Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Art of The Sell

I figured it was time for something on a super light note that doesn't involve serious bouts of anger and fighting and exploding of blood vessels in the brain. Aww yeah, it's sportin' time.

The latest report in the soccer world includes Liverpool forward Luis Suarez receiving a ten-match ban. The reason for this was because he had bitten a Chelsea defender in the box during the match. Yes, this actually happened.

Video from SkyNews

I highly doubt the zombie apocalypse is upon us already, but this news story had me thinking of something--that is a really obvious and flagrant dirty play. There have been a lot of plays that were less serious that have gotten awkward foul calls upon them.

A few months ago on Facebook, I put this quick shot of my TV screen on my timeline. Why I didn't put this on The Sports Nut Blogs' Facebook page is beyond me.
The description I put with the picture read: "South American soccer referees have had to study high school theater for two reasons: to identify whether injuries are real or acting, and to master the art of taping the mic securely to your face."

It was a nice tape job, by the way. My high school musical directors would have been proud.

For many people who watch soccer (or football...the real football), you're bound to see a lot of one particular thing occurring in a game: flying bodies. Here's the kicker (oops) to the whole flying bodies phenomenon: a lot of it isn't real. Of course, we probably already knew that. Aside from that tidbit from Captain Obvious, let's get to the chase of my post, shall we?

(Quick note: I will be referring to the sport as 'soccer' for the sake of the confused Americans who don't follow the sport. You're welcome, guys.)

In the sport of basketball, you will often hear the term "drawing a foul," or hear the term "drawing a penalty" in American football. There is a certain art to it. Whether it's an offensive lineman attempting to draw a defensive lineman offside or a player in possession of a basketball attempting to draw the opposition into a full contact dribble, it is something that takes a lot of patience and bravery to attempt. It also doesn't look overly flamboyant and like it was done on purpose. That doesn't always seem to be the case in soccer, however.

Drawing fouls in soccer can be quite fun to watch, except when your team is on the opposing end of impressive theatrics. You see, since the gameplay is more fast-paced than sports such as American football and basketball, any quick movement can provoke a collision or freak injury. Soccer players are well aware of this fact. What will some of them do? Abuse the privilege, of course. Collisions are not uncommon during most challenges (I know this. Wanna know how I broke my wrist?), so even the most quickest of check or brush-by could send a player going the opposite way. A foul is usually called when this action looks intentional except in the rare case when it's an advantage play--when the ball ends up going to the team with the pre-tackle possession after the tackle occurs. Here's where things get interesting, when a collision occurs and the on-field official calls to "play on," you might catch yourself going, "Wait, what?" 

Now we get into the "art of the sell" in soccer.
You know when you watch professional wrestling and someone from the other room runs in yelling that it's fake and ruins the whole thing for you? That's pretty much what happens here. Even though you can be easily knocked off balance during a light collision, some athletes will overdo this knocking and fly off their feet like they're the Power Rangers or something. This action is referred to by most fans as "diving." When your team is being victimized by a queen diver, you could get extremely frustrated when it works. When it doesn't work, you have free reign to cackle at said queen diver. When a player dives, the following action will most normally be the landing and the grabbing of a body part such as an ankle, knee, or the head, depending on what the collision may have involved. I do laugh at their attempt to sell an injury or an alleged cramp because it's usually so over the top that I often think the players make bets in the tunnel to see how far they can go in selling before the referee threatens to hand them that actual injury himself.

Arguably the most infamous of divers in modern soccer is Mr. CR7 himself, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo. While most women know him for his incredibly sculpted physique, men and anti-CR7 folk refer to him as the queen of diving. You can see why in this video here. [I didn't embed it on the blog because truthfully, I wouldn't say some of that stuff on here about a player.] If you watch some of the video, you can see how some of these dives are totally ridiculous and may actually be called as fouls. I'm serious. Not just his dives, but the dives and theatrics of other players. False falling like this blurs the line between fake and real collision and injury. Sometimes, when a player suffers an unfortunate cramp or strained muscle, they could be in so much pain where the rolling and yelling seems over-the-top because, well, it hurts. You almost feel bad for the referees because they have to do extra homework to determine who the diving culprits could be and what could actually pass as an actual injury. However, they aren't given much time to determine the difference due to the fast pace of the play on the pitch.

I'll give a good example of this: In the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, Team USA was playing Team Brazil in a very close quarterfinal match. In various points of the game, both teams began diving to kill time and drain out the clock since the match was very physical and very important in advancing the tournament. A huge example of faking was when Brazilian player √Črika dropped on the pitch and began suffering an alleged back spasm after a play. After a period of time, she was taken off on a stretcher, and later left the stretcher off the pitch and began running around. This action ended up being a huge punishment, resulting in a yellow card, three additional minutes of stoppage time, and an eventual win for Team USA. Since the vantage point of the game was somewhere else, she was free to showboat a fake injury and attempt to change the course of the game. What if she didn't proceed to jump off that stretcher and continue onward? Things would have been much different and she would have gotten away with it.

Selling challenged plays are an interesting art in soccer. They can definitely change the course of the game, and it can be pure mental warfare when diving and overselling occurs and the officials bite on the bait. It can also be a great source of comedy when the officials are aware of the act. While it can be annoying at times, it's a vital part of the game. Sometimes you need ways to kill time and cut the flow of the play on the pitch. It is okay to disagree with this, as it could be seen as poor sportsmanship to some circles. Like I have said before, other sports have their forms of drawing fouls and penalties, and this is soccer's way of doing the same. It may be obnoxious and more blown-up than others, but it's theirs. 

One thing's for sure: it's better than biting someone in the arm.
Tasty.

--AZ