Every time we see a player go down on the turf after the slightest contact, screaming like they’ve been shot, we roll our eyes and ask: why are soccer players so dramatic?
The most common reason these players act in a dramatic way is to get the referee to make a decision that favors them. They hope to grab the official’s attention and get them to award a set piece or to book the opposing player with a yellow or red card. There are cases where players fake injuries to waste the opposing team’s time and maintain the score line of the match.
In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the psychology of soccer players who go to ground, flop, or feign injuries every opportunity they get. Here’s a rundown of what we’ll cover:
- Why Do Soccer Players Exaggerate So Much?
- Differences Between Exaggeration and Simulation
- Most Dramatic Soccer Players
- Are Female Players as Dramatic?
- Do Players Get Penalized Enough for Being Dramatic?
- How VAR Can Help
Why Do Soccer Players Exaggerate So Much?
We researched all the common reasons players are so dramatic by asking professionals why they overreact so often. Below are the findings from our study.
1. To Get a Set Piece
Most teams tend to score more through open play, but penalty kicks and free kicks can be very valuable.
Soccer players overreact when they get tackled or pushed in their opponent’s box because they believe that would increase their chances of getting a set piece. A player appearing visibly hurt is sure to get the referee’s attention.
Penalty kicks are the most sought-after set pieces in soccer. With a roughly 75% probability of leading directly to a goal, it’s little wonder that players want them and are willing to act dramatically to get the referee’s call.
Although free kicks don’t lead to as many goals, they have their uses. Not only does your team have the time to set up their plays, but the taker also has the time to decide whether to shoot or pass and where to best rebound the ball.
Players tend to flop more when the contact happens in areas within and around their opponent’s box because the closer the set piece, the higher the chances of it leading to a goal.
Also, there are cases where players feign injury to get a free kick that would allow them to waste time “preparing” to take it. This is common when teams are in the lead with only a few minutes left on the clock.
2. To Get the Opponent a Card
Players exaggerate when they get challenged by opponents in hopes that the opposing player gets a yellow card or red card.
To decide who gets a card, referees consider four key factors:
- Position on the pitch
Factor number 3 above is what players who feign injuries try to exploit. Soccer is a fast-paced game, so referees can miss key details. If they are unable to tell how roughly a defender tackled the player, they may want to rely on the reactions of the fouled player.
By acting like they received contact heavy enough to injure them, floppers are indicating to referees that they suffered a rough challenge. Sometimes, this strategy works, and the referee dishes out a yellow or red card to the opponent.
A soccer player on a yellow card is forced to play more cautiously, giving the other team a huge advantage, especially if he’s a defender. A second yellow card will also get him sent off, and it’s not uncommon to see players act dramatically to help opposing defenders reach this milestone.
Red cards are the worst. When soccer players retire on the chair, dismissed players can’t be replaced. So, a team with a red card has to play with a man down. It’s extremely difficult to win a game where the opposing team outnumbers yours.
3. To Frustrate the Opponent
Players also overreact to get in their opponent’s head. You can tell the level of frustration footballers experience when they’re penalized unfairly by how they react afterward.
Once frustration sets in, they’re prone to mistakes, lashing out, and in some cases, talking themselves into a card.
Simulation and exaggeration are some of the unpopular practices that soccer teams employ when they have the upper hand in a match. The fact is playing soccer against frustrated players is a lot easier than playing against people with their heads still in the game.
4. To Waste Time
Referees are obligated to stop play when most injuries happen on the pitch, particularly head injuries. This is another rule that players have exploited to the fullest.
Soccer is a contact sport, so there will always be cases of players colliding, and some of those collisions can cause injuries. However, it’s not uncommon to see players writhing in pain after little to no contact. They do this because their team is in the lead or drawing, and they’re trying to eat as many seconds off the board as possible. Unethical, we know, but that’s the state of the modern soccer game.
When a player feigns an injury and refuses to get up, the referee can’t force them to. The best he can do is to call for the medics and have the player carried outside the pitch for treatment so play can resume. Unsurprisingly, after that happens, the supposedly injured player is eager to get back on the field to help his now-disadvantaged teammates.
The situation is tricky because other blatant forms of time-wasting, such as taking too long to play a set piece or walking too slowly with their better legs after being subbed off, can be penalized with a yellow card. However, there’s nothing in the rule books that allows referees to punish players for feigned injuries.
5. To Disrupt the Opposing Team’s Momentum
Avid soccer fans know that momentum is key during a game. It’s what drives comebacks and allows teams to dominate their opponents throughout the entire 90 minutes of football.
When a team feels overwhelmed by their opponents, they may start to feign injuries and act dramatically to disrupt the game’s flow.
This buys them enough time to rally and try to get a hold of the game. For the opponents, the break in momentum may affect their motivation or cause excitement levels to drop enough to affect their play.
Differences Between Exaggeration and Simulation
These two terms don’t mean the same thing. According to soccer rule books, referees also view them differently.
Both are considered attempts to trick the referee, but only one of them is outrightly against the laws of the game.
Simulation, or diving as it’s commonly called, is the act of trying to fake a foul when there is little to no contact. In its purest form, it involves going to ground, so the referee thinks you were fouled by the opponent.
Exaggeration is the act of making contact look worse than it was. This includes rolling for several seconds after falling, faking an injury after a tackle, or overreacting to contact from the opposing player.
A player can be penalized with a yellow card if the referee decides they were simulating. This is more common with cases where there was no actual contact. On the other hand, referees are not allowed to penalize players for what they deem an exaggeration.
Most Dramatic Soccer Players
Some footballers are notorious for acting dramatically on the pitch. These players will make a meal of the slightest challenges. Many soccer fans don’t love this trait, but the players make up for it with their immense talent.
Here are three of soccer’s most dramatic footballers.
Despite his obvious talent, Neymar is considered by many soccer fans as the most dramatic in football. They say he’s a master at diving off the slightest contact, faking injuries, and pressuring referees to dish out cards and penalties.
The infamous Neymar roll of 2018 was one of the highlights of the World Cup that year. The player doesn’t agree with what people believe, however. He has always claimed to be a target for defenders with little protection from the officials. His career-threatening injury at that World Cup may be one of the reasons he’s so quick to go to ground.
During his peak years, Robben was one of the best sprint dribblers in world football. Perhaps that was why he fell to the ground too often. Despite his illustrious career, Roben was notorious for being a chronic diver.
One of the worst cases was in the 2014 World Cup, where many believed he dived to gain a crucial penalty kick in a 2 – 1 win for the Netherlands against Mexico.
The Uruguayan is no stranger to controversy. It seemed to follow him everywhere he went. Still, when he wasn’t biting his opponents, Suarez was receiving boos and jeers from rival fans for diving during soccer games. He was also good at overacting when defenders touched him.
Most of Luis Suarez’s career was plagued by one drama or the other, so it’s little wonder that he’s among our top 3.
Are Female Players as Dramatic?
You might be wondering if women’s soccer suffers from simulations and exaggerations as much as the male sport. The short answer is no.
It’s a lot less common to see women overreact after a tackle or foul. There are several theories about why this is the case.
Some people believe female players are more cultured and can keep their emotions in check. Others say women care as much about how they win as they do about the win. To them, theatrics in soccer is just as bad as cheating.
There’s also the need to quash speculations that women are weak. It makes sense that they’ll be less inclined to fuel that speculation by being too dramatic after receiving a tackle.
Whatever their reasons, male players can learn a lot of character lessons from women’s soccer.
Do Players Get Penalized Enough for Being Dramatic?
Many other sports have people feigning injuries. However, it’s most common in soccer. As the years roll by and rules change, it appears to be getting worse.
A lot of soccer fans argue that the referees are to blame. There’s some truth to this claim, as a close examination of matches will reveal that players don’t get penalized enough for play-acting. There are currently no clear rules for punishing players who overreact or feign injuries.
Although players who simulate or dive get booked, people don’t think it’s enough. In 2017, FIFA introduced the retrospective ban for divers. The idea was that if the referee spotted the simulation and penalized the perpetrator, that was the end of it. However, if the referee missed it and the player got a favorable decision, such as a penalty or opposition booking, then the association could issue a retrospective ban on him.
Many argue that the retrospective ban isn’t harsh enough to be a deterrent since the player already got the advantage during the live match.
The fact remains that dramatic players in modern football are not getting penalized enough. Hence, simulation remains a big problem in this contact sport.
How VAR Can Help
The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee could be the saving grace soccer fans have been seeking. The technology has its cons, but that’s a story for another day.
Right now, it helps referees make better decisions when it comes to key points in the game. We’re starting to see the following changes in the game:
- Unfair red cards getting rescinded
- Players getting yellow cards for simulation after the referee has had a second look
- Better decisions in terms of awarding penalties
The problem is far from fixed, but VAR has been a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, only elite pro leagues like the EPL, UCL, La Liga, and MLS have the resources to implement VAR. We can only hope that, with time, more leagues around the world will be using VAR tech.
As long as players see the possibility of getting favorable calls if they act dramatically, theatrics will remain a part of soccer. VAR helps, but only in key moments. For this purpose, the match officials are not allowed to use them unless it’s to ascertain a red card or penalty.
For now, simulation and exaggeration are just annoying issues we must learn to live with. The game has many other positives that a true soccer fan can focus on.
Tom is an accomplished writer, with years of experience producing buyer’s guides and tutorials for athletes online.
And it goes without saying – he’s sports-mad.