making (dangerous) examples

well, well, well… it looks like fifa and uefa finally grew a pair.

two matches out for eduardo may be fair, but will the rest of the divers out there receive the same punishment?
two matches out for eduardo may be fair, but will the rest of the divers out there receive the same punishment?

the world governing body has been threatening for years that they would be clamping down on various activities in the game, but never really doled out any tough love for those that infringed upon these prohibited practices. first it was hooliganism, next came questionable transfer activities, then it was racism and then it was diving.

sure, there have been some exceptions:

  • former chelsea striker adrian mutu was handed the stiffest punishment that i can think of by any of the governing bodies for failing a drug test in 2004 for cocaine. the romanian was punished with a 7-month suspension and is still to repay chelsea the £14.65 million transfer fee that the blues paid for him.
  • catania were forced to play the remainder of their 2007 italian serie a season away from their home stadium and without any spectators, all of this after their extremist supporters rioted and killed a police officer in february 2007.
  • my real madrid were “punished” with a paltry $3,900 fine after a section of their ultra fans chanted racial slurs at opposing players. considering that’s 0.0000298% of what they paid for ronaldo, it must have really hurt the white’s pocket book.

so while there is some precedent for fifa and uefa actually coming down on offenders, most times (like the madrid example above) it has been more of a slap on the wrist than anything, if not empty threats. until the last week that is. and in less than 48 hours, those that govern the game came down swiftly and heavily not once, but twice.

the first punishment was given to arsenal’s “croatian” striker eduardo, who had been accused of diving to win a penalty in arsenal’s second leg champions league qualifier against celtic. eduardo was handed a two match ban by uefa, meaning the striker won’t be able to play in arsenal’s first two champions league group matches.

in the second punishment handed out last week, fifa came down extremely heavy on chelsea for tapping up of young french starlet gael kakuta. chelsea were accused by the youngster’s former club, lens, of not only tapping the player up, but also for convincing him to break his contract and leave to join the chelsea youth ranks in 2007. kakuta was fined an astonishing £682,000 and banned from playing competitively for 4 months. even more shocking, chelsea must pay lens a £113,000 “training fee” to lens and are not allowed to register any new players in the next two transfer windows.

it certainly seems like fifa and uefa came down plenty hard, and it seems evident that they are trying to make an example of both eduardo and chelsea. and on the surface they should… but let’s looks at each of case a little more closely.

eduardo’s simulation
first, let me get this out of the way… diving is rampant in today’s game. there are many who say there is little we can do to prevent it, and that it’s just a part of the game. i disagree. some of the game’s top players dive at every opportunity: ronaldo falls when people sneeze in his general direction, while didier drogba will end up on his ass if someone looks at him the wrong way. and i feel like it set’s an awful example for the kids coming up, who emulate every last thing they see their favorite players do on and off the field. so unless fifa/uefa do something drastic to discourage players from diving, then the vicious cycle will repeat itself and diving will be a part of the game for years to come.

but i think eduardo’s punishment was a bit harsh.

uefa’s decision was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. scottish f.a. chief gordon smith cried about the penalty like someone had stabbed his mother. [former] celtic player massimo donati said that it “heavily influenced” the outcome of the tie. sure buddy. arsenal went into their home leg with a two goal advantage, which means celtic had to come into the emirates and win by three goals minimum. secondly, he made it sound like eduardo’s fall was the worst thing that has ever happened, despite admitting that his own players had done the same thing in the very same speech.

sure, the replays make it pretty clear that there wasn’t little, if any contact, on the play in question. but, the player hardly has a history of being deceitful, as both his club manager and international manager have made clear. let us also not forget that eduardo just came back from an extremely long lay-off from a horrific injury. anyone who has played knows that after you’ve been injured, you’ll start preparing yourself for collisions before they happen to avoid a repeat of the injury. now while i wouldn’t put it past eduardo that he could have been diving, i think it is also highly probable that he was trying to lessen the blow he thought he was going to receive. does it make it ok that he dove? no. but i don’t think that uefa looked at the entire picture either.

so by coming down so hard on eduardo, uefa has set a dangerous precedent for itself. from here on out, they have to punish each diver in the same way. but less than a week later, wayne rooney was twice accused of diving to earn penalties in games against arsenal and slovenia. where is his two match ban uefa? listen, i’m all for making an example of someone to let everyone know how serious it is to dive. but if the governing bodies aren’t going to be consistent with their punishments, then they risk undermining their efforts considerably.

chelsea’s transfer ban
on one hand, i fully support fifa’s decision to ban chelsea from registering any new players over the next two transfer windows. in fact, i personally love seeing “chelski” get a mouthful of bad karma they’ve had coming to them for a few years now. it’s not like the london outfit haven’t been warned in the past over their dubious transfer behavior (ex: ashley cole and john obi mikel). chelsea have promised to make the strongest appeal possible, as if there is actually a way to weakly appeal, but their history might inhibit them from receiving a softer judgment.

is the 18-year-old kakuta worth a whole year without making transfers? ask chelsea.
is the 18-year-old kakuta worth a whole year without making transfers? ask chelsea.

i’m not ignorant either, as i’m well aware that chelsea aren’t the only club that has been accused of tapping players up. liverpool with robbie keane. manchester united with dimitar berbatov. barcelona with fabregas. and how could anyone forget my madrid’s pursuit of ronaldo. and while tapping up is just as serious of an offense as diving (if not more), i don’t think that this is the reason why fifa are coming down so hard. i think what fifa are really trying to crack down on is the shady poaching of bright young players from the clubs that they were brought up by.

everyone in england has seen how it has benefited arsenal to snatch up cheap young talent from around the world and develop them in their academy. it costs the clubs significantly less than paying millions for a fully developed player, and the player could develop some loyalty to the clubs that believed in them at an early age (ex: cesc fàbregas). but what of the smaller clubs that spent all the money to develop the players from their school boy days in the first place? shouldn’t they be rewarded for all of their hard work and efforts, and have the players eventually graduate to and suit up for their senior teams? i think so. especially if the club has a pre-contract agreement with the young starlets, as is the case with kakuta and lens. (which by the way, the kid does look like he could be a baller one day. see this youtube clip. maybe he was worth it?).

and while many a pundit think this is just another example of “anti-english” uefa and fifa presidents michel platini and sepp blatter, i think the intentions are fair enough. i mean they did just dole out the exact same type of punishment to tiny swiss side sion over their transfer of egyptian goalkeeper essam el hadary. what makes this case different is solely the size and prestige of the clubs involved.

but again, i worry about the precedent that fifa are setting. will they remain consistent in their punishment, regardless of the size of the clubs involved? and do they even know what they’ve gotten themselves into? in less than a week since their chelsea rulling, accusations of similar vile acts from some of england’s other clubs are springing up like weeds:

and if these rulings do go the same way, are we really going to see some of the best clubs in england (and possibly all of europe) facing lengthy spells without being able to sign new players? as much as money talks in the game of world football, i highly doubt it. perhaps the introduction of a ban of transferring players under a certain age, say 18, would be the next logical step in this process. it will be very interesting to see how fifa will be handling this little issue they’ve helped to create for themselves.

———-

there is no doubt that there are some changes that need to be made in football. despite all of their efforts, fifa and uefa have failed to stomp out hooliganism, diving, racism and greed. can their latest efforts have any long lasting effects?

with fifa and uefa’s iron fists having slammed down, i think we are at a crossroads for the game. while i admire the efforts the governing bodies are making to try to clean the game up and keep it honest, how they handle the aftermath of their punishments is much more important than the actual punishments themselves. and boy am i glad i don’t have to be the one making those decisions.

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