27 November 2017

Ramsey, Sterling, and the Art of the Dive...

Arjen Robben. Luis Suárez. Didier Drogba. All gifted in their own ways, but especially when it comes to simulation. Few if any could pantomime what it must feel like to get shot by a sniper and what it looks like to flop around like an electrocuted fish in the hull of a dory. It's a pity that such thespian theatrics are not rewarded by the Academy Awards. It's more of a pity that those antics are so frequently rewarded by the referees. With that in mind, we have two case studies: the penalty that Aaron Ramsey earned against Burnley, and the the penalty that Raheem Sterling earned against Huddersfield. 'Twixt the two, can we split any hairs?

For the first, if only because it in fact happened first in the space-time continuum, we have Aaron Ramsey. In stoppage-time at Turf Moor, it appears as if he was brought down in the box by Burnley's James Tarkowski. Video footage is a bit sketchy, but it appears as if Tarkowski did give Ramsey a bit of a forearm shiver as Ramsey went after Kolašinac's header. In the first bit of evidence, we see Ramsey with an outstretched arm and with Tarkowski with one or perhaps two arms extended into Ramsey's back. Did Ramsey dive, or did he merely sell the contact? This is a crucial distinction, one that I'm sure the FA will study in intensive depth, incorporating VAR in all of its various permutations. In the end, though, nothing short of on-field polygraphs would suffice:
FA Official: Mr. Ramsey, were you fouled in the box against Burnley, or are you a dirty cheat?
RAMSEY:   Scout's honor, sir, I was fouled. Diving is a dirty business, sir, and I'll have none of it. As we say back home in Wales, nid daifio yn dda!
FA Official: Good man.
On the spectrum between "he was mugged" and "he dived", Ramsey's performance might fall somewhat to the latter. Was there contact? Yes. Was it egregious? Hard to tell. In the breach, we ask ourselves, "is Ramsey one who dives? Did he on this occasion dive?" To both questions, we might have to demur.

By comparison, we have Raheem Sterling. With Man City somehow down 1-0 to Huddersfield, Sterling made a run just inside Huddersfield's area. There was contact between Sterling and Scott Malone, but it seems a bit softer than that between Ramsey and Tarkowski. As with Ramsey's situation, there are questions: did Sterling dive, or did he merely sell the contact? Hard to tell. To those questions, we could ask, does Sterling have a reputation for diving? [Yes]. In the absence of contact, could Sterling have gotten to the ball before Lössl did? [Doubtful at best].

Does this mean that Sterling is somehow guilty of a crime worse than Ramsey's? Maybe. Only they know in their heart of hearts. Something tells me that they'll both sleep soundly. I must say, Sterling looks like he's learned a lesson or two from Suárez; 'tis better to have dived and failed than to have never dived at all.