Is diving really the worst thing about modern football? I’m not so sure. Diving is irritating, certainly, but there’s an unseemly practice which now accompanies any tumble by a player in the box and it’s even more cringeworthy and pathetic. I’m talking about the defender’s now-standard theatrical response.
No-one has yet bestowed a name upon this dark art, but ‘Getting Skrtelled’ fits the bill as well as anything right now, for there is no greater exponent than the menacing, extravagantly-tattooed Liverpool defender who has taken this particular facet of the game to another level.
Picture the scene: A nippy winger is bearing down on the Slovakian’s penalty area. Every man, woman and child can see that it’s going to end in tears. Out comes a long leg, down goes a wincing winger.
Did the defender cause the striker to plunge into the turf or was it all just simulation? Will the referee point to the spot or merely produce a yellow card to wave at the man who wants him to believe he has just been snipered?
For our no-nonsense centre half, there can be no room for doubt. He is going to make a point of standing over the prone winger and he is going to hurl a stream of frothing invective, whether he has been wronged or not.
Spittle will flow freely and unavoidably the short distance from the crouching head of the apoplectic verbaliser towards his target – who now has no option but to wait for the storm to abate before he has a chance to stand up. At this point, any attempts to get back on his pins will be thwarted by the mountain above him blocking out the sunlight.
For Skrtel and those like him (for he is not alone, let’s be clear, this is now an epidemic), there is no option but to see out this tedious ritual, whether they have been culpable of tripping or been the victim of a trailing leg con.
If he does not go and harangue his opponent, the official might well conclude there was contact and that the defender must be guilty. Equally, if he has just conceded a penalty, he will want to save face with the boss and his own fans by trying to dupe them into believing his innocence.
At the very least, he can sow a few seeds of doubt. He might even sow a few seeds in his own mind. Method acting can sometimes be so convincing that even the actor can come to persuade himself he has been the victim of a huge miscarriage of justice.
There is also the possibility – and this is probably less frequent than we imagine – that our defensive colossus has indeed been the injured party and feels he has the right to vent his spleen in no uncertain terms. But that is almost incidental. Hell, our No.5 might even feel, deep down, that the player genuinely fell over under the weight of a challenge and was not actually looking for a penalty. But it’s all about perception, so our ultra-professional defender feels obliged to go through the motions, whatever his real take on any given incident.
Perhaps, in a way, it is the equivalent of an attacker knowing he has no earthly chance of earning a spot-kick after a foul unless he obeys the sack-of-spuds routine. It’s all about influencing outcomes and a way of making a point to officials without the old ‘surround the ref’ strategy that carries greater risk of invoking cautions and red cards.
As a striker, it’s now a dereliction of duty if you stay on your feet after being tripped. Similarly, it’s a dereliction of duty for a defender to allow any fall inside his box to go unchallenged. Everyone is lying to everyone. How did we end up here?
Strikers everywhere, guilty or innocent, be warned: Whatever the outcome of that next headlong encounter with the penalty box turf, expect to be well and truly Skrtelled.
You can follow Yann Tear on Twitter (@yanntear)
Is Yann right? Are shouting defenders just as bad as diving attackers? Write to us: [email protected]