Changing football for the better (or worse?)

Considering football’s immense popularity throughout the globe, is it foolish to discuss and implement changes to the sport? Traditionalists might argue that to tinker with its winning formula could be the undoing of the beautiful game, while others feel that it’s only healthy for the sport to modernise.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter is now keen to implement goal-line technology

After years of staunch opposition against goal-line technology, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has since changed his stance. Last week, in an interview with TF1 (Télévision Française 1), he is quoted as saying: “I believe we will have a system in 2012 which allows us to say whether it was a goal or not. And this system will then be introduced for the 2014 World Cup.”

After such a drastic U-turn over such a divisive issue, could it be that the following four tongue-in-cheek suggestions for improving the sport might one day become a reality?

Suggestion 1: Walls instead of touchlines

During a match, the football can go out of play for a throw-in, a corner kick or a goal kick. Add to that the numerous fouls in a game (there were 47 fouls in the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands) and you get a sense of just how many interruptions there are to the flow of the action.

Indoor games of football, on the other hand, are fast paced with very few stoppages. Also, the ability to use the wall to play a ‘one-two’ pass to outwit an opponent can lead to smug satisfaction when performed successfully.

To implement this change, teams would just have to move the pitch-side advertising boards in a bit. What a difference it would make! Not to mention, ice hockey-style wall hits are much more watchable than niggly fouls.

Suggestion 2: No goalkeepers

Under the current rules of football, goalkeepers are permitted to use their hands, and (as the name of the sport suggests) that’s just not right. Often, goalkeepers were outfield players themselves before they realised they couldn’t be bothered with all the running (see former England goalkeeper Ian Walker). Without them, football would see higher scoring games as well as new attacking and defensive tactics. Plus, spectacular goal-line clearances like in the video below (18 seconds in) would be a regular event.

Suggestion 3: Fewer players

The success of sport spin-offs such as Twenty 20 cricket and Rugby Sevens has proved that variants of popular sports can garner as much attention as the originals.

With this in mind, a departure from 11-a-side football would be a change worth considering.

Small-sided football is widely accepted as the best way for children to learn the game, as fewer players on each side allow for more touches of the ball per player and a greater chance for youngsters to develop their technique. The development of technique should not be something limited to children, though. Professional footballers renowned for skilful dribbling are becoming a rarer breed. With a less congested pitch, dribbling would become more prevalent and football would become more entertaining as a result.

Suggestion 4: Scrap the offside rule

The offside rule is constantly being revised and updated, but the time has come for FIFA to shelve it once and for all. It is not just another potential interruption to the flow of the action, but a rule that compresses the play into an area much smaller than the entire length of the pitch.

It is true that, without the offside rule, strikers could theoretically poach in the six yard box for the duration of a game, but this might mean that we may yet see the best of recently retired Brazilian Ronaldo in action, and other players opposed to running (Egypt’s Mido comes to mind).

A raised offside flag: a depressingly familiar sight in football today

* What are your ideas on how to improve football? Please add your own suggestions below.

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3 Responses to Changing football for the better (or worse?)

  1. Bill says:

    Football without offside is a complete disaster. It turns into nothing but long balls and poaching, it only works on a small field like one has indoors.

    My rule changes:
    1. Get rid of throw-ins, do a kick in from the line, but with a 2 yard distance enforced. Game speed would increase, and it would be more consistent with the game.
    2. Create a rule similar to icing in hockey, no more just booting the ball aimlessly down the pitch. Award a freekick in the attacking half if the ball is cleared across two lines (at 1/3 and 2/3 the way down the pitch).
    3. Get rid of the PK shootout, in extra time start removing players from the pitch eventually the game opens up enough for goals to be scored. PK’s are terrible.
    4. I’m a bit ambivalent about the “sin bin” or “penalty box” for yellow cards.

  2. James says:

    Hi Bill,

    Despite suggesting it as a possible change to the game, I actually agree with you: abolishing the offside rule would damage football irreparably. Although it can interrupt the game quite frequently (especially if Filippo Inzaghi is on the pitch), without it, football would involve less skill and more brute force.

    I think your second idea definitely has some mileage. The long ball, however, has its place when, for example, a team is losing by a single goal and there are five minutes left to play. Also, it would rely on the referee’s interpretation: for instance, would penalties be awarded if a player made a goal-line clearance by booting the ball half way up the pitch?

    I disagree with you on the matter of the penalty shootout. I bloody love them (probably because it has been many years since either of my teams have been involved in one). That said, if your third suggestion was implemented, watching a World Cup final be decided with a game of three-on-three would be amazing!

    • Graham says:

      Good ideas all round. If anyones interested we have already written a piece on possible changes to the offside rule a little while back. http://goodfeetforabigman.com/2010/10/13/99/ is the link if you fancy some added reading!

      I like the idea of kick-ins. I think you are right that game speed would increase. Arsene Wenger likes it too.

      Field Hockey has a rule where you are allowed to make a ‘self-pass’ from free hits, which basically means you can pass to yourself. I would like to see that rule added as well. I think that would mean things would speed up as well as you could just get on with the game.

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