Some soccer players seem to overreact to the slightest foul during a match; they roll around or throw themselves in the air. Why do they flop? To find out we asked former World Cup assistant referee Sean Hurd.
Sean Hurd: You know, we've seen it certainly in this World Cup where players have exaggerated, perhaps, some fouls. This goes back to the speed of play. The naked eye could only see this so fast, and these players are moving at tremendous speed, and pace, and have a lot of physical strength. And so, what may seem like an exaggeration, in some cases, is simply speed and physicality.
It doesn't take much to throw a player off of their balance or get them slightly off on their touch, or what have you. It doesn't take very much. So, part of it is judging, "Okay, was there contact?" And if there was, how much force of contact was there, and did the outcome warrant a foul? Flopping is a convenient way to identify what people think players are doing, and in some cases, certainly, players are exaggerating. And so, referees, it's very difficult for us to be the judge to say, "How much contact does it take to throw a world-class player off of their particular game?" And, the reality is, sometimes it doesn't take very much.
If you look at the number of touches per game, the Ronaldos, the Messis, the Neymars, you name it, and those top players get more touches on the ball, and so they see more fouls, just by the nature of the game, right? They're participating in the game. There are some teams that have a strategy that is let's go out and be more physical than the other team, and so, obviously, if one of those players, Neymar included, happens to be near the ball, they're gonna be the recipient of a higher number of foul counts. I think there has been a lot of focus on him and his abilities with the ball, and so I do think teams are looking at ways to neutralize that, and part of that may be simple fouls, or even legitimate body contact that's allowed by the laws of the game. And that takes its toll over time.
Certainly, when you slow things down, tends to look a lot worse than it may really be in reality, but I do think that there are players that are trying to develop that as part of their craft, like it's competitive as it is just player to player, and now they're looking for a competitive edge. And, in some case, I think that they understand that their teams may be better with free kick situations than the normal run of the play, and so they are looking for opportunities to take free kicks. How do ya get a free kick? You get a foul called against you.
I think from a referee community standpoint, there will be some focus after the World Cup, more than likely on how do we help ourselves, as referees, either identify situations that are needing to be punished by a foul, or identifying the situations in which players are taking advantage of the laws of the game.