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Champions League Comment: UEFA's Punishment Of Eduardo Is Vindictive And Hasty

Let's get this out of the way first: Eduardo dived. The Arsenal striker threw himself to the floor against Celtic and won a penalty because of it. Eduardo dived - we can now call him a diver if we want. Dive, dive, dive. He dived.

Yes, I will not sit here and make an impassioned defense of a man who cheated in a game of football. Truth be told, I suffer no displeasure when a guilty man receives his punishment, as Eduardo did when he was banned for two matches by UEFA for deceiving the referee. So, for the avoidance of doubt: Eduardo cheated, and has been punished, and a punishment is certainly appropriate in such a blatant case.

But what worries me is UEFA's motivation, their action, their severity of punishment, and what it means for the officiating of continental games. Arsenal, led by Arsene Wenger, have asked this very question: why Eduardo, and why now?

Eduardo was punished under Article 10, section 1, point c of the UEFA Disciplinary Guide, which reads as follows:
  • "suspension for two competition matches or for a specified period for acting with the obvious intent to cause any match official to make an incorrect decision or supporting his error of judgement and thereby causing him to make an incorrect decision."
Some media outlets have said that this is the very first time the rule has been deployed. In fact this isn't the case: UEFA banned Lithuania forward Saulius Mikoliunas for two Euro 2008 qualifiers after a penalty-winning dive against Scotland (which, to this observer at least, was far less flagrant than Eduardo's in any case) under the auspices of 10.1.c.

But the gist of the press claim remains: this is not a usual mode of punishment, and its irregular enforcement sends a very, very clear message. That message, though, is one of hastiness and inconsistency. It is not the message that most fans and administrators (and indeed footballers) would agree on, namely that diving must be stamped out. No, it's that diving is a bad thing - but we're only going to act with anything resembling decisiveness if the top brass are made to look stupid because of it. Dive and get caught? Slap on the wrist, yellow card. Dive and get away with it? When we do catch up with you, you'll be sorry - and you earn the equivalent of four yellows for being sly enough to fool a ref.

Examine the wording of the article again. It can be interpreted to apply to any case of deception, but the second clause clearly indicates that it will be used mainly in those cases in which the simulation successfully fools the referee into making an incorrect decision. (The fact that it has been used against Eduardo and Mikoliunas, and not for others, suggests that this is the spirit of the law, too.)

One can see the appeal in this: namely, if it results in a penalty - a clear example of a game-changing set-piece - the punishment can be more proportional. But must the 18-yard-box be the line drawn? We can all remember examples in the CL of diving to win free-kicks in midfield that result in goals from the restart of play. Yet how many of these have attracted similar attention from Platini and company? Precisely none.

Indeed, one can't help but notice a uniting factor between the two cases: that both were surrounded by significant media outcry. Granted, Scotland-Lithuania is not a match that sets the continent's pulse racing, but Mikoliunas at the time played in Scotland and the local press were predictably furious at his antics: cue UEFA action. Arsenal's Eduardo is a high-profile player whose actions took place live on TV right across Europe, and were criticized by Celtic players after the game (but not by coach Tony Mowbray, who comported himself with an admirable level of dignity.) Cue UEFA action.

As for the ban itself, let's consider the timing. He'll miss two games in a group stage that Arsenal are expected to walk through? The fans are hardly throwing themselves off a cliff at the prospect. Certainly by banning a player from a Premier League club UEFA have not gone after a soft target - particularly given Arsene Wenger's love of a good meta-footballing scrap (just wait until the question of youth football contracts really gets a public debate) -  but would they have done the same for, say, a semi-final match? I don't even need to say "wait and see": we can look back at previous seasons and say that it has not been the case so far, and we are under no obligation to believe that it will be this time. (Arsenal, incidentally, are waiting to hear from UEFA about their decision in greater detail on Thursday. Might an appeal follow? I'll stick my neck out and say: no.)

Finally, and on a broader note, the inconsistency regarding the use of video evidence is yet again thrown into stark relief. Ask a Platini loyalist for the use of video evidence during a game and monocles will plonk into champagne glasses with horror before you can say wide-angle zoom lens. But behind closed doors, after the games, can UEFA operatives decide not only on contact but also intent while wearing the slow-mo button down to a nub? You bet they can - and Eduardo pays the price while few others do.

Granted, the debate over American football-style incident appeals is not as clear-cut as all that. After all, it could severely interrupt the flow of the game, among other things. But neither is it an elephant in the room that we can ignore for much longer - particularly if the alternative appears to be an opaque, selective application of the rules that doesn't even have the benefit of immediacy or (limited) transparency.

According to the English tabloid press, UEFA chief executive David Taylor said in the aftermath of Arsene Wenger's criticisms of the decision, "No-one is re-reffing a game: this is about the image of football." It's certainly all about image. But that image is UEFA's, and with each hasty, knee-jerk action they darken it a little bit more.

And that's the thing: UEFA are drawing as much criticism as Eduardo right now. Yet if you look at that dive in isolation, you wonder how that could ever be the case. Well, it's UEFA's inconsistency that's brought them to this. They are somehow now duty-bound to defend punishing a clear case of cheating. How did they ever let it come to this!?

Ewan Macdonald,

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