Why do Soccer Players Fake Injuries?

By Vince •  Updated: 06/11/22 •  8 min read

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Rivaldo, Neymar, Robben. I could continue that list of great players. Mentioned names also know a lot about faking injuries, also known as diving or flopping. In soccer, the stakes are high, and players are willing to use every trick they know. Even if it means not choosing the methods or how to proceed.

Some soccer flops or dives are horrible.

And others are just bad for the game.

In this article, we’ll look at that. Why do soccer players fake injuries? Why are they so dramatic? What do the players try to gain from diving?

Why do Soccer Players fake Injuries?

Soccer players faking injuries comes down to beating the opponent because penalties or free kicks are great chances. Giving the players make the dive to get the whistle from the referee. The black arts of soccer, as some put it. Faking injuries has become a big part of the game because the rewards are worth the risks. In general, the motivational reasons for diving have three situational uses.

Free Kicks and Penalties

First, get a free kick or penalty. That is common during matches where the underdog team puts up a good fight against their opponent. Either defending their tie or even leading against all odds. The opponent, which on paper should be a winner, is not getting through the defense on an open play basis. It comes down to gaining a great chance to score when the opponent is trying to defend by flopping when a tackle happens. The defender’s best bet is a well-placed wall in case of free kicks. And the goalkeeper during penalty kicks. This kind of incentive exists almost in every match, where a free kick or penalty is needed. Thus, faking injury is the choice of tactics.

Keeping the Score

A second use case is to keep the score. The difference is that the defending team tries to get the foul to preserve the scoreline. And the idea is to kill the clock so that another team can’t have the scoring opportunity because time runs out. In such instances, the corner flag tactic gets its fair share, ending with a foul given to an offensive team in most cases. That includes fake injury fouls, despite the assistant referee being next to it. One infamous example is from the Manchester United – Chelsea match in 2013. David Luiz (Chelsea) dived convincingly enough to get a red card for Rafael (Manchester United). Since there was no VAR at the time, no overturning option existed. But this method remains, as VAR has limited use in serious incidents or errors.

Tricking Referees

Third, getting a booking for opposing players. This manipulative method is loathsome everywhere on the pitch, with emphasis on playing mind games with the opponent. The point of selling a fake injury for a booking is to make the offending player more cautious. Therefore that hinders the ability to play at 100% because the booked player, likely a defender, plays with increased caution. I would say that tricking the referee to get a booking is the most deceptive method. That creates doubts in booked players’ minds not wanting to let the team down by getting sent off.

These reasons sum up in one word – practice. Prospects or pro players learn to fake injuries. To sell better to referees blowing the whistle for a diver. Though that is too far, as it takes the fun out of the game, and soccer becomes more of a satire than a sport. Regardless, players dive because they believe rewards outweigh the potential punishment. The art of faking is evil, harsh, and a confidence breaker for some. Players love to use it, but fans and the media hate to see this, but players don’t care. They want results, wins, and trophies, no matter what. Regardless, if the triumph comes from faking an injury and there are examples of such cases. Some players and teams are open to flopping, others are more subtle but still use the flopping tactic. But this brings up the question of potential sanctions and the drama behind the fake injury.


Why are Soccer Players Dramatic?

Well, faking injury has to be sold somehow. Screaming, shouting, or making gestures toward the referee are some ways. Players think they are successful if the fake injury sells well enough. Either with the act of exaggerated emotion or painful facial expressions. It is a deceptive behavior that soccer players are willing to use. Deception is hard-coded within humans and animals alike to get an unfair advantage. Before VAR, it was easier to sell fake injuries inside the 18-yard box. Because the referee’s decision on the pitch was final, regardless of the error made. The same goes for the direct red card situations.

If you want to know more about VAR, this article is about if VAR is good for soccer.

Is there a Punishment for faking Injuries?

In short, almost always no. Referees learn to see potential simulations during matches and take necessary action. Most of these fakes and dives will have no consequences. Other than the game resuming as it should under normal circumstances.

Yet when a soccer player goes for the faking injury, the referees can give yellow cards for such an attempt. But that did not stop the players from diving. Coincidence or not, one study from 2009 explains the findings of when the player goes for the dive.

In the same year, the soccer associations started to hand out harsher punishments for the players committing a dive. For example, in 2017, Everton’s Oumar Niasse received a two-match ban for faking an injury. But such bans are rare cases.

Is Faking injury a Problem in Soccer?

Yes, it is a problem. As soccer players learn from early on how to be deceptive, it also creates a dangerous situation. That puts soccer players with actual medical issues in danger. Referees believe some players are less trustworthy than others due to their reputation.

Yes, referees should be impartial. But it’s hard when some are looking to gain an unfair advantage more often. A study published in 2011 revealed that faking injuries were more common in leagues where the referee blew the whistle for the foul.

The biggest issue was that out of 169 dives seen in the study, nothing happened afterward. The problem gets more amplified because of it. Letting the players know that faking an injury is a good and moral action to commit.

The History of Faking Injury in Soccer

The best place to start would be the 1986 World Cup. The quarter-final between Argentina and England. Maradona scored his Hand of God goal, helping Argentina win the contest. One of the very few, who did not see the handball, was the referee officiating the match. Soon after the World Cup, FIFA started to give out the Fair Play awards. However, it lost its purpose soon after, at least being vague.

The criteria were confusing, as the winners ranged from individuals to associations. Making the award political rather than based on sporting merit. Regardless, the award is unknown and unseen by many. That includes players themselves, who only care about the result on the pitch.

Unfortunately, the Fair Play award didn’t improve the situation. Little fast forward to the 1990 World Cup final. Jürgen Klinsmann and Rudi Völler (both West Germany) went for big-time fake injuries. As a result, West Germany won their third title. Argentina finished the match with nine players. Of course, the art has carried on from one soccer player to another. That means that faking injuries during a game would only get more rooted in soccer as a sport. The diving art got Rivaldo and Diego Simeone in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It became a trademark of Barcelona during Guardiola’s spell. So famous that the phrase “UEFAlona” came to life.

Hinting at Barcelona’s favoritism by UEFA above other teams in the context of refereeing. Later on, in the 2010s, comical fakes from Neymar gave the internet trolls material. The material was his theatrical rolls after making slight contact with an opponent. But he was not alone. Other notable players known for their faking skills are Sergio Busquets, Angel di Maria, Sergio Ramos, and Jack Grealish.

Final Thoughts

Soccer players faking injuries are a loathsome sight to have. It gave the sport a big problem to deal with and got no attention. That led to the snowball effect, which could not be stopped by the fans, media, or referees. Soccer associations do not punish for these actions. Referees turn a blind eye, encouraging soccer players to keep going with the fakes. With the teachings of “how to fake an injury” inside soccer academies, it is plain that the art of deception on a soccer pitch is part of the game. While I like to think that the players are the only ones capable of stopping, I fear it has gone out of their control. Yet, soccer players faking injuries are also the only ones capable of ending the art itself. Flopping in soccer is a disease, which has to go.

The clock ticks, the soccer player is faking injury, the referee rewards, and the fans are angry.


I'm a qualified soccer coach, who has been involved with the sport for most of my life. I started Woodland Soccer to talk about the game I love.