Football is broken. Here are 3 ways to fix it. (You’re welcome.)


The 3 ways I’d change football

Honestly, the game of football is becoming less attractive to me. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way too. It could be recovered though.

I have two problems.

  • The sport is now predictable.
  • The rules are sucking out the joy and the punishment isn’t even close to the crime.

Whether it’s an Arsenal game or most any team in any big league, I see that the game has pivoted quite rapidly from a players game to a coaches game and is worse off because of this.

I say this as a coach too but a coach that hopefully understands when to step in and when to step out and allow the players to play and create.

My main concern is the predictability of what I’m seeing.

I feel like I know where the ball is going to go before almost any action because the game has become about coaching absolutes. When the ball is here, it must go here. And when it’s here it has to go there. Some coaches have the early Guardiola style. Programmed football until the final third where creativity takes over. Most teams I watch seem to have the players only using their creative freedom when the game is late and desperation takes over.

I appreciate players like James Milner and what they bring to the game but James Milner doesn’t sell many jerseys and – as efficient as he is as a footballer – he’s not the reason that we tune in. There’s a reason why the likes of Messi, Bergkamp and Neymar are adored or simply watched. They bring unpredictability and magic.

The word magic is key here. All magic is based on surprise. Any magic trick, whether in football or on stage, loses almost all its appeal if you know what’s going to happen.

I hope that one day, before fans start to leave in droves, the sport will figure out that unpredictability is the energy that encourages a fan to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. To take three methods of transport, stand on the terraces on a cold and wet day and support the team that they love.

They do it for three reasons.

  • They do it for the camaraderie.
  • They do it because they hope that their team will win.
  • They also do it either subconsciously or consciously because they want to see something beautiful, some magic or again, unpredictability.

My concern is that the lack of unpredictability alongside the introduction of VAR will increasingly turn the fans off and away from football.

Alongside this, the increasing level of play-acting and players and coaches generally taking advantage of every loophole in the laws will add to this frustration.

I spend way too much time doing the very male thing of trying to fix what I don’t like. I have some ideas of rules that I think need to be put in place due to the problems that are sucking the fairness and joy from the sport.

Please understand, in a utopian scenario I would have no interest in these rules being a part of the sport and part of me hates rule changes. I think we are at the place where we have no choice, though. Apologies in advance but here we go…

Rule change #1….. Penalty Kicks

A football pitch is now part grass, part ice rink.


As soon as an attacker goes into the box, he puts on his ice skates and his legs become the first time you ever went on the rink. Remember? What a shame. Where did we go wrong?

I’ve thought for years that the worst rule in football is what constitutes a penalty kick.

A penalty kick is statistically an 80% chance to score. As we know, nothing in football gives you a better chance. Well I suppose a one-on-one or a tap-in would offer a similar 8/10 chance but here’s the difference…. players and coaches have figured out that trying to create a one-on-one or a tap-in is far more complicated than trying to con a referee.

Beyond that, you get this 80% chance for multiple 5% situations. The player dribbling out of the side of the box with no intention of even trying to score. Not even facing the goal!

The player aimlessly chasing an overhit through ball. They get there just before it goes out for a goal kick. They stretch, get their toe to it and whack it out for a goal kick with no intention of anything other. A defender catches their foot as they boot it out for a goal kick. Result… The 80% chance to score.


I’d say that well over 50% of all penalty kicks are not worthy of an 80% chance of scoring.

What should we do then?


Give a penalty kick for any action in the box that ‘denies a clear goalscoring opportunity.’

Anything else is a direct free kick or indirect free kick, just like outside the box. ‘A direct free kick IS a penalty kick’ I hear you say. Only because we are told it is. Doesn’t have to be. It can be a simple free kick with a wall.

Not only would this rule mean that the punishment actually now fits the crime, but you now fix at least 2 problems. Firstly, you create some very interesting and creative problem solving situations with free kicks close to goal. Would be very entertaining as well as fair. More importantly, you have gone a long way to solve one of the other biggest problems in football…. diving.

So, one decision fixes two of the biggest problems in football.

Hold on…. it actually fixes three big problems.

The problem I speak of is my next change…. VAR.


Rule change # 2…. VAR

Firstly with VAR, if you implement my first thought then all these multitudes of armpit penalties, defenders defending as if they have no arms and all of the other ridiculousness vanishes overnight. BINGO!!

Secondly, I love the goal line technology. It’s what I thought VAR was going to be. It’s instant and accurate.

I thought that VAR was going to be this.

But it’s the opposite of instant. It’s not even accurate as the people using it are either hamstrung by stupid rules or they aren’t competent. Actually for me the most frustrating part is the insecurity that is shown by the PGMOL. The fact that the ref has to add another 2 minutes on top of the other 2 minutes that the review crew use shows me that they know that their system is not respected as they use the ref to ‘prove’ they are right. It’s like this… you have a job at the supermarket at the cash register. The customer pays cash. You get out their change but your boss has told you that you can’t give it to the customer until they are called over to double check. Two minutes later the boss shows up, double checks your counting and the hugely frustrated customer gets their 76p and leaves, not wanting to go back.

The trouble is that there are lots of supermarkets that don’t do this so you go to a different one next time. There is only one refereeing system so we have to suffer.

Surely the people employed to review decisions are good enough to decide? If they aren’t, why are they employed?

I would get rid of VAR entirely.

I disagree with those that say you can’t go back. Yes, you can.

One of the most important things I’ve learnt in my life is to use the proverbial scales when making any decision that has both pros and cons.

If I put VAR on the scales I happily admit that it’s good when they get a difficult refereeing decision right. Pre-VAR, it was very frustrating when they got it wrong.

The scales tip heavily in favour of getting rid of it when a goal goes in though.

Living in the United States for half my life I have on many occasions had the opportunity to compare football with the traditional American sports. I’ve often compared it to basketball. My argument with those that prefer basketball is that basketball is like Christmas every day. Too many points. It only gets exciting at the very end if the game is close. Football is like Christmas once a year. Most games are decided by 1 goal. All of you reading this will I’m sure agree that the huge avalanche of joy that we experience when the goal we’ve been pining for finally goes in is a feeling that is not replicated in any other part of our life. There is nothing that I do in my life that makes me lose all sense of self awareness and not care about this. The scoring of a goal in football is the whole point of the game. Now with the introduction of VAR we have lost this joy. We all semi-celebrate, stop, wonder and hope and then sort of celebrate again four minutes later when they finally make their mind up. No rule or modern technology improvement should ever EVER reduce the most important moment in the world’s most popular sport.

Does this even happen any more?

I’d add that even if the reviewers/ref and his screen get every decision 100% right, I’d still ditch VAR as I want to celebrate a goal when it actually happens rather than press pause on my joy.

The scales tip dramatically in one direction.

Rule change # 3….. Sin Bin

Like my first rule, part of this saddens me as I wish that players wouldn’t cheat, but they do and it’s getting far worse.

I admire the work that Pep has done at City. They have been superior to most for a while. What I do question is how successful they would’ve been if there were sin bins for tactical (professional) fouls. Fernandinho for one would not be anywhere near as effective as a footballer.

Much like the penalty kick dilemma, when a player is in his own half and breaking away for a 4 vs 3 opportunity and is intentionally brought down, the punishment doesn’t come close to fitting the crime.

A 4 vs 3 with huge swathes of pitch to attack with 8 less defenders there is currently punished by a yellow card and then a 9 vs 11 free kick with 75 yards to go. How does that represent what the attacking team had as an advantage?

In order to make this type of situation fair and to make players think twice about it you would have to make the punishment significantly more severe than a yellow card and a 75 yard from goal free kick.

You either bring back the professional foul and give straight red cards or you initiate a sin bin.

I’d make it a 15 minute sin bin.


(Photo: Getty Images)

I’d give a sin bin in any situation where a free kick and yellow card doesn’t fit the crime. If the incident happens in the last 15 minutes then the offender sits out the rest of the game.

There is no way anyone will ever persuade me that when I see Fernandinho pulling back a player whmo he can’t catch and who has a great opportunity to create a goal-scoring chance, shouldn’t see a punishment far greater than a yellow card and free kick. He’s mastered how to not get the second yellow and feels much better now that his entire team is behind the ball to help him.

For those of you who say that these rules are bad and the current rules and cheating are just ‘part of the game,’ I’d argue that the game is being taken advantage of. It is becoming incredibly unfair in many situations. I’d also argue that the game of football should favor fair attacking opportunities over cheating and that currently cheating is winning the day.

You might find that with these new rule ideas, defending would get much better as the defenders would have to defend and not rely on fouling.

A good debate at least.

I’ve got more ideas, but this has been long enough.

I’ll save the rest for Part 2.

And 3… 😉

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6 Responses to Football is broken. Here are 3 ways to fix it. (You’re welcome.)

  1. Dominic March 20, 2021 at 8:37 am #

    The problem isn’t with VAR it’s with how it’s implemented. Take the off side rule that if any part of the player is beyond the defender than he is off side, Ridiculous, we end up trying to decide where a player’s shoulder ends and where the arm begins. Change the rule to if any part of the attacker overlaps any part of the defender the player is onside. Result most decisions will be made within 5-10 seconds. Take for example Chelsea’s goal against Arsenal in the last match. One quick glance an you can plainly see that the scorer’s body overlaps the defender yet it took a couple of minutes for the current VAR to decide that it was a goal.
    As regards stopping the game and looking back at incidents that happened maybe 1-2 minutes previously there is a simple solution. The whole broadcast is computer controlled and it would be a simple operation to amend the software as follows. When the VAR sees an incident they push a button and the system automatically sets a flag and starts a countdown of say 30 seconds. After 30 seconds if there is no natural stoppage the flag is cleared and the game continues, otherwise the referee can look and the incident and make a decision. It would keep the game flowing and that is what football is all about.

  2. potter March 20, 2021 at 9:12 am #

    Off side should be about the feet only , a body position , a slight lean or an arm doesn’t matter after all you can’t score with your arm or at least you should’t. If your feet are off then so are you .
    The way that VAR is operated is a dog’s breakfast and entirely dependant on who is sitting in Stockley Park . As with referees there were fussy ones Elleray , Durkin , Thomas etc and others more lenient Roger Milford who players could have a joke with but largely had their respect .
    Now they are automatons unapproachable and above criticism protected by VAR they referee with tick boxes.
    Your third point of rotational fouling is to my mind more important , allowing it sucks the life out of spontaneity it needs a different way of looking at , and I would be open to a sin bin but I think maybe 15 minutes is too long but 10 fine.
    In all a good post with interesting subject . Thanks.

  3. allezkev March 21, 2021 at 2:25 am #

    You know what Mike, one of the things that really infuriates me is when I listen to pundits and ex pros talking about penalty incidents and they use the term ‘contact’ as in ‘the forward felt the contact and went down’ but what about a foul? To me contact isn’t a foul it’s contact and football is, just about, still a contact sport, just because a player touches another player that shouldn’t be automatically interpreted as a foul because in many cases it isn’t, well not from what I see but we’ve been so groomed into accepting that all contact in the box or anywhere else for that matter but especially in the box as a foul and to me that just not right!

    VAR is a positive thing I think but the people operating it are clearly not using it to improve the game, the product, they are using it to hide their own inadequacies.

    I like the idea of a Sin Bin and have done for a long time, I really don’t know why it hasn’t been trialled seriously up till now.

    Great post.

    • NICK March 21, 2021 at 7:59 am #

      Great post again Mike. I still think there is a place for VAR as I have said in a previous response and once again rugby union demonstrated yesterday in the Wales v France game how good a competent referee and var can be. We have unbelievable technology these days and yet football just doesn’t seem to be able to make it work leading to us fans calling for var to be scrapped. Seems crazy to me.

  4. earlset March 21, 2021 at 2:08 pm #

    Some excellent points.I agree with you on the awarding of penalty kicks and the introduction of a sin bin.
    On the subject of VAR I see little chance of it being shelved so the important thing is to make it better.The offside law is likely to be overhauled as it probably comes in for the most ridicule.Tackles leading to penalties are often open to interpretation and seem to depend on the bias of individual refs.
    When looking at rule changes I would like to see ways that the game can be made to flow without constant interruptions.
    Some examples where time is wasted:
    -running down the clock with late substitutions
    -free kicks that take a lifetime to complete
    -the ritual of wrestling and grappling prior to a corner or free kick.The referee then intervenes but then the kick takes place and the same players continue with their wrestling matches

    Players and coaches will always try and find loopholes ,however the lawmakers need to find a way of establishing laws that are clear to everyone and don’t need chopping and changing in the course of a season.

  5. PETE September 4, 2022 at 7:18 pm #

    Liverpool fan here. Completely agree with your rule three proposal about sin bins. I tweeted on this exact topic today when Arsenal suffered 2 rugby style pullbacks. McTominay and Maguire should both have got a sin bin. I would make it an orange card if they need to differentiate between the professional/cynical foul offence and a regular mistimed tackle et cetera. This week feels like it has taken things too far. With awful var calls. Newcastle fake injuries/cramps etc. The game needs a massive overhaul and many of The rugby ways would help. Football feels like it’s decades behind rugby in the way it’s managed. Timekeeping. Captains only can approach ref. Etc etc.

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