Simulation crackdown: If they like the spotlight so much, put A-League actors up before the Match Review Panel


Phillip Cancar’s rather comical and momentarily delayed dive in the 36th minute of Newcastle Jets 3-1 win over Sydney FC on Sunday was a clear reminder of the blight that simulation is on the game of football.

Sydney’s Robert Mak was the guilty party, red carded for violent conduct after Cancar had drawn him into a feisty situation seeking the free-kick, and to further stoke Sydney’s frustration during what was another bad day for Sky Blues.

Mak was annoyed, turned away from the defender and made a “leave me alone” gesture with his left arm as he flung it into the air. Sadly for him, it caught Cancar rather gently on the face, nothing more than a glancing blow that would hardly have swatted a fly to its death.

In the true ‘spirit’ of simulation, Cancar acted as though he had been shot and took a rather thespian dive to the ground. He had his hands to his face, making it clear to the referee that he had been belted by Mak, intentionally. leaving him in need of urgent medical attention.

Rober Mak is shown ????

Sydney’s away day in Newcastle is quickly turning into a NIGHTMARE ????#NEWvSYD

— Paramount+ Australia (@ParamountPlusAU) April 7, 2024

I’m not sure who thought the offence was a red, neither coach indicated so in the post-match press conference, Mak certainly didn’t and I would guess Cancar was applauded by his teammates for getting one over Sydney with a shrewd piece of simulation that football can well do without.

Whilst being cognisant of not throwing Cancar under the bus to take the fall for the many players that have done something similar this season and in campaigns past, the need for such incidents to be reviewed by the Independent Match Review Panel is urgent.

The panel involves itself in the aftermath of matches, attempting to ensure whether a clear or obvious mistake has been made and that justice is brought quickly to the situation if required.

Often the situations that require the MRP’s involvement concern the awarding of a card to the wrong player in a case of mistaken identity, or they may use the laws of the game to identify a clear and obvious error made by a referee and adjust or dismiss the full extent of the punishment that has followed.

However, the MRP primarily looks at mistakes made by officials in their decisions during the ninety minutes. Fundamentally, the system is not intended to attempt to spot other moments that have been missed.

For example, should a player clearly bring an opponent down in the area where a red card should have been shown, the referee waves play on and the VAR finds insufficient evidence to overturn the decision, the player escapes scot-free and will not be red carded in retrospect.

As is the case with Cancar.

“A big hard centre back going down like that is um…pretty embarrassing” ????

Needless to say Luke Brattan wasn’t best pleased with the red card decision agains Robert Mak in the first half ????#NEWvSYD

— Paramount+ Australia (@ParamountPlusAU) April 7, 2024

Blind Freddy can see precisely what he was up to, everyone watching at home picked it up very quickly and perhaps the fans inside the ground and the referee himself were the only people not to fully grasp his dramatised reaction to what was far from a violent act.

How the VAR interpreted it as such is anyone’s guess and Sydney deserve an apology from the player himself and the referee on the day, citing the clear and obvious error that was made.

I would go a step further.

Simulation hurts football, always has and always will, yet when the game is openly mocked by followers of other sports, the need to obliterate it becomes ever more clear.

Cricket’s use of technology has created a few interesting moments where players become wary of claiming catches down low to the ground and then being made to look like a cheat if the footage shows otherwise.

Once played under an honesty policy where the fielder’s word was taken, the technology has actually lessened the indecision and temptation of cricketers to perhaps see what they wanted to see, rather than what actually took place.

Referee Jack Morgan gestures towards Phillip Cancar. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Had Cancar been aware that any obvious examples of simulation would likely see him mentioned at the MRP and subsequently banned for a game or two, I would suggest he would be far less likely to have acted the way he did.

A footballer is happy to take a shot at gamesmanship, knowing full well that even if spotted, the worst he or she will cop is a yellow card.

Dragging players before the panel when simulation is clear, if diving occurs without contact or when a so-called injured player springs back to their feet when the ball suddenly re-enters their attacking third, is a logical step forward for football.

There is nothing more embarrassing for players to be caught play-acting or attempting to gain an advantage through dishonest means.

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Perhaps if they were called out and punished for doing so the game would look a whole lot better and the majority would stop doing it.

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