Rule changes part II: the referee and the game
We’ve all played Football Manager, but what about playing football administrator? A much more exciting and rewarding experience, right? Well anyway, that’s the challenge we’ve taken on at Foul Throw, stimulated by this Twitter thread and the responses to it. In this three-part series, I’m exploring some ideas for changes to the rules of football and deciding whether or not I think they’re good. Much like the second season clear out on Football Manager, there are some tough decisions to be made.
In part one I covered the cups and the playoffs, this week it’s the referee and the game. Right then.
I’d be quite in favour of this personally. No one really cares about getting decisions right, surely? You care about your team gaining an advantage, and since its hardwired into football fans (and human beings) to remember only the decisions that went against you, all football fans think that getting decisions right means giving them to their team. Well, it doesn’t.
Decisions generally balance out over the course of a season, and where they don’t, they’re usually given to the big teams at home. You won’t stop this until you get rid of all ambiguity from the laws of the game which you obviously can’t do, and certainly not with VAR.
VAR slows the game down, drains atmosphere, makes referees even more self-important, and even when its truly woven into the fabric of the game à la rugby, still doesn’t get every decision right – just ask the 2007 England rugby team.
Use VAR for clear-cut offside decisions only
I’d be in favour of this, broadly, if it was being constantly monitored so that a quick, more or less in-play, decision could be given. To do this, you’d probably have to simplify or modify the offside rule (see below) which I’m also broadly in favour of.
Harsher punishments for dissent
Dissent only annoys me when it slows the game down. So that’s what should be punished.
I do hear the arguments about respect in the game at the grassroots level, especially where kids are concerned. But I just don’t think you’re ever going to stop someone reacting in the heat of the moment with a quick expletive.
I’d punish anything that delays or seeks to genuinely influence the giving of a decision or a card. This would include quite a lot of stuff, encompassing rushing and crowding the referee or extended argument from an individual. What I don’t think we should be doing is outlawing swearing or reacting immediately and harmlessly in the heat of the moment. Even rugby, often held up as a paragon in this regard, don’t do that.
Harsher and retrospective punishments for diving
I’m conflicted about diving. I think diving annoys me when it’s feigning injury because, again, it delays the game. But if diving could be, as Pochettino says it is in other countries, just another feature of the game which was decided quickly and then moved on from, I think it’d be fine.
I’d do more to prevent players staying down unnecessarily, such as mandating treatment off the field for anyone down longer than 30 seconds (you might need VAR to police/enforce this), but I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for stronger or retrospective punishments for diving.
For what it’s worth, Will Jones’ position on this is: diving is abhorrent, until an England player does it at a World Cup.
Sin bin for yellow cards
I’m actually wholly in favour of this. Most of the time, the only actual punishment for a yellow card is a one game ban somewhere down the line should they accumulate. Often players can engineer these bans in meaningless games, or around Christmas-time in a move which, while I respect it, does seem against the spirit of the thing.
Sin bins would mean proper punishments that wouldn’t destroy games. It would give teams a brief advantage and an incentive to attack. This would have a serious impact on football, no doubt, but I think it would largely be for the better. We’d see fewer professional fouls to stop the break, fewer dives as there would be an immediate punishment if caught, and a fundamentally more open game.
I can see an argument that this really does risk making football a non-contact sport, but I actually think the cards would adjust, you’d see fewer of either colour but yellows would matter more. Obviously, for this not to become farcical some nonsense yellow card offences would have to be completely removed, such as celebrating with the crowd or without a shirt, but that would only be a good thing. The yellow card would become a more flexible tool to enforce the game’s laws with respect to areas like timewasting and dissent.
Stop the clock when the ball goes out of play
Players rolling around on the floor; Lehmann ‘dropping’ the ball ‘against’ an advertising hoarding; a throw-in which takes a good minute; or a Ronaldo free-kick where we get a full minute of build-up before the actual event. Whatever your favourite brand of football timewasting, it’s generally accepted that the ball isn’t in play for a full 90 mins. In fact, most research suggests that it’s actually in play for about 55-60 mins per game. Which means football fans are being cheated out of their game, right?
Well, I’m not so sure. Football has become the leviathan it has for a whole host of reasons, but one is the intensity that it is played at, especially at club level in this country. Making players play longer risks this product. And I don’t think that’s speculation, because we get a taste of what it would be like every time a cup game finishes level after the 90.
We’ve all seen extra time right? Tired players who’re cramping up and hoofing the ball long for fear of being caught on it. Well that’s what you’ll get if you implement this. Players will be tired, not just towards the end of individual games, but over the course of a season as a whole. Eventually, they’ll get injured.
One route to get the benefits of eradicating timewasting without this would be to reduce playing time to 60-65 minutes. This is a big change that fundamentally alters football though. For one, all those goals per minute records will be obsolete overnight. Do you really want to do that to Opta? Do you?
I think this rule change would be good but is probably actually quite hard to implement, for reasons of tradition and practicality.
Daylight for offside
Here’s one I really like. I think this works for two reasons.
Number one is the practicality of officiating. It’s been talked about a lot since the introduction of VAR how high-definition TV gave us the very problem it’s now trying to solve. Any old Tom, Dick or Harry (most pundits fall into one of those categories) sitting in a TV studio can now look at 56 replays, freeze framed at the exact moment a 60-yard diagonal ball was played by a defender, with A LINE drawn on, and berate a lino, ‘HOW DID HE NOT SEE THAT??’ Now, I want to be clear, I’m no defender of bad linos, undoubtedly they exist and should be told as much. But it does seem like a bit of a thankless task to decide in a split-second whether Douglas Costa’s toe was offside.
We can, and should, make their jobs easier. Not just for them, but for the game. Which brings us to reason two…
I have a question for you (provided you’re not Alan Hansen or that commentator who always goes on about ‘tactical affairs’, which I can only assume are something Tom Cruise or Wayne Bridge have.) Anyway, if you’re not one of those two people; what do you prefer, goals or not goals?
Goals. Good. Now relax the offside rule.
So, there you have it, a roadmap for the complete overhaul of the game and the way it’s officiated. Or not, because I only actually voted in favour of about three or four of these. Coming up in part 3, the squads, the fans, the money and the misc.