Sid Lowe had an excellent column in Sports Illustrated recently in which he looked at the good points of the clasicós (yes, there were some). Among his list was the attention paid to diving in the matches, and in particular the fact that for the first time the Spanish press was quite critical of some of what went on.
A couple of incidents in the Villarreal-Porto series pointed out, all too well, why playacting exists.
Incident #1--(first game). Falcao bursts into the Villarreal box, tries to round Diego López. He's pulled the ball too far wide in his attempt, but López's outstretched hands make contact with his boots. Falcao falls, wins the penalty, and converts.
If the striker plays through that modest challenge, he probably doesn't score--who knows--but penalties like that, while soft, are almost always given. When the goalkeeper makes contact with the attacker, unless it's really clear he got the ball, the ref is almost always going to call a foul and award a penalty. Playacting pays.
It's the flip side of the protection awarded to keepers on crosses, which is far too often over the top. I've seen goalkeepers basically just hold their hands up and look to the referee for a free kick because an opposition player was standing in their path as they came out--and the free kick was given. That's playacting too.
And then. Incident #2--(second game) Falcao, already on a yellow, loses the ball to a combination of Musacchio and Bruno and kicks one of the players in the shins, petulantly. The sort of stupid foul that often brings a yellow or at least a stern warning, and a very stupid thing to do when already on a yellow card.
Now if it had been, say, Diego Capel or Dani Alves (to name but two) who had received that kick, we would have been treated to histrionics for sure--holding an ankle or shin, rolling about on the turf while encouraging teammates and fans to ask the referee for a card. None of that happened. Musacchio was clearly upset and shouted at the linesman (who should've seen the foul and apparently didn't) but play went on and Falcao escaped punishment. Not playacting didn't pay.
So if the powers that be are serious about eliminating the sort of cynical playacting that goes on in all leagues (let's be honest), referees need to be instructed to stop rewarding it in their decisions. If the incentive disappears, so will the problem.
And just as the Italian league has started to do, commissions need to be able to review game tapes and assess penalties afterwards, even if the referee missed the action. A game ban for deceiving a referee might stamp out some of the more egregious Busquets-style deceit, don't you think?