Enjoying the relative freedrom of a Sunday for a change, after another friction-burning swim I managed to catch a little bit of the Arsenal vs. Man City match. And almost immediately the game was dogged by a seemingly dodgy decision, Dzeko being brought down in the box stopping his goal-scoring opportunity. Or at least the referee thought so, awarding the resulting penalty and red card.
In the referee’s rule book, he is completely correct to do so, but the commentators then held a long discussion about the rulemakers, rather than the rule enforcers, that need to change some of the ideas about football.
I couldn’t agree more. The game of football has evolved through time and the rules have always changed to follow suit. The early game has all sorts of oddities compared to today, kidney-shaped penalty areas, keepers allowed to handball to the half-way line, a three-person offside rule and many more. The speed of improvements to the game, in fitness, in technology, have not been matched by the organizers and rulemakers. On the top of my head, the most substantial changes are that more substitutes are allowed in most competitions nowadays, and the general failure of golden and silver goal methods for ending football matches.
The modern game is quicker, players are fitter and faster and more powerful, the ball is easier to control if you are a skilled player, and almost impossible if you aren’t. Players are paid so much and are so valuable commercially, that yes, sadly they need rules that protect them more. Especially with the huge power the players have, no matter of nutritional advice and training can guarantee that they will be safe always.
But it is a contact sport and that needs to be considered too – part of the game is the strength, and is the threat of intimidation that comes with great players. I loved playing in midfield in my final year at university. I wasn’t hopeless, but not the next Xavi either. Part of the fun was the scraps, the jostling for the headers, the will you/won’t you mental battle to diving into a 50/50 tackle. That needs to be kept in the game.
I don’t expect you to agree with everything here but hopefully this will make some common sense.
1) Be lax on goal celebration laws
It is right if a player is overcelebrating that they get a yellow card. If it is timewasting or antagonizing, then it needs to be stopped and punished accordingly. Taking a shirt off doesn’t necessarily do that. If it has that effect should be a referee’s judgement, not automatic. Taking off a shirt is a practice masculine form of celebration in many parts of the world, and if appropriate or not needs to be judged. I am surprised, given how often it still happens, that the players’ unions have not further raised it as an issue.
2) Allow for a greater variety of pitch sizes
One of the greatest stories I heard was about Graeme Souness as Rangers manager. In a two-legged match against Dynamo Kiev, Rangers got battered away from home. On returning, Souness ordered the pitch to be narrowed to the minimum limit to stop the Ukrainian wingers. And it worked. Pitch sizes are now not allowed to be changed during a season, and, especially in European competitions, the dimensions are made more and more restrictive in choice. Home advantage is being nullified and that is a shame. Surely the pitch should be a part of the tactics too – as long as all is open and both sides are aware, loosening of the restrictions will pose more interesting tactical games.
3) Trial Goal-Line Technology
I don’t care if it isn’t perfect – if we can see on the TV in 5 seconds what has happened, then for the referee not to know isn’t fair on him (or, for equality’s sake her, that is point 4). I am glad it has finally started, but it took years of begging just to get it tried out. There are plenty of pre-season tournaments and the like that trials can be happily done, but FIFA sat on their hands shamefully. Also, to trial something in what at least should be the biggest club competition in the world (The World Club Cup) really does degrade the competition.
4) Men’s and Women’s football together
When Perugia got their PR train in motion to try and sign a top female player for the men’s game, all I thought about was why not. If women are good enough, then let them. It would be hugely unlikely to be truly world class just due to natures of body types, but who knows. Somebody who is good enough should have the chance to play, and if they are not they will not get picked. That simple. I do not believe it would degrade women’s football – I don’t think the WPGA in golf have suffered with female golfers trying their hand at the men’s game. It also should be allowed for youth too. The UK has a silly rule about girls and boys need to play separately in their teenage years, even though you can find many girls still bigger and stronger than boys at that point.
5) 2 points for a win
It’s purely mathematical. 2 divided by 1 is 1. Therefore two points for a win. Yes there is an argument for it encouraging great attacking play – but it simply isn’t a fair system. We can do more things to encourage attacking that are fair. The issue is that it is possible to frustrate in football and limit teams’ ability to do well. Look at the success Chelsea have had on many an occasion in the Champions League. A bigger pitch would make defending harder, as would a more liberal offside law, as would removing restrictions so that you could be off the floor at a throw in and I’m sure much more. Then it will be so hard to purely defend that we can actually have a fair system again.
And that’s it for tonight. Let’s keep the beautiful game beautiful. I recommend people to watch old football matches from times gone by on YouTube. It is equally beautiful as now, but so different. Try it – and see where the game has come from and where the game needs to go for the future.