Hazard the innocent fall guy of diving clampdown

Posted by Phil Lythell

Eden Hazard solo celeb alt Hull ChelseaPA PhotosMan of the Match Eden Hazard soaks up the atmosphere after firing Chelsea in front in style against Hull City on Saturday.

Almost every season there comes a point when the issue of simulation rises high on the agenda and this year it has unfortunately chosen to emerge just as Chelsea have been involved in some high profile incidents.

I say unfortunate as Chelsea do not have a squad packed with serial offenders that invest much of their game into deceiving referees. That has not always been the case as the perennial squeals of Didier Drogba or Arjen Robben would attest, though the current crop are hardly clones of Robert Pires. As it has turned out, a couple of incidents have thrust the Blues under the spotlight, stimulating popular wisdom into thinking that they are a group that indulge in constant gamesmanship.

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That would be harsh in the extreme, even if they might not be entirely blameless with Oscar's ludicrous attempt to win a penalty against Southampton being a particular case in point. That he was seeking contact from Kelvin Davis was shameless enough though the fact that he did so having rounded the goalkeeper and with an open goal at his mercy was all the more infuriating. The Brazilian might have redeemed himself by creating two goals and scoring another, but his moment of stupidity may well have created an unwanted reputation for himself that referees will bear in mind should a similar incident occur in the future. Perhaps he will be genuinely impeded but his indiscretion may well count against him.

It is quite possible that this is what has happened to Ramires, albeit through little fault of his own. Against West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea were awarded a rather dubious injury-time penalty, which ultimately rescued a point for them and denied Baggies boss Steve Clarke a famous win at his old stamping ground just weeks before he was relieved of his position at The Hawthorns. The decision was a poor one, but not because of any simulation from Ramires. The midfielder surged into the area and into the path of Steven Reid with whom he collided. It was a coming together that was neither a foul nor a dive but referee Andre Marriner saw things differently and pointed to the spot. Rather than assessing it that way however, the widely propagated opinion was that Ramires had gone to go ground deliberately to sway the officials, planting a seed of doubt as to his future conduct.

Against Derby County last weekend, the 26-year-old received a yellow card for simulation and while there was certainly no contact, there were also no histrionics or even an appeal from the player himself, signifying that he was not trying to eke a preferential decision from the referee. Replays suggested that he merely lost his footing in attempting to evade a defender's challenge, but it was still enough for the referee to put his name into the book. And who was the man in the middle that day? Andre Marriner.

Ironically, the person paying the highest price for this clampdown on diving is someone who never opts to take the easy route out, presumably because he is so good that he has no need to. Barely a week goes by without Eden Hazard being denied a strong penalty claim even though he has never been outed by the hysterical and puritanical media set in the 18 months he has been in England. The Belgian gets routinely battered by opponents -- one only has to look back at Saturday's match against Hull City for evidence -- but although he does earn a number of free kicks, he is also the victim of dreadful refereeing decisions.

In three of the last four Premier League games, Hazard has seen three penalty decisions go against him despite having been clearly fouled in the penalty area and the mind boggles as to what has to actually happen to the twinkle-toed maestro before he is finally given the benefit of the doubt. Last season was exactly the same, especially at the beginning of the campaign. It even prompted then manager Roberto Di Matteo to voice his concern that because he was getting genuine penalty appeals waved away with such regularity that he might inadvertently acquire a thoroughly undeserved reputation as a cheat.

The concern that Di Matteo was showing was because generally in football you reap what you sow. Luis Suarez had real cause for complaint after Samuel Eto'o deliberately impeded him in the penalty area at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, yet having conned several teams and referees in the past his reputation preceded him and his appeal was denied. Ashley Young also suffered the same fate when he was clearly taken out by Tottenham's Hugh Lloris, yet gained no sympathy from the officials. After a career carved out of pirouettes and swan dives, the fact is that nobody believes him anymore. Along with Suarez, Young is now the boy that cried wolf.

The campaign to stamp it out is laudable, though it must also not be allowed to turn into an epidemic where suddenly people see infractions where there are none. It should not mean that referees should stop pointing the spot just to redress the balance of the last few years. The whole point of this initiative is to ensure fair play, so it would be rather farcical if the wrong decisions continue to be made in the quest for fairness.

It would be very disappointing if either Ramires or Oscar were permanently tainted for a single momentary lapse of judgement, though it would be positively criminal if it is Hazard who continues to carry the can for it. Simulation is an ugly and cowardly part of the game that blights the integrity of the sport, but its eradication should not come at the cost of innocent players' reputations.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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