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Down but not out

Published: Tuesday 25 January 2005, 11.01CET
Footballing etiquette has been abandoned to help combat play-acting in Italian football.

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Published: Tuesday 25 January 2005, 11.01CET

Down but not out

Footballing etiquette has been abandoned to help combat play-acting in Italian football.

By Paolo Menicucci

"A mali estremi, estremi rimedi" says an Italian proverb - "Extreme problems call for extreme measures". And it was in that spirit that Italian football recently took a drastic decision in order to help eliminate the widespread practise of gaining an advantage by feigning injury.

Landmark decision
After a meeting between Serie A and Serie B captains and coaches, Italian referees, Italian Football Federation president Franco Carraro and Italian Football League president Adriano Galliani, it was agreed that Serie A players will no longer put the ball out of play if an opponent goes down injured while they have possession.

Custom curtailed
From now on the play will stop only when the referee decides that an injury is sufficiently serious to warrant blowing his whistle. Moreover, in line with another decision, teams can no longer expect to have possession back when they deliberately kick the ball out so that a team-mate can receive treatment.

Unwritten rule
In most countries, it is an unwritten rule that players kick the ball into touch as soon as they see a team-mate or opponent down injured, but in Italy in particular, many observers believe that play-acting has seen this good-natured custom exploited for tactical benefit.

'Over the top'
Juventus FC coach Fabio Capello raised the subject in December. "It is over the top now," he said. "We have moved from the professional foul - stopping important actions of the opponent side by committing a foul - to the 'feinting foul' - stopping the action by feigning a serious injury.

Illegal play
"It is a general tendency," he continued. "The fair-play norm has turned into a tactical move." Capello's words had the full support of the Italian media. Gazzetta dello Sport said that Capello's words were: "A declaration of war against illegal play, an electric shock counter to a spreading tendency."

Referee's decision
Several Serie A coaches also backed Capello's stance. "He is right. It should be up to the referee to stop play," said Udinese Calcio coach Luciano Spalletti. Bologna FC coach Carlo Mazzone added: "It was becoming a tactical move, a strategy. When there is a tackle, whoever loses out goes to ground and then the ball is kicked out. In other leagues, like those in England and Spain, that doesn't happen."

Del Neri concurs
AS Roma coach Luigi Del Neri agreed. "In England, matches are not interrupted as often and I think that's the right way," he said. "There's no need to stop all the time as we should be able to understand whether an injury is serious or not. If it's not, I don't see why we should have to kick the ball out. I think the play should stop only when there is a clash of heads in a challenge for a header but not for a simple tackle."

Imperfect world
US Città di Palermo coach Francesco Guidolin had arguably the best solution for solving this problem, saying: "Everything would be a lot simpler if players just agreed not to cheat each other." Unfortunately this solution would only work in a perfect world. Maybe the 'extreme measures' taken this week will have a bigger impact on eliminating play-acting from Italian football.

Last updated: 25/01/05 12.30CET

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