s known as Schwalbe. FIFA refer to it as "simulation".
We are indeed talking about diving in football.
While England’s 3-2 win over Spain during Monday night’s Nations League match in Seville - the hosts’ first home defeat in a competitive fixture in 15 years - was a tantalising statement of intent for Gareth Southgate’s youthful side it also regenerated debate over one of the aspects of the game that many find enraging.
As England’s full back Ben Chilwell accelerated away from Dani Ceballos, the latter player, apparently concluding that further pursuit would be in vain, decided to rear backwards and fall to the ground clutching his face as if he had been brutally elbowed by the Leicester City man.
The images and video clips have done the rounds on social media, prompting much derision, much ululation, and more than one comment that it is the kind of thing that has put people off watching the game.
It was a farcical variation on a theme that has been fully developed over the years on football fields all over the world.
Let’s remind ourselves of some choice examples.
German forward Jürgen Klinsmann’s talent for toppling was employed to dramatic effect in the 1990 World Cup final, where a spectacular effort in the 65th minute resulted in Argentina’s Carlos Monzon becoming the first player to be sent off in the game’s showpiece.
Monzon’s studs-up challenge was certainly reckless, but as television replays showed, the Argentinian did not make any serious contact with Klinsmann, whose subsequent reaction merited a degree difficulty tariff. When he returned to earth, Klinsmann clutched his head. But not in a remorseful kind of way.
The 1998 World Cup produced an infamous piece of simulation from Croatian defender Slaven Bilić during his side’s semi-final defeat by France. Bilić, charged with marking the big French defender Laurent Blanc as a free-kick came in, attempted to hold the veteran, who shrugged him off . After a moment of hesitation Bilić collapsed, clasping his forehead. He later admitted he had been acting, and had done so at the prompting of a team-mate.
Blanc, despite protesting his innocence, got the red card, which meant he missed a World Cup final on home soil at the end of his long career. One can only guess at his feelings as he saw France beat Brazil 3–0.
The latest example of simulation in Spain has also prompted numerous observers to call for punishment to be meted out in the form of match bans. But we have been here before.
In September 2009 the European football body, UEFA, attempted to put down a marker on this contentious practice by banning Arsenal’s Croatian striker Eduardo for two matches for diving in a challenge with Celtic’s keeper Artur Boruc to win a penalty in a UEFA Champions League match.
It was a punishment in line with the two-match ban levied on Lithuania’s Saulias Mikoliunas following a penalty he won against Scotland during a Euro 2008 qualifier.
But the ban was overturned on appeal. "We were able to show there was contact between the keeper and Eduardo and that the decision should be annulled," an Arsenal statement said.
Arsenal’s manager Arsène Wenger had described UEFA’s initial action as a "witch hunt", adding that any action against the Croatian would set a dangerous precedent, with tens of similar incidents taking place every week in European football. The UEFA statement said: "Following examination of all the evidence, notably the declarations of both the referee and the referees’ assessor, as well as the various video footage, it was not established to our satisfaction that the referee had been deceived in taking his decision on the penalty."
In the wake of the decision Eduardo’s team-mate, Robin van Persie - who had been accused more than once of exaggerating defensive challenges made upon him - offered an insight into the thinking behind a questionable practice.
Van Persie was happy to admit that he had overreacted to contact on occasion. The Dutch international argued that, if fouled, "You are in the right to show in a way to the referee that you are pushed. That’s not really diving. It’s just saying: 'Come on, he just pushed me, so I can’t score now.'
"You sometimes make a little movement with your arms or with your body. But I don’t think that’s really cheating. I never have the intention to dive. Just to play honest football. I am against divers. It is just not honest, but it is difficult. Sometimes you are knocked off balance a bit and it looks funny."
In his 2008 autobiography Carra, Liverpool’s long-serving defender Jamie Carragher recalls an argument he had had with the then Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho when the two sides had met in the 2005 League Cup final, which Chelsea won 3-2 after extra time.
At one point Mourinho was protesting furiously about Liverpool’s Luis Garcia taking a dive. Carragher, a keen and thorough student of the game with a talent for direct expression, reminded the Portuguese manager of the occasion when he had managed Porto to victory over Celtic in the 2003 UEFA Cup final.
"I can say without hesitation that I had never seen a more cynical diving team in my career," Carragher writes. "I ran over to the touchline and shouted: 'Don’t you fucking start about diving - your Porto side was the fucking worst!’”
Carragher was answered with equal force in a row that entertained both sets of fans. After the game, he records that Mourinho sought him out and asked, "almost apologetically, 'You do know why I was complaining, don’t you?’ He was just fighting for his team, as I was for mine."
Reflecting on his England career, Carragher writes: "What some call 'gamesmanship' others call 'cunning'. I’ve seen Liverpool teams adopt the 'winning is the only thing' attitude in Europe, just as the Italians and Germans do so expertly in World Cups, but I’ve never seen it in an England team…
"If one of our players hits the deck when he’s only been slightly touched and wins a penalty, or gets another player booked or sent off, we declare a state of national emergency and instigate a witch hunt."
He goes on to recall the criticism of the then England manager Glenn Hoddle before the 1998 World Cup finals when he suggested his players needed to go down more. "He was spot on," Carragher adds.
It’s an honestly given opinion from a very honest, and honoured, professional. It’s the way of the sporting world, it seems. And so the cycle turns again…