As a soccer fan from North America, it’s hard not to look across the pond at the European system and feel envious. Not only because it’s the home of all the top quality players, historic teams and big money investments, but also because of the culture. Soccer – football, whatever you want to call it – is the de facto sport that captures everyone’s attention. There’s no competition between 5 or 6 different sports that have a significant overlap in terms of audience, so everyone’s on the same page. Although the beautiful game may be growing at an exponential pace here in North America, there’s no doubt that it still lags far behind American football, basketball, baseball and hockey, the traditional big 4 team sports that get rotation on ESPN every night.
There is one consistently present complaint heard when talking to North Americans who don’t care for soccer, and that has to do with the sometimes ridiculous amount of diving. Diving – not the kind involving a swimming pool – is when a player embellishes, or just plain fabricates the amount of damage done when coming into contact with a player from the opposition. The goal is to deceive the referee into thinking that excessive contact was made in order to win a free kick, or to force a yellow or red card on the opponent.
No one likes diving, and players who gain a reputation as divers can find it sometimes goes on to haunt their careers to a certain extent. Sadly, whether you want to admit it or not, diving is effective. Consequently it’s become a core component of the game, and virtually everyone does it at one time or another. Some players though…some players take it a little too far. These men have taken so many well-placed dives in their career that it’s almost certain they’ve practised it at home in the backyard when no one’s looking. These are the 10 worst divers in soccer.
#10 Cristiano Ronaldo
Put down the pitchforks. It should first be said that Cristiano Ronaldo has toned down his diving a lot, so much in fact that I was hesitant to even include him. Although the perennial debate between Ronaldo and Messi will go on ad nauseam, it must be said that on current form, Ronaldo is slightly better. He’s scoring hat tricks in 2/3 of the games he plays, and he’s well on his way to becoming Real Madrid’s all-time greatest player; he’s simply the best in the world right now. That being said, as a young lad at Manchester United, the dive was practically Ronaldo’s calling card. Barely a game went by when Ronaldo wasn’t on the ground flopping like a fish for at least a few seconds, before miraculously getting back and sprinting down the field to complete a ridiculous screamer of a goal. He’s still got a little bit of that in him – watch Real Madrid’s recent Champion’s League game against Liverpool and look out for the cheeky smile he gives Steven Gerrard after an appeal to the ref goes unanswered – but his position here is based slightly more on the past than it is on the present.
Chelsea’s Brazilian golden boy has developed quite the reputation for going to the ground a touch too easily. The 23-year-old first joined Chelsea in 2012 and a made name for himself as one of the great talents of his generation, drawing comparisons to Kaká and Mesut Ozil. Unfortunately he also developed a reputation as a diver, particularly after a game against Southampton in late 2013 where he clearly went down without contact, drawing the ire of his own coach José Mourinho and a yellow card from referee Martin Atkinson.
#8 Ashley Young
Manchester United winger Ashley Young was, for a time, the face of diving in the Premier League. He got a lot of well-deserved flak from fans all over the world for his antics in the past, but it seems to have picked up again recently. Under new coach Louis Van Gaal there was a particularly embarrassing moment early in the season where Young attempted some kind of gymnastics front roll and then rolled around on the ground clutching his face, fooling not a single person in the crowd, on the bench, or watching at home. Incredibly the referee didn’t give him a card, but he was roundly mocked on social media following the game and Van Gaal strategically avoided the question as best he could in the post-match press conference.
#7 Franck Ribéry
The Bayern Munich winger is largely regarded as one of the top 10 players in the world. He was a runner-up for last year’s Ballon d’Or – which went to Cristiano Ronaldo in the end – and Ribéry has emerged as a big game player that has been a crucial piece of the puzzle for Bayern Munich’s European success. He’s also developed a reputation as a diver. His modus operandi is usually based around cutting in from the wing and coming face-to-face with the keeper, before grazing past them and tumbling forward with such ferocity that you would think he was action rolling away from an explosion. Great player, but poor diving technique. He should take a page from a certain teammate of his who makes an appearance later on in this list.
#6 Adnan Januzaj
Januzaj barely has enough first team playing experience to make his way onto any record lists, but the young Manchester United prospect made quite the impression in his debut season last year. His scintillating form when he first broke into the first team turned heads, but so did his diving, which began right from his first start against Sunderland in late 2013. In fact, after only 14 games, Januzaj was the 2nd most booked player for simulation (aka diving) in Premier League history. Not just on his team, not just that season, but in the 20 year history of the Premier League – all before his 20th birthday. If he continues on as he’s been playing, he’s set to smash the all-time diving record by the end of his career.
#5 Didier Drogba
Drogba is an all-time Chelsea legend, and overall pretty good guy. He helped set in place a truce that put an end to the Ivorian civil war when he dropped to his knees and pleaded with the soldiers fighting back home to put down their weapons and come together for peace. He regularly funds ventures for his native Cote D’Ivoire, such as supplying clothes to the poor and the entire construction of schools. I can only wonder if the schools he helps open will have a drama class, perhaps one taught by Didier himself. He may have been a powerful and terrifying striker, but he was also known to go down suspiciously easily for a man of his size in the box, and his pained facial expression would quickly switch to one of annoyance when the penalty wouldn’t go his way.
Barcelona’s Brazilian ace developed a massive following in Europe before ever stepping foot onto a European pitch. As a teenager he was hailed as the next Pele and Ronaldo, the next truly great offensive player to emerge from Brazil. His reputation as a diver preceded him though, and European fans flocked to YouTube to watch clips of the young man dancing and rolling around on the ground, hands clutched to his face, screaming into the heavens, all from having his ankle grazed. It should be said that he marginally improved once at Barcelona, but just couldn’t help himself at home during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. His diving reputation was so bad that when he suffered a very serious spinal injury, millions of fans flocked to Twitter to mock him, assuming he was diving. Of course, we all felt quite foolish when he was stretchered off the field and had to miss the rest of the tournament, but it just goes to show how damaging diving can be to a player’s reputation.
#3 Gareth Bale
Allegedly Gareth Bale has always idolized his teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, which isn’t at all surprising if you watch the way he follows Cristiano around with big doe eyes on the field, just begging for approval from Ronaldo-senpai. Bale seems to have taken it upon himself to model his career exactly after Ronaldo’s, including developing a reputation as a diver in the Premier League. Gareth Bale is actually the Premier League’s all-time most booked player for diving, with 7 yellow cards. For reference, Adnan Januzaj is at #2 with 3. Bale was quite the diver at Tottenham, but at least he made up for it by being an absolute animal of a player. He seems to have toned it down somewhat with Real Madrid, but once in a while he still pulls of a dive worthy of a mighty eye roll.
#2 Arjen Robben
Most dives in football are relatively harmless. They happen, and it’s unfortunate, but we really only get upset when they change games. Losing a club game from a dive is one thing, but to have your entire nation knocked out of the FIFA World Cup, all because of someone’s dive? That’s the pinnacle of frustration. Arjen Robben must have been alright with it though; his dive against Mexico in the round of 16 literally saved the game for the Netherlands, giving them an equalizer in extra time that they used to bring the game to penalties, which they won. Mexico’s coach branded Robben a cheat, and he may be on to something. The Dutchman has a habit of diving across all competitions, both club and international. It’s a shame because he’s also a phenomenal player, but if his diving continues to get results I doubt we’ll see him stop anytime soon.
#1 Luis Suarez
The insanity of Luis Suarez is one of modern football’s most entertaining sagas. He’s an infinitely talented forward – so much so that in an era without Messi or Ronaldo I believe he would be largely considered the best forward in the world, if not the best player period. Last season he was simply unstoppable, even if he did have a habit of going down pretty softly. Alas, one particular dive has forever branded him the ultimate cheat. His now infamous bite on Giorgio Chiellini in the 2014 FIFA World Cup shocked the world, and landed him a nearly half-year ban from playing professionally. As if the bite wasn’t bad enough, Suarez immediately went to the ground clutching his face, trying to make it seem as if he collided face first with the Italian. It’s one thing to dive after a slide tackle, but to take a chomp out of someone and then try to make a dive out of it…that’s some next level “simulation”.