The laws of football evolve slowly. Very slowly. Almost at a glacial pace. But watching various sports in this lovely (if wet) summer of Olympics on our doorstep shows how other sports develop and innovate, to preserve and develop the qualities and challenges of that sport. That begs the question: what rule changes could football adopt that would improve it?
The guardians of the rules of the game are the eight members of FIFA’s International Football Association Board. Half of those members are from FIFA itself, the other half from each of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish FAs – this is one of the privileges afforded to the Brits in recognition of having codified and developed the game more than 100 years ago. Personally, I think that structure should be ditched but that’s not relevant right now.
As a preliminary point, I’m not going to say much about goal-line technology. The case for it at the elite level of football is obvious, and the IFAB and Blatter finally realised that they just had to accept it. The only issue now is working out the most suitable technology. But beyond goal-line technology, what could improve the game? Here are my thoughts:
Field hockey does it. Ice hockey does it. Handball does it. Both forms of rugby do it. So why not football? How often do we see a soft yellow card awarded and a little while later for there to be another incident, perhaps more deserving of a yellow than the first, but which means the referee has a dilemma; should a second yellow be given, with the consequence that the player and his team would suffer the disproportionate punishment of losing a player for the rest of the game? Or should the incident be ignored, despite it meriting punishment beyond a free-kick? Then there are the cynical offences, where a player takes a yellow for the team, knowing that there is no real consequence for illegitimately blocking an attack, tripping an opponent etc. And what about all the abuse handed out by players to each other and referees? Referees seem to feel helpless in the face of the tirades of expletive-laced whinging, obviously fearing that in applying the rules literally they would make matches a farce.
The answer to all of these problems and more is obvious: have a sin-bin, so that players can be appropriately punished; a bit like Goldilocks’ porridge, the punishment needs to be not too much, not too little, it needs to be just right. And removing players for five, ten or fifteen minutes would seem to do the trick.
The IFAB looked at sin-bins in 2009, but rejected the idea, without deigning to explain the reasons. The reason for the rejection might have had something to do with their quaint obsession with having a single body of rules that applies at levels of the game, with a view that sin-bins wouldn’t work on Hackney Marshes etc. That seems to be changing with the goal-line technology debate, so perhaps the IFAB will eventually get round to looking again at sin-bins.
Changing the throw-in:
Any Orcs reading this will be laughing at this point: typical whining southerner, complaining about Rory Delap’s missiles. In fact, I don’t criticise Delap or Pulis, they were just clever enough to spot a way of exploiting a weakness in the rules. But those missiles should not have a place in football. They are a device to get around what the game is actually about, i.e. controlling and using the ball without the use of hands. And they are based on an idea of creating chaos and feeding off the opportunities that come from that chaos. I don’t see that as being something that should be encouraged.
So how about changing the throw-in action, to make it harder to launch missiles? Instead of the thrower getting the leverage of taking a run-up and taking the ball all the way behind his head, make it done from a standing position and with the hands going no further back than the top of the thrower’s head. That way the thrower’s range will be much more limited, and it would encourage real football.
Reform indirect free-kicks:
Isn’t it annoying when a rapid attack is ended by a defender’s foul, the net result of which is that the offending defenders get the chance to regroup while the attacking team gather for the indirect free-kick? Why should the team that has had a player fouled be the one that loses the advantage?
I reckon football should follow hockey, which a few years ago allowed a player taking a free-hit to pass to himself. That means that player can immediately drive into space, since he doesn’t need to wait for his teammates to gather. Opponents that are within five metres can’t challenge or get in the way of the player that has taken the free-hit in that way, else they get sin-binned. This gives the team that has been fouled a real advantage; it creates chances to exploit space to greatest effect. It also means that there’s less complaining at referees, since the priority for the fouling team is to get into defensive position before the opponent drives into space.
Those are my suggestions. Do you have other ideas for improving the game, whether taken from other sports or not?
Written by 26may