CHELSEA'S DIDIER DROGBA (left in pic) has been under scrutiny recently in the Premier League for his performance art.-AP CHELSEA'S DIDIER DROGBA (left in pic) has been under scrutiny recently in the Premier League for his performance art.

Admittedly some replays may prove inconclusive and intent hard to establish, but players must be aware their acting is under some inspection, writes ROHIT BRIJNATH.

Should an aspiring actor require tuition in the imaginary collapse while being shot by a villain on film, he would be well served by calling on a number of Premier League footballers. Here, too, on the football stage, the creative imagination is superb, the physical theatre astounding. Even cheap theatrics are an art form.

Merely sneeze in a footballer's direction in the penalty area and he may collapse; if he feels the rush of air of a passing tackling boot, his reaction suggests a grievous wounding. Maradona delivered us the Hand of God; the Breath of God has been around longer still.

Chelsea's Didier Drogba has been under scrutiny recently in the Premier League for his performance art. Not that he is alone. In times gone by, Manchester United's Cristian Ronaldo has not required a pool to show off his swan dives. Even Philip Seymour Hoffman might be impressed by players' ability to make a tap on the ankle appear like amputation without anaesthetic.

Interrogated recently about his performance art, Drogaba said: "Sometimes I dive, sometimes I stay up", before realising the truth was a dangerous business here, and swiftly added: "I don't dive, I play my game."

Still, as answers go, it had nothing on Rivaldo, who famously clutched his face and fell in slow motion after a ball kicked by a Turkish player hit his leg. Said the unrepentant Brazilian: "Obviously the ball didn't hit me in the face, but I was still the victim." Actually, football was.

England's Professional Footballers' Association has recently evinced disapproval at diving players for it is a bruise on the spirit of the game. UEFA has already been discussing the idea of matches being policed by two referees on the field.

It is an overdue idea in an increasingly accelerated game. Referees cannot be everywhere and anyway cannot tell from a distance amidst the chaos of a tackle what level of contact has been made. Hockey umpires police one half each and football must not turn away from evolution.

Many players will wink and smirk at such slyness. In that football is no different from other sports, for it is part of the human condition to bend rules, con authority figures and grasp whatever advantage can be had.

Goalkeepers will move on their line during penalties and strikers, like Drogba again recently, control a ball with their arm and score. Weary tennis players will take more than their allotted time between serves. Hockey players will attempt to resume play after a foul 10 yards ahead of where the infraction occurred. Cricketers will fiddle with the ball's seam. Suggest it is cheating and arms will flail in consternation. Of course it is.

The presumption is if the referee does not see it, it did not happen; if it is not whistled it is legitimate; if we can get away with it, good for us. Still, in other sports like rugby, or American gridiron, where physical contact is greater, diving or exaggerating injury is considered an almost unmanly act for delicate creatures. Players shrug and get on with the game; so must footballers.

Coaches will whine about opposing players attempting to join Actors Equity, yet you wonder how strongly do they caution their own players? Jurgen Klinsmann, famous for his aerobatics in the penalty box, is now Germany's national team coach.

Not that such chicanery is restricted to claming a penalty any more. Players nowadays are waving imaginary cards at umpires in a bid to get opposing players sent off and it is a disgrace.

Exaggerating injury to induce a send-off is interfering with a player's livelihood, a cheap bid to alter the balance of the teams on the pitch, and belittles every notion of fair play. If David Beckham's retaliation against Diego Simeone in the 1998 World Cup was silly, the Argentine's writhing on the ground that followed was a frightful hoax that paid off.

In some sports, crookedness does not work any more for television plays detective and few misdemeanours go unsolved by the public. Football is not built as a game, like tennis or cricket, to allow for play to be interrupted for video review as flow is the essence of its appeal.

But perhaps the game should be fiercer in its use of retrospective judgement. In Australian rules footy, one of sports' most physical dances, every game is reviewed by a panel and charges laid if a player is seen striking another.

Football has done it occasionally, like in the World Cup qualifier in 1989, when Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas claimed he had been hit by a firecracker, feigned injury and sparked chaos, when in fact a video replay showed he had faked it. Brazil was later awarded the abandoned match.

Now replays should be done more often, and even Arsene Wenger, Arsenal coach, concurred recently, saying: "There is only one way to fight it and that is to punish people who obviously dive. I would do that retrospectively as well. The punishment would be suspension. But it is very difficult to prove."

Admittedly some replays may prove inconclusive and intent hard to establish, but players must be aware their acting is under some inspection. A penalty won by unfair means and a goal scored cannot be taken back nor a result altered. But a player can be indicted for cheating and forced at least to be publicly shamed. It's the least we owe a great game.