Have you ever wondered why soccer players fake injuries?
Injuries are an unfortunate part of sports, and they can happen at any time without a warning. In soccer, every tackle brings a risk of a broken leg or another serious injury, so referees are carefully monitoring the play to check that no reckless actions occur. However, soccer players sometimes fall down and stay on the ground for a long time even if they are essentially capable of continuing the match right away.
This kind of playacting is abhorred by the fans and lamented by commentators, yet it remains prevalent in some of the highest-level soccer games. This trend may not be anyone’s favorite topic, but it deserves to be discussed honestly from multiple perspectives, and the question of why soccer players fake injuries so often must be answered in the context of modern competitive pressures.
Flopping in soccer – how players are pretending to be injured?
Soccer players fall to the ground a lot during a game, and in many cases they take a few minutes to get back up on their feet and continue playing. While some of the downtime is unavoidable and results from hard collisions or tackles, many players exaggerate the impact of contact and pretend to be shaken far more than is actually the case. They often appear to be in excruciating pain and roll on the ground for a long time, waiting for the stretcher to arrive and take them to the sideline. A few minutes later, the same player is back in the game, running at full speed with no ill effects of the seemingly serious injury.
In soccer parlance, this is called flopping. This annoying behavior is raising the questions such as why are soccer players so dramatic and why are they mocking something as serious as physical health. While flopping exists in other sports, in soccer it may be more frequent and more extreme than anywhere else. Faking an injury is unsportsmanlike conduct that takes attention away from the game and spoils the fun for the spectators, but many of the biggest stars in soccer continue to do it on a semi-regular basis.
What is there to be gained by faking an injury?
There are several reasons why soccer players fake injuries and may sometimes pretend to be hurt even if they are completely fine. The most obvious is to simply take a short break and catch a breath, as a soccer game can be exhausting for players who handle the ball a lot and endure plenty of physical contact. Staying on the ground for a few extra minutes can allow a tired player to regain his rhythm once the play continues.
Another reason might be that a team is ahead, and they simply profit by taking time off the clock, thus denying the opponent a chance to tie. This tactic was more successful in the past than today, since the referees are able to extend the game for the same duration of time that was spent in stoppage and don’t hesitate to add a lot of time if needed. Still, taking just a little longer to stand up every time can slow down the game and make it harder for an opponent to mount a comeback.
On the other hand, star players may be attempting to persuade the referees to call fouls more often or even show a yellow card to a defender. They may fall down more dramatically after a legitimate foul, or try drawing free kicks and penalties on minor contact. Experienced players know how to sell calls without going overboard, making it very hard to tell when they are faking. Of course, those who develop a reputation for flopping are at risk of being ignored by the referees even when they are fouled.
Can players be punished for simulating an injury?
While faking an injury is not allowed by the rules, in practice, flopping often goes unpunished. It’s very difficult to distinguish between real and fake injuries, especially in situations where there was a foul on the play. In the most egregious cases, the referee can give a player a yellow card for flopping, but more often it all ends with a warning. There is a gray zone that smart players can exploit to create a strategic advantage and that happens a lot, even in elite leagues and tournaments. Sadly, most of the trickery goes without any real detriment for the player or his team.
A relative absence of negative consequences is probably the real explanation as to why soccer players fake injuries. Professional players are looking for an edge everywhere, and gamesmanship was always one way to overcome the odds in soccer. The problem is that some fake injuries look almost comical and still fail to draw reprimand from the officials, which further emboldens the players to push the limits and infuriates the fans.
Is it possible to eliminate flopping from soccer?
It may never be possible to completely remove behavior of this kind from the game, as players will always be able to milk the clock for a little bit when they are tackled to the ground and try to influence the referee’s reaction. Gaining an extra chance at winning is the central reason why soccer players are flopping so much. That’s especially true for high-stakes situations in the penalty box or deep in the opponent’s half, as the potential reward is well worth risking a yellow card for.
Some of the recent rule changes made it harder to successfully mislead the referees by falling. Most importantly, the introduction of the VAR system allows the officials to review the play and correct any mistakes they might have made in real-time. This means faking contact on every play is becoming less profitable since any dubious situations with the potential to impact the score will certainly be reviewed. Still, serial floppers need to be more consistently punished to dissuade them from trying anyway, but at the present time, there is no convenient mechanism in place for this.