After analysing diving behaviour of top ranked players at the time of the 2018 World Cup, we found a remarkable trend and an outlier too. The following chart shows top ranked Forwards and Midfielders who played 180 minutes or more during the tournament. Messi is clearly at the top of the ranking (right) and was the only one of the top 8 ranked players not to dive a single time during the World Cup.
The sample size we gathered from the 2018 World Cup was small, with only 4 or 5 matches tracked for some players. Nevertheless, to prepare for tracking dives during the World Cup, our team analysed 35 matches from 2018 FIFA Friendlies and the UEFA Champions Leagues of 2017/18 and 2018/19. These additional matches increased the sample size for the top-3 ranked players to 10 matches for Messi, 11 for Cristiano Ronaldo and 6 for Neymar. Even after including the additional data, the big difference between the diving behaviours of the 3 players remained.
The consistency in Messi's non-diving behaviour is easy to spot. A quick YouTube search yields dozens of videos of Messi being subjected to all kinds of tackles. He clearly has the opportunity to fall, yet he continues running, fighting and playing. He takes a hit in midfield and keeps going. He gets tackled in the box, where it would be easy to simulate or exaggerate a fall to gain a penalty, but he carries on playing, and very often he ends up scoring. Sometimes he doesn’t, but he doesn’t seem to regret it. That’s the cost of honesty, a policy that seems to be deeply rooted in him.
Aside from Lionel Messi, there are no other video compilations of top players devoted to showing how rarely they dive. Messi’s exemplary non-diving record might be thought to be quite remarkable given how accomplished he is as a player. Yet there might be a direct correlation between his reluctance to dive and his extraordinary scoring statistics. A player who is so committed to attempting to score by legitimate means that the thought of diving doesn’t enter their head is likely to be more focused and single-minded than one who is tempted to indulge in simulation.
The truth is, whether you love Messi or not, you will not find such pervasive evidence of consistent non-diving behaviour for any other top male player in the world. His conduct is a true testament to the fact that a footballer can be successful without engaging in deception. This philosophy also seemed to be embraced by other top ranked players, such as Luka Modrić (Croatia), N’Golo Kanté (France) and Mohamed Salah (Egypt).
Our deepest gratitude goes to Messi, Modrić, Kanté, Salah and all the other players who demonstrated consistent honest behaviour in the tournament with the highest stakes in the World.
Header photo by PHC Images / Alamy Stock Photo
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