Changing the rules of football part I: The cups and the playoffs
Roughly a month ago, Chris Miller, Tottenham writer over at windycoys.com went viral with a thread asking people what three changes they’d like to see made immediately to improve the game.
There were a lot of replies, and I had opinions. I’ve collected a few, put them into groups and discussed their feasibility and, bluntly, whether or not I like them. To save your eyes and your patience, I’ve split it into three parts. First up, the cups and the playoffs…
No FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley
This was a very popular one.
Playing semi-finals at Wembley was supposed to help pay-off the huge bill for building the national stadium in the first place. If Shaheed Khan gets his way that won’t be a problem any more.
The only pro-Wembley voices fell into two camps.
The first were fans of teams who have only ever seen their teams play at Wembley thanks to a semi. While I see this point, what if your team reaches a final in 5 years’ time? Wouldn’t it have been more special to break your duck then?
The second were fans of teams who find it really difficult to get tickets to see their team, for whom Wembley helps because of its sheer size and the number of tickets available for a big game. Again, I can see this but I think this is a problem better tackled by seriously looking at ticket touting and the number of corporate tickets in the game. Also, these big teams make finals fairly regularly anyway – if you want to see your team play in a big stadium on a big stage then go to the final.
This is one where I think we have to stand up for tradition. The infamous chant ‘Que serra serra’ relies on the fact that ‘going to Wember-ley’ is synonymous with playing a final. Playing semis there is just not right. This change gets the rubber stamp from me.
Abolish the cup-tie rule
This was a rule introduced before transfer windows and the 2-club rule (that European players can’t play for more than two teams in a season). So the argument made for abolishing the cup-tie rule is that these two rules already cover the problem and it just means some of the best players in the world sitting on the bench unnecessarily.
UEFA have already announced this will be implemented in European football next season, which I’m sure will be of absolutely no comfort whatsoever to Arsenal fans. But there we go.
I think my main opposition to this would be that it could remove a level of protection from clubs in the Champions League but outside the European elite. They’re players will be more valuable, but also more attractive to big European clubs in January. This could further affect the balance of the Champions League. There was much outcry this year about one-sided group stage matches, and even in the last sixteen, five of the eight ties were won by three or more goals.
In domestic cup ties, I can see no real reason why this rule should exist.
I think ultimately I’m in favour of this rule change. It always seems like a waste to see great players sit matches out.
No away goals
This was another really popular one. But I just don’t get it.
I’ve heard a lot of pundits talk about how the game’s changed and Europe is smaller than it used to be. Teams know each other better and are therefore less scared about going away from home in the first leg. Isn’t this also true of the Premier League where we frequently see turgid away performances?
I think the value of away goals was best demonstrated, ironically, by a 0-0 this season. United’s 0-0 draw with Sevilla in the Champions League was slated as a bad, and crucially a dangerous, result before a ball had even been kicked in the second leg. Thanks to the away goals rule, 0-0 away from home is a risky scoreline. Had United managed an equaliser at 2-2 in that second leg, it still wouldn’t have been enough to save them. When Mourinho tried to defend the result, there was much talk about the way Alex Ferguson had long abandoned his plan to get a 0-0 first leg away result, in large part thanks to the away goals rule.
The away goals rule creates an incentive for the away side in a first leg to attack. Opening up the first leg gets goals on the board, and in turn usually livens up the second leg too.
I think a lot of criticism of the away goals rule comes from fans who have been burned rather than any objective analysis. Getting rid of it would also lead to a lot more extra time, and as you’ll see, I don’t have a lot of time for extra time.
OR away goals only after ET
Again, as far as I’m concerned, all this means is more 0-0 first legs and poor quality extra-time football. Moreover, I think this is actually unfair. Now away goals only count after the second-leg home team have played more minutes at home. How is that fair? They had their minutes to score away goals. They shouldn’t get extra home minutes. The away goals rule is like Di Canio as a manager, it’s not perfect but it’s exciting and you’ll miss it when it’s gone and you’re watching a mindnumbing 0-0.
No playoffs – the top 3 teams go up
I can absolutely see this point on fairness grounds. Not only do playoffs not necessarily promote the best three teams as the league dictates, but they also usually benefit teams who make a late run so it values the second half of the season over the first.
I like the playoffs though, even if they haven’t been kind to my team. Between 2006 and 2009 Leeds lost a Championship play-off final to Watford 3-0, a League 1 play-off final 1-0 to Doncaster, and a League 1 play-off semi to rivals Millwall. By rights, I should be no fan. And yet…
Dean Windass smashing the ball in from 20 yards to win it. The most financially valuable game in world football often contested between two provincial English towns. There’s drama in it. I say keep it. In fact…
Have a relegation/ promotion playoff as in the Bundesliga
Why don’t we add more to it? Well actually, no, I don’t love this one either. They already do it in the Bundesliga and apparently it’s been tried here in the dim and distant past (before the Premier League – in football’s ‘trial phase’). In fact, it was tried from 1987-1988 (5-6 B.P.L).
It appears the major reason it was stopped was that the police didn’t much care for it. Having to police the fans of a team relegated based on a last-minute winner in one game was apparently quite the challenge. This seems intuitive but probably ultimately controllable these days, after all, they do it in Germany.
I have bigger objections though. The playoffs should be exciting, and there is nothing duller than a Premier League team saving their skin by just beating a team in a lower division like an overhyped 3rd round FA Cup tie. So, for boring old, small c conservative me, the playoffs should stay the same.
In part 2 I’ll be bringing you proposed changes to how football is refereed and something I’m nebulously calling, ‘the game.’