Someone, almost certainly Jenny, is going to immediately start claiming I am biased on this, but I think Uefa made the correct decision in rescinding their 2 game ban on the Arsenal striker Eduardo for his alleged dive in the recent home game against Celtic.

Now I don’t like diving any more than the next fan, and I certainly feel for Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc who showed remarkable reactions in trying to get his arms away from the oncoming striker. While it can’t strictly be described as a dive I feel queasy when I think a player is falling before contact is made. For another example see Wayne Rooney’s successful penalty claim against Arsenal the following weekend. But crucially, in the case of Eduardo (and Rooney) I do think contact was made. As it happens I think both fall into the ‘could be given’ category, and the question as to whether they should depends on whether the ball was under control. As an example of a blatant dive I cite Rooney’s other successful penalty claim against Arsenal a few years ago when he jumped over Sol Campbell’s leg. This from a man who ‘doesn’t dive’. Doesn’t dive my arse.

The scientist in me also comes to the defence of Eduardo (and even Shrek) when wondering what happens in the mind of a player approaching a challenge. In video replays, these milliseconds get stretched out to an extent which it is absurd to expect a referee to be able to detect, but also to a point which may not be accurate when judging a player’s intent. I play football. Badly I might add. In fact appallingly. But I am less appalling as a forward than a defender so that is where I tend to play. I have never had the benefit of a replay of myself confronting an oncoming player at speed, and I have never consciously dived. But would I start to fall before the contact is made? Is that what I recall? If not, is that a false memory, or is it simply that anticipating contact, a player’s body reacts in the same way that a fighter rolls with the punches?

What I am saying is firstly, we cannot read minds, and secondly, we tend to see replays of controversial incidents vastly more than others, this biasing our sample. Anyone know how often players show signs of falling before contact, and the extent to which it happens more in the penalty area? I would be surprised if no one has looked into this.

In fact, they have. Paul Morris of the University of Portsmouth has recently published a paper claiming to accurately diagnose diving. It’s pretty interesting stuff, standing alongside his previous work “Survival of the cutest: who’s responsible for the evolution of the teddy bear?”. His conclusions do not rely on when players start to fall, but a characteristic “archer’s bow” shape made by the falling player which is wholly unnatural.

Interesting stuff, though I can’t figure out how the research measures intent. Indeed, it involved showing taped incidents to a sample of people, who showed extensive agreement on which were dives and which were ambiguous. But this only tells you that there is widespread agreement on what a dive ‘should’ look like. If it really is so easy, why are referees the world over so easily conned?

Thinking more about it, I am pretty sure that any experiment to test the behaviour of a diving footballer will be flawed by the fact that the experiment has to be staged and controlled – in other words artificial. By interacting with the experiment, we could alter the conclusion.

Which means this may be the first time Wayne Rooney and the collapse of the wave function have appeared in the same sentence.