During the first 32 games of the World Cup, Geoff Foster records, there were 302 players who could be seen at some point rolling around in pain, crumpling into a fetal position or lying lifeless on the pitch as the referee stopped the match:
These theatrical episodes ate up a total of 132 minutes of clock, a metric we have decided to call “writhing time.”
To be fair, it is actually possible to get hurt playing soccer. You can clang heads. You can snap a hamstring. You can get spiked in the soft tissue. There were nine injuries in total that forced players to be substituted from the game and to miss, or potentially miss, a match. These were discarded. That left 293 cases of potential embellishment that collectively took up 118 minutes, 21 seconds.
Another trick: how to calculate writhing time. The criteria used here is the moment the whistle is blown (because of a potential injury) to the moment that player stands up. If the TV camera cut to a replay, the stand-up moment was estimated. If he was helped off the field, the “writhing” clock stopped when he crossed the sidelines.
The study showed one thing emphatically: The amount of histrionics your players display during a match correlates strongly to what the scoreboard says. Players on teams that were losing their games accounted for 40 “injuries” and nearly 12.5 minutes of writhing time. But players on teams that were winning — the ones who have the most incentive to run out the clock — accounted for 103 “injuries” and almost four times as much writhing.