For the past week I have sat back and taken in the debate surrounding Alessandro Del Piero and his ‘diving’ antics. From the outset I should make it clear I do not think Del Piero is a diver and a play acting footballer. I have looked at every one of the fouls that have raised concern from Sydney FC’s 3-2 win over Melbourne Victory and quite frankly cannot find fault in Del Piero.
Australian sport has a mentality players are meant to be strong and tough. Falling over is considered taboo and rightfully so. Unfortunately, there seems to a failure to understand the difference between diving and actual fouls. Del Piero certainly was fouled in very cheap ways and perhaps at times he could have stayed on his feet if he tried harder, but the fact remains Del Piero was fouled and to the letter of the law, the referee made the right decision.
Diving has crept in to football in a massive way. We have seen some of the biggest names in football dive on a regular basis to give their team an advantage. Unfortunately some incidents of diving have resulted in determining outcomes of games by shameful acts of gamesmanship. It is a plague on football that needs to be eradicated, but will continue to thrive until football associations take greater action against those who continually ‘cheat’ in such a despicable manner.
Del Piero has raised the profile of the A-league since his arrival and has quickly become a fan favourite. Some are arguing his profile saved him from any punishment or criticism in relation to the events of the Sydney vs Melbourne Victory match at ANZ stadium last week. It’s time to be brutally honest about the situation. Del Piero has shown the A-league for the standard it actually is. Despite the advances made over the years, the A-league is very much lacking in standard and Del Piero has exploited one chink in the league’s constantly growing arsenal.
As long as players are willing to dive in to tackles that are unwinnable, Del Piero will use his football smart to win the free kicks on offer to him. Del Piero understands in his advancing years he no longer had the pace or quality he once had. As a player who has played at the highest level of football, he has experienced all there is to experience in ones career and is using that knowledge to his – and Sydney’s – advantage.
Melbourne Victory players were guilt of over committing to tackles they could not win. They were diving in to tackles with no clear sight of the ball. The fact they were losing could serve as a justification for showing an eagerness and determination to want to win the ball, but there is no justification for making tackles that are, to put it bluntly, rash and silly. This incident should serve as a learning curve for all A-league clubs. If we want the A-league to improve we need to be able to understand the game and accept the issues that exist and work to improve them.
I enjoy watching a player stay on his feet when he has the opportunity to go down. Diving is something I despise, but watching a footballer with a fantastic football brain is a pleasure to watch. Del Piero is a player that fits in to the category of the latter. Many can continue to hold the naive and arrogant belief Del Piero was diving against Melbourne Victory, but Kevin Muscat should be thanking the Italian for highlighting a problem Victory needs to work on.
The A-league has grown in leaps and bounds since its inception in 2005, but the mentality persists regarding the nature of football and how it should be played has not matured with the game. I reiterate I do not condone diving in football, but I applaud Del Piero for showing us football is more than just a game requiring good ball control. Having players of such high quality on our shores is an opportunity not just to witness their skill, but learn from their experience. I defend the Italian maestro for the tactics he employed against Melbourne Victory and urge every club to learn the lessons he provides us.