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.
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… 😉
Former Highbury regular. Moved to TN, USA in ’99. Married with 3 kids. Coached in UK and US for 27 years.
Mike McDonald Soccer Academy in Morristown TN, Olympic Development coach, Regional Premier League Champion.