Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Dida and Celtic Issue

The UEFA inquiry into the happenings in the Celtic vs AC Milan Champions League match on October 3rd will take place tomorrow.

For those not initiated with the proceedings; after Celtic scored what turned out to be the winning goal, a Celtic fan ran onto the pitch and appeared to tap AC Milan goalkeeper Dida on the face as he ran off towards the Celtic players to celebrate. Dida initially ran after him, before realising that would just make matters worse. He then proceeded to fall down onto the grass as if carrying a serious injury and was stretchered off the pitch, holding an ice pack over his face.

It was an incredibly embarrassing moment for all involved. The Scottish courts have dealt with the pitch invader, who has been handed a lifetime ban from Celtic games, but many are now focusing on Dida's playacting. I cannot seek to defend Dida, as his reaction was, quite frankly, pathetic, but I intend to give some background thought as to why he probably felt that this was the correct measure.

The Brazilian football leagues from which Dida came, are full of players seeking to con match officials into giving decisions in their favour. Unfortunately, Brazilian referees seem much more likely to crumble under the pressure than their European counterparts, leading to a situation where many footballers feel that if you ask for a decision, it is more than likely you will get it.

Only a couple of weeks ago, in the derby match between Internacional and Sao Paulo, there was a distinct illustration of this culture, which has developed within the Brazilian game. Having already been booked, Internacional defender Indio brought down a Sao Paulo player with a seemingly innocuous challenge. The referee, Pena Junior, seemed content to just give a free kick, until Sao Paulo forward Dagoberto started waving an imaginary card towards him, pointing at Indio. Pena then proceeded to flourish the second yellow to Indio, followed by a red card, swinging the game heavily in favour of Sao Paulo. They went on to win 2-1, having trailed 1-0 at the time of the sending off.

It would be unfair to single out Dagoberto, because this is something that is rift amongst all the sides in the Brazilian leagues, but it is an example of referees being pressured into giving decisions due to player protests. This is not readily seen in the major European leagues, or even in other South American countries such as Argentina or Chile, but seems to have become an entrenched part of the Brazilian football make-up.

Coming back to Dida; it could be argued that if he had been raised in one of the European leagues, his trust in officials to make the right decision, regardless of whether he went down or not, would have been much higher. Whilst his act was deplorable and has been rightly looked down upon by many, including his own teammate Kaka, one can't help but feel that the football environment in which he was nurtured has to take some of the blame for his actions.

One can only hope that the increasing player power in relation to refereeing decisions doesn't continue, because otherwise we may be seeing a lot more Brazilians coming over to Europe with footballing ideals similar to those that Dida so prominently displayed last week. It would be a shame to see Brazilians known more for their play-acting than their skillful play and one can only hope that the Brazilian football association has changes afoot to tackle this problem before it gets out of control.

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