Cheat or don’t cheat. You decide

By Martin Samuel, November 19, 2009

The Premier League returns this weekend, no doubt with the usual controversies about cheating players and clueless referees. The last memorable act before the international break was David Ngog’s dive to secure Liverpool a draw with Birmingham City. This seems a good place to start.

Graham Poll, the former referee who now writes a column in the Daily Mail, had the best, and most radical, idea. He mentioned an experiment in Germany after a spate of hand-assisted goals. If it was suspected an unfair advantage had been gained, the referee would ask the player if he had handled the ball. If he said yes, a free-kick was given and no further action taken. If no, the goal stood, but if the player was then found by video evidence to have lied, he received a three-match ban.

Poll suggested the same concept could be implemented to deal with diving, advocating a five-match ban. I would make it a minimum six-game ban for liars, doubling for repeat offenders.

Think about it. In the case of Ngog, the referee would have asked whether there had been contact from Lee Carsley, the honest answer being ‘no’. Tell the truth and the game continues as it would, with a goal kick to Birmingham. Lie, and the answer is taken at face value and Liverpool are awarded the penalty, which is what happened anyway. The difference is that instead of no subsequent action being taken against Ngog, he would currently be suspended until December 26.

Would that be worth the chance of one point against Birmingham? It could be argued that in big matches with much at stake players would still take one for the team; but would they? What of Ngog, for instance? With Fernando Torres injured this is his big chance. Would he gamble on being ruled out at such a critical time; indeed, with little cover, would Rafael Benitez, his manager, demand it? There were still 19 minutes to go when Ngog went down. Would Benitez not have backed his team to find a way back legally?

Video replays slow the game down, are frequently inconclusive unless the footage is studied from a time-consuming variety of angles and cause great difficulty with restarts if open play has been interrupted – if a penalty is not given, an attacking team might then have lost all impetus, through no fault of its own. The experiment with extra officials has only added to the confusion.

Here is a solution perfectly tailored to the presence of television cameras at all professional games. Ask the player, and review the evidence later, to make sure he has been honest. It would make punishment for miscreants easier, too. As it is, Ngog walks free because the referee is adjudged to have seen the incident and dealt with it, and there is no avenue of return. If the player has deliberately deceived to win the penalty, however, he can be charged with a new offence, bringing the game into disrepute, and banned accordingly.

Every solution has flaws and no doubt little holes could be picked in this one: but it is the best so far and,
most significantly, very simple.

Last updated: 4:43pm, November 19 2009