Every weekend there are debates up and down the country about whether a player has dived, how soft a penalty was or whether that theatrical reaction deceived the referee into sending an opponent off – and yet nothing changes.
The same scenarios crop up week-in, week-out, and pundits take to the TV and radio to give their opinions as disgruntled fans discuss it in the pub and at home, all the while calls for diving to be stamped out of the game continue to sound like a broken record.
The Football Association heard those calls not too long ago and introduced a new measure to put an end to “the deception of the match official” by introducing a panel with the power to suspend players for two matches.
But there's one problem – it's not working.
In the 610 Premier League games played since the new procedures were introduced at the start of the 2017-18 season, there have been just two players suspended retrospectively – the last of which was back in December 2017.
The ban can only be applied when a match official has been successfully deceived by a player, who either wins their side a penalty or gets an opponent sent off.
The first player to be punished under the new regulations was Oumar Niasse just a few months into the 17-18 season. He was deemed to have conned the referee during Everton's 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace in November as he won a penalty following minimal contact with Scott Dann. He received a two game ban.
A month later, West Ham's Manuel Lanzini was also deemed to have deceived the referee to win a penalty as his side beat Stoke City 3-0. He went down under the challenge of Erik Pieters and Mark Hughes accused the Argentine of a “clear dive” and having “drawn the challenge”.
He too was banned for two matches, but no one else has been in the 13 months since.
Failure to clamp down
As a result, the initiative has failed to clamp down on diving. The issue lies in the complicated requirements the FA have set out in order for a ban to take place, which has shown it has severe limitations.
For starters, the notion that a suspension can only be handed out if a player has successfully deceived the referee into awarding a penalty or sending an opponent off automatically limits the possibility of punishing players that have deceived the referee with a dive outside of the box.
It also prevents suspensions for players who have dived but play has been allowed to resume, or their opponent has been incorrectly given a yellow card.
This is all before addressing the debate over whether a yellow card for simulation which has not deceived the referee is too lenient.
If an incident meets the requirements for the FA to look at it, their on-field football regulation team will then determine whether it ought to be reviewed by the independent panel, consisting of an ex-referee, ex-manager and ex-player.
All three must then reach a unanimous decision that there is “clear and overwhelming evidence that the player intentionally deceived the match officials”, but so far this season, that is yet to happen.
Ultimately, the initiative has failed to end simulation in the modern game in the way it was intended to, and almost two years later the same issues are being discussed, as they have been 10 and 20 years previous.
The latest figure in the limelight is Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, who was accused of diving during last weekend's game against Crystal Palace after contact from Mamadou Sakho.
The Egyptian has also won three penalties in Liverpool's last five league games, all of which have brought about some debate.
The foul by Arsenal centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos was the least controversial of the three, but penalties awarded against Newcastle and Brighton were less convincing and led to criticism of the forward.
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez said a “soft penalty changed everything” after Salah went down following contact with Paul Dummett, making it 2-0 to Liverpool, and former Premier League referee Mark Halsey called for Salah to “face a two-match ban if the simulation panel are consistent.”
Fellow ex-Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg heavily criticised Salah last week for “trying to deceive” the referee in the incident with Sakho against Palace, telling the Daily Mail all players should receive suspensions for simulation.
Salah won a penalty after contact with Sakho back in August during the sides' first encounter of the season, leaving Palace manager Roy Hodgson to fume at the decision.
“It's not a penalty. I've been in football a long time. If that's a penalty, then the game has changed beyond all recognition,” he said.
It's not just a problem at Liverpool though. Wilfried Zaha and Raheem Sterling often find themselves in the spotlight regarding theatrical falls, and Burnley’s Sean Dyche was very vocal of his frustration at the lack of action taken against simulation following his side’s defeat by Arsenal just before Christmas.
“No-one seems to want to do anything about the diving except for me,” Dyche said. “I want to see people banned because if they were, it would evaporate. I’m not talking about gamesmanship. I’m talking about blatant diving. Cheating.
“There's hundreds of millions of pounds at stake in this game, and we've got all kinds of gadgets and everything to view these things. Hopefully VAR will make a difference," he added.
The introduction of video assistant referee from the start of next season will surely impact the regulations regarding the “successful deception of a match official”, as referees will be able to review incidents live.
So far the FA are yet to comment on whether this procedure will remain in place or if it will be replaced with something that works in tandem with VAR and is also more efficient.
While that remains a mystery for now, what is clear is that two years on from what was viewed at the time as a significant step toward eradicating diving, we are not much closer to addressing the issue.