As with any other sport, football has seen a number of changes to its laws over the years to ensure that the game remains an entertaining spectacle. For example, the introduction of the offside rule forced teams to come up with innovative tactics to get past the defensive line while backpasses could no longer be handled by the goalkeeper, thus ensuring that there was no virtual safety net for defenders under pressure.
Recently, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) considered new proposals to change or tweak a few laws to improve the game. On the face of it, some changes seem to have been welcomed while others have been looked at with utter disgust. The new changes were outlined in a document titled Play Fair!
We look at five proposed law changes we do not want to see at any cost.
1) 60-minute clock with Effective Playing Time instead of a 90-minute game
For those not familiar with Effective Playing Time (EPT), other sports use a clock that is stopped whenever play is stopped for various reasons. This ensures that the match is played for exactly the number of minutes stipulated without any time being wasted.
“Many people are very frustrated that a typical 90-minute match has fewer than 60 minutes of effective playing time i.e. when the ball is in play.” – IFAB
On the plus side, it may have benefits such as doing away with time-wasting players, such as those who roll around on the pitch asking for the physio to come on when they’re leading 1-0 in the dying minutes of the game. Sounds good right?
This is probably the worst idea because of multiple disadvantages. And I’ll explain with the help of a sport that does use it – basketball. This concept works in basketball because it has been the norm for decades. The clock is stopped for substitutions, fouls etc. While it treats us to game-clinching buzzer-beaters, it will not work in football.
The basketball court is roughly the quarter the size of a football pitch. And EPT essentially transforms a 48-minute game (i.e. four 12-minute quarters) into a two-hour game, sometimes even more. The last thing we want is for football games to spill over the two-hour mark (including the 15-minute interval between halves and stoppage time).
If the same was done for football, imagine how much time would be wasted for substitutions, throw-ins and fouls as players got back into position for the restart. On a basketball court, it’s simple as all players play both offense and defence and need only a few seconds to get from one end of the court to the other. It’s not the case on a football pitch.
Besides, why get rid of stoppage-time drama? There would be no time added on at all if EPT was used!
2) Handball on the goal-line will see the referee award a goal
Why, IFAB? Why would you do this? Do the IFAB want to improve the game by ridding the game of any drama? The current rules are more than good enough to deal with this kind of situation. So let’s look at it in the two possible scenarios.
a) A defender mistakenly handles the ball on the goal-line with no intention to play it
Most of the time, especially on set pieces, a defender is posted on the line and is charged with preventing the ball from crossing the line rather than marking a player. In several cases, they have neither the time nor room to manoeuvre when the ball comes at them within a fraction of a second. While they are trained to keep their hands behind them, handballs are a possibility.
Award the penalty (and a yellow card) or allow play to go on depending on the nature of the handball. Move on.
b) A defender deliberately handles the ball on the goal-line
Remember Luis Suarez at the 2010 World Cup? When a Ghana header was on target, his first instinct was to block it with his hand. He was shown a red card and Ghana were awarded a penalty – which they subsequently missed, thereby losing their opportunity to advance to the next round.
Rules were ‘broken’ but the punishment befit the crime. So why not stick with the same rules because it added so much drama to that quarter-final? Awarding a goal is again a rule in basketball (called goaltending) which is a legitimate concern in the sport and without which the game would never be the same.
But basketball sees points scored every few seconds. It’s not the same case with goals in football, is it? Besides, deliberate handballs are suicidal as no team wants to play with 10 men.
3) Players can pass to themselves on set-pieces
This is another proposal that could only give the attacking team an undue advantage. As we all know, opponents must keep a minimum distance of 10 yards when a team wins a free-kick.
When a free-kick is taken, the player either tries to find a teammate or scores directly. These are the only two options he has (unless he opts to put the ball out of play, of course). But allowing the player to pass to himself could see him gain ground and give himself every chance of improving the odds on scoring.
What if he had a running start to play the ball forward and advance a few more yards? What if Lionel Messi was given the freedom to ascertain which path to dribble through the crowd before taking a quick free-kick and “passing it to himself”?
The only way to balance this out is to maybe allow a player to get within 10 yards of the free-kick taker even before it is taken? I can imagine it now, a defender running alongside the free-kick taker, ready to tackle him as soon as he touches the ball.
4) A penalty miss will see the other team awarded a goal-kick
Now we all know that if a team scores from the penalty spot, the game is restarted from kickoff at the centre circle. That’s all well and good – it’s what we’ve been used to watching all these years.
However, the new rule suggests that if the penalty is missed, the opposing team wins a goal-kick. This rule is to ensure that no player encroaches into the box. Yes, you have our permission to yell, “WTF?”
What about the scramble to get to the ball after the goalkeeper has made the save? What about being the first to the ball if it comes off the woodwork and the goalkeeper is frantically searching for the ball as he recovers, wondering where it’s gone?
We would be denied the chance to see the fastest player pounce on the loose ball. The penalty taker is also not given a second chance to make up for his error. In most cases, the penalty taker is in the best position for the second shot on goal and who doesn’t like to see the goalkeeper and player throw themselves at the loose ball to see who gets to it first?
Goal kick after a missed penalty even if the ball is still in play? No!
Please don’t deprive us of edge-of-the-seat action.
5) Goal-kicks can be taken even if the ball is moving
Come again, IFAB? What difference does it make?
A goal-kick is awarded when the ball goes out of play and the last person to make contact was an opposition player – be it via a shot on goal that was off target, a wayward pass, a mistake on the dribble or just an unlucky deflection in a 50-50 battle for the ball.
In every case, the goalkeeper must retrieve the ball and place it on the edge of the six-yard box before taking a goal-kick. Simple, right?
So where does a moving ball come into play? Will the goalkeeper be allowed to roll the ball forward before he kicks it while it is still on the move? And how far can he roll the ball since no other player (teammate or opponent) is allowed inside the box? Can the ball go outside the box before he kicks it since nobody else is allowed to touch it first?
Some may point to the fact that it prevents time-wasting but which goalkeeper would deliberately roll the ball forward when it isn’t compulsory? And if they did, referees should probably be stricter with their warnings and cautions (read as yellow cards) rather than make up a rule to get them to kick it upfield faster.
The one big change we approve…
The order of kickers in penalty shootouts could be set to change. Penalty kicks will no longer alternate between Team A and Team B but the new system could see one that has been adopted by tennis in tie-breakers. The first kicker would now alternate!
1st kick – Team A; 2nd kick – Team B
3rd kick – Team B; 4th kick – Team A
5th kick – Team A; 6th kick – Team B
7th kick – Team B; 8th kick – Team A (and so on)
The current format puts immense mental pressure on the second kicker and this system would eradicate that. It applies equal pressure on both teams and does not put the second team at a disadvantage just because they lost the coin toss to decide who goes first.
IFAB also said other systems could be experimented with but, frankly, this is something that could really be tested in the coming season.