As a youngster, I used to love football, really love football, in fact, I was probably in love with football. My interest has declined over the last decade to the point where, after virtually every broadcasted match I watch, I end up saying to myself, “Well that’s another 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back”.
There are many reasons for this, the main one being the attitude of the overpaid prima-donnas who happen to be blessed with a modicum of soccer skills and are only in the sport to allow them access to a Z-list celebrity lifestyle. High profile players are judged not so much by what they can do with a ball but by the volume of tabloid column inches commanded by their wives/girlfriends, the “swag in their WAG”.
As a general observation, players these days have no club loyalty, and the ludicrously high transfer fees mean that any person in their right mind would grab the opportunity to part company with their employer. Those transfer fees and wages are in turn funded by ridiculously high admission fees and merchandise costs, so ultimately your ‘average Joe’ is financing this entire culture. While all this irritates me beyond belief, I do not think this is the reason for my level of disinterest; the truth of the matter is that the majority of games involve a feat of endurance just to get through the sheer boredom.
Imagine returning home from an afternoon at the footie and your partner asks you if it was a good game. You reply, “it was one of the best nil-nil draws I’ve seen for a long time”. “We were all over them”. “We had at least four shots on target”. “Two players were booked for pushing each other near the touchline”. “The ref was blind”. “We should have had a penalty”. “Our manager nearly blew a gasket on the touchline”. By the time you finished, your partner has already stifled a few yawns and is thinking about what’s on TV later.
I don’t like it when people moan about stuff and offer no kind of solution to the problem, so the remainder of this article will focus more specifically on the things that bug me and what can be done to make the situation better. Modern day culture makes it difficult for players in the higher echelons of the game to change their egotistical attitudes, but the rules of the game could be modified for the better to provide more entertainment for the paying customer; so, if I were in charge of FIFA…
A professional football match is 90 minutes plus injury time but the average English Premier League game has the ball in play for just 63 minutes. You wouldn’t buy a pint of milk, open it and find a third of a pint is missing so if you pay to watch 90 minutes of football you should get 90 minutes of football. Whenever a free kick is awarded anywhere near the penalty area, it takes around 60 seconds just to discuss tactics, get the wall sorted out and wait for the referee to spray his can of squirty cream. That’s one ninetieth of your admission fee watching everyone fart about, immediately and invariably followed by someone hoofing it over the crossbar and into the crowd. There is a simple solution, STOP THE CLOCK WHEN THE BALL IS NOT IN PLAY! Even if a match is cut down to 80 minutes playing time, you would still get greater value for money… and there would be no need for arguments over the length of injury time.
Shepherding the Ball Out Of Play
You see it happen in every single match; the ball is passed to a team member, and as it trickles towards the touchline a defender is able to get between the ball and the attacker, and shield it with no intention whatsoever of making a play. As a defender, the purpose is to gain your side a throw-in or a goal-kick but what is happening here is a blatant obstruction. Fans want to see players challenging for the ball, not to see players stopping others challenge for the ball. The same applies to that ridiculous charade towards the end of a game when a team in the lead deliberately head toward a corner flag and attempt to protect it with no intention of being positive. Solution? Award a free kick against the offender, simple.
The primary objective of the game of football is to score goals. The goalposts are deliberately placed at the end of the pitch where your team is facing, so why do teams spend so much time passing the ball in the opposite direction? One of the best rule changes introduced in relatively recent times was disallowing the goalkeeper from picking the ball up if it was passed intentionally by a player in his own team. This doesn’t, however, stop most professional teams from retaining possession by tip-tapping the ball back and forth across the line of defenders, which often includes the goalkeeper, for minutes at a time. This is against the spirit of the game. I will never forget my Dad refer to Ray Wilkins as “the master of the square ball” because he only ever passed it sideways; he nearly fell off his chair when Wilkins passed FORWARD to an attacker during an England World Cup match in 1982. Michael Carrick can be tarred with the same brush and virtually every Premier League back four are guilty of this shameless possession-retaining tactic. There are of course many modern day players who at least attempt to move the ball forward at every opportunity, but we do seem to be missing that level of drive and energy provided by the likes of Bryan Robson, Paul Gascoigne, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, George Best and Carlos Tevez.
In basketball when a team starts with possession, they are given 30 seconds to attempt a shot. Why not give a football team say 15 seconds to propel the ball into the opponent’s half and then award a free kick against any team deliberately passing the ball back to a teammate in their own half?
I have a real problem with deliberate foul play. The yellow card given to players often does not benefit the team that has suffered unless a persistent offender is sent off when they receive two yellow cards. I know there is a totting up system where a player can be suspended for receiving too many yellow cards, but all that does is penalise that player in a future game where a manager can plan for that player’s absence. The answer to this problem is again very simple, send a player off the pitch to a sin bin for 10 minutes so that the team that has been fouled receives some immediate benefit. They have this system in rugby league, rugby union, ice and field hockey, handball, basketball, etc. A red card offence should still be a complete sending-off for the remainder of the game.
Oh, and if a player wants to take his shirt off and whirl it around like a helicopter blade after scoring a goal then let him (or her!); in what world is that a bookable offence?
The Offside Rule
The great Dutch striker, Marco van Basten, suggested we should remove the offside rule completely from the game of football. He was somewhat lambasted on social media for such a radical change to this ‘beautiful game’. If you think about it, you will come to the conclusion he is absolutely correct. The offside rule causes lots of controversy, and it is tough for the officials to get it right 100% of the time. It is far too often the topic of conversation between TV pundits when reviewing the key events in a match. While scrapping the offside rule altogether would eliminate these minor problems, it would actually resolve one major one. If you were to watch a game from a helicopter above the ground, you would find that, apart from the two goalkeepers, the majority of the action takes place in the middle third of the field; what’s more, all the remaining 20 players are amassed into that small section of the pitch. I attended a match a few years ago where there were so many people packed into the middle that whenever there was a goal kick, it inevitably resulted in a game of head tennis. Forwards cannot go beyond the defender’s backline for fear of being offside, but if there was no offside rule and they can go wherever they like, then the players would spread out across the pitch leaving more space for the talented players to show their skills and the public to be entertained.
Other professional sports incorporate modern technology to get on-field decisions correct. Cricket and tennis have ball-tracking simulations; both forms of rugby and other sports also have video replay technology for the top games. The argument against this is that play is disrupted, and the flow of the match is halted but, in truth, these decisions take no more than 30 or 40 seconds, and the most correct and fair result is applied. Some argue that this builds up the drama for both the TV viewer and, where there are giant screens available, to the supporter in the ground. When you consider how much time is spent arguing over whether or not decisions were correct, what is an extra 40 seconds during the match time? Of course, the game clock is stopped during this scrutiny by a 4th official, so no one is disadvantaged. Penalty incidents, bookings, deflections for corners and close offside decisions could all be impacted. I would recommend that video technology could be called upon at any time by the referee, but also optionally once per half by each team, and the request is not lost if the challenge is subsequently successful. FIFA should adopt video technology now, fact!
Feigning injury to get another player booked is almost as bad as fouling an opponent. The excruciating agony etched across the faces of players who have received the merest of taps on the ankle or an awkward-looking fall following a collision defies belief. Two minutes later, they can be seen running around like young puppies. Pack it in, it is cheating. A yellow card, a fine and a sin bin will solve this.
Match officials are not corrupt. No one is saying they are perfect and make the correct decision every time, but they do the best job they can for a fraction of the pay awarded to the players. They must still, however, be respected; every decision they make is in good faith and does not warrant backchat, questioning or, in the worst cases, insulting verbal abuse. Players and managers must respect all the match officials.
Some offences, particularly those in the penalty area, are more serious than others. A blatant foul to prevent a scoring opportunity or maybe a deliberate handball on the goal-line are typical examples of the standard penalty situation. Accidental handling of the ball or maybe a bit of mild shirt-tugging could warrant a “long penalty”, this is just like a normal penalty kick except taken from anywhere on the white line defining the penalty area with just the goalkeeper to beat.
I firmly believe that all the ideas suggested in this article are realistic and with a few open minds and a willingness to experiment, FIFA could give great consideration to them. Maybe, sat in their ivory towers, the powers that be have already discussed similar rule changes and dismissed them for now?
It’s time for a bit of fun through some more radical thinking. Please continue to the second article in this two-part analysis to see the possible effect of some new rule changes along with a worked example from the recent Huddersfield v Reading 2017 Championship play-off final.