Sheffield United’s Paul Heckingbottom claims diving has returned due to VAR

Paul Heckingbottom says modern football has got out of control – and that we are all to blame for it.

No penalty: VAR ruled out a penalty call for Sheffield United's Enda Stevens's challenge on West Ham United's Craig Dawson.
No penalty: VAR ruled out a penalty call for Sheffield United's Enda Stevens's challenge on West Ham United's Craig Dawson.

Particularly in this era of video assistant referees where decisions are made or ratified by the evidence of slow-motion replays rather than the evidence of eyes and the feel of an experienced referee, the lines around what constitutes a foul have been blurred.

It is one aspect of the game Heckingbottom, who spent the last two months of last season as Sheffield United’s interim manager, really dislikes but he says the blame should not just fall on those who make and enforce the rules.

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“What we’re accepting now are fouls,” said the former Barnsley and Leeds United manager.

Video check: Referee Bjorn Kuipers consults the VAR pitch side monitor for a penalty decision during the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg at the Etihad Stadium.

“We’re encouraging players to go to ground, make noises to get free-kicks and penalties, and the way VAR then assesses free-kicks and penalties it’s just [about] contact [not whether the contact was sufficient to bring a player down].

“We’re all accepting it, the pundits after a game, the fans. People will say to me, ‘No Paul, that’s a foul,’ and I will say, ‘How is that a foul?’.

“People are buying free-kicks and going down when it’s blatantly obvious they can stay on their feet if they want to but we’re accepting now you have to go down and accept the foul.

“This is worldwide so we can’t have a different game to everyone else. “We’ve let the game get a little bit out of control in my eyes and that’s been reflected in the way teams are playing.”

Monitoring: Referee Stuart Attwell checks VAR after the overturning of a penalty decision at The Emirates Stadium.

Heckingbottom believes it has reached the stage where clubs and fans are encouraging players to behave in ways that would have appalled an English audience not so long ago.

“We got punished against [Crystal] Palace for staying on our feet twice and why should you be punished for that?” he said.

“That honesty, that hard work, that endeavour, that toughness and robustness, you can say that’s not getting rewarded at the minute the way the game’s going.

“That’s something I think we need to be careful of or we’ll have changed the game too much in five years’ time.

“The way it is now, if there’s contact in the box you have to go down to get a penalty.

“If you stay on your feet to try and get a shot off there’s no reward in it. We’re seeing it all the time.

“I know exactly what you have to do to get a penalty. We’re promoting these behaviours that years ago we said we didn’t want to see.

“I don’t like it and I’m involved in the sport. That’s a big thing I don’t like about the sport for me personally and I wish we had the power to change.”