SAO PAULO — Fred denies diving in Brazil’s World Cup opener that led to a disputed, go-ahead penalty kick. France’s Loic Remy considers the fall a disgrace and has called for punishment.
The debate over diving began on Day 1 of this World Cup, and it has people everywhere talking about whether simulation is simply part of the game or bad for the sport altogether.
Coaches at all levels and players young and old are questioning the motives and sportsmanship of global stars on the sport’s biggest stage — and how such examples of flopping might affect the on-field behavior of the next generation.
Even 2012 US Olympic diving coach Drew Johansen is taking notice.
"I have been watching the World Cup and have been very impressed with the dives I have seen," said Johansen, who coaches at Indiana University. "Similar to the sport of diving, it’s all about getting the judges’ (referees’) attention. I think Fred’s use of his arms really got the job done on that dive. I would score at 9.5 on the Olympic scale."
Fred went down in the area under minimal contact from Dejan Lovren in the 71st minute last Thursday, leading to Neymar’s penalty kick that put the Selecao ahead 2-1.
A day later, Remy called for Fred to be "punished" for the move — one that incensed the Croatians and put referee Yuichi Nishimura of Japan in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
A furious Lovren scoffed, "We can give the World Cup directly to Brazil."
"He does it well, throws himself at the right time because you can see that there’s no foul at all. Lovren doesn’t pull him back," said Remy, who played two seasons with Fred for Lyon from 2006-08. "Experience comes into it, and it’s important to fall at the right time. For me, the striker should be punished for this kind of wrongdoing."
I think Fred’s use of his arms really got the job done on that dive. I would score at 9.5 on the Olympic scale.
— Diving coach Drew Johansen
Players can be disciplined later for diving, though Fred wasn’t, and it rarely happens at the highest levels of the sport. In basketball, the NBA has tried to crack down, and its policy was on display during the league’s recent finals.
Miami’s Dwyane Wade was hit with a $5,000 fine June 9 for flopping in Game 2 on a foul by the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili.
"The ‘soccer dive’ has been perfected by our South American friends," said Todd Yeagley, a former MLS player and executive who’s now the soccer coach at Indiana. "Unfortunately, diving is utilized by some of our finest attackers to create free-kick opportunities and penalty kicks. The officials have a tall order to determine whether it was a true foul or a well-orchestrated dive. The potential yellow for diving is calculated by many as a risk worth taking to get a key PK call by the official."
It sure appeared that way for Fred in his team’s 3-1 victory. Youth soccer coaches hope youngsters don’t attempt to mimic the World Cup way after watching the tournament.
"The diving is certainly translated to the youth game, unfortunately," said Rob Risley, a former player in the UK and at Marshall University who has coached youth soccer for 15 years, currently at FC Los Angeles. "Players learn to anticipate contact and take that as a foul rather than using their body to protect the ball and work through the contact."
Meanwhile, the apparent dives keep coming. US right back Fabian Johnson threw his arms in the air to protest during the second half of Monday’s 2-1 win against Ghana when it looked as though he made only the slightest contact on the back of Jonathan Mensah in the 57th minute.
"After watching the dives done by Brazil footballers I can only imagine how their diving team is improving in preparation for the (Olympic) games in Rio 2016," cracked Johansen. "I think I will call our IU soccer coach Yeagley … and see if I can learn any new diving techniques to help give my team an edge."