Without question, this year’s World Cup seems to have drawn in more of my casual sports fan friends to soccer, than any previous edition. Maybe soccer is getting a bit bigger, maybe the US team is getting a bit better, and maybe the time zones are just perfect this year for lunch time, late day break, and after work viewing.
Either way, it’s been a ton of fun, as my friends are not only watching, but are getting really into following the game, the rules, and the details, beyond just yelling “AMERICA, FUCK YEAH”.
BUT, as is the case every four years, the conversation always comes back to the flopping and diving.
No matter how much soccer advances, one of the casual fan’s chief complaints, is the over dramatic injury acting that seems to plague every match.
And while I get the frustration, as someone who’s played at a fairly high level for almost thirty years, I figured I could shed some light on the whats and whys of the dive.
First, I generally share your aggravation and annoyance. Really lame flopping and diving is bad for the game and cheapens the appeal of an otherwise beautiful sport to watch.
There is however, a bit of a tactical element to a well-timed, well-executed, well-sold dive. When I played in college, I was a 5’8”, 135 pound center midfielder. I survived against lots of 6’2” 200 pound opponents with a mix of speed, quickness, and skill. But when I found myself in trouble, and in a spot where I couldn’t use those advantages, I could feign being fouled better than anyone on the field. I flopped in moderation, but I did so tactically and effectively. But I most certainly did so deliberately.
I totally get that it’s a bit of the boy-who-cried-wolf, but I can promise you, that a lot of those bumps and nicks that look minor on TV, actually hurt like hell.
The shoes that pro soccer players wear are generally constructed of the lightest, thinnest material possible, and often the spikes are titanium. Additionally, the only padding that players wear, are shinguards - and most players (myself included) literally wear the minimum possible size allowed (for lightness). I actually wear kids shinguards, because they are the least obtrusive.
Couple all of this with the force and speed with which these guys move, and those bits of incidental contact (as they appear on TV) become extraordinarily painful moments.
Which leads me to the third point.
In professional soccer, you cannot sub players in and out multiple times. If the manager takes you off the field, you are done for the game. Which means, that unlike in most other sports, if you are dazed from an errant elbow to the face, you can’t hit the bench for a few minutes to get your bearings. Your choices are…
Get back up and keep playing.
Sub off, and be done for the day.
Writhe around on the ground for a minute and recover there.
In certain instances - namely if the player is bleeding or needs quick treatment - he can go to the sideline for a moment, and be brought back on at the next play stoppage.
But generally speaking, those moments of rolling around in pain, are a player’s only chance to try and recover from the brutality of a 90 minute match, and those painful collisions as they happen.
There will always be awful and overly dramatic fake diving in soccer (as there is in the NBA too!), but hopefully this provides a little bit of insight into the situation.