Yes, we love the beautiful game. Unreservedly. We call out sick for it, we sacrifice our weekends to it and we willingly worship at the alter of the world's greatest sporting passion. Our moods shift with the fortunes of our teams, and we revel in fantastic performances from the likes of Messi and Van Persie as if their abilities are tethered to our souls.
But that doesn't mean the game is perfect. We accept the flaws built into it because we really have no other choice. With a tweak here or there, however, could it be a little better? Could a rule change or two actually make the game more enjoyable?
There was a time before the card system. There was a time before substitutions. Maybe it's time to consider altering the game just a little. Subtly. Evolution, not revolution.
Suggestions for changes to the sport range from additional substitutes to sin bins and to scrapping the penalty shootout. Not all of them would benefit the game, but some are definitely worth further consideration.
If it's possible to improve the game, these 10 suggestions are a start. Note that many presented here are only conceptual, representing possible changes that would require testing and refining before they could, or should, be instituted.
Keep in mind that any changes to the Laws of the Game require the approval of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), in which FIFA is just one of six voting members.
I'm a traditionalist by nature, but several of these 10 rules changes that could improve world football are very intriguing.
The "sin-bin" idea, patterned after the rules of rugby, first cropped up 10 years ago. The idea was revived as recently as 2009, when the Irish FA presented a proposal for the sin-bin to International Football Association Board (IFAB).
Clearly, that presentation went nowhere. But the idea has merit as a way to curb the discipline problems currently infecting the game. Perhaps it's time for another look.
Players might think twice about committing yellow card-worthy fouls if the penalty for doing so included a period of time in the sin-bin; games bogged down by overly physical play and constant fouling would certainly open up if one of side is given a 10-minute man advantage.
Persistent infringement and dangerous tackles too often stain otherwise entertaining matches. The "sin-bin" might be enough to lessen their impact considerably.
The speed of the game has made the job of the assistant referee increasingly more difficult. Too many games are changed by incorrect offside calls. The quickest way to increase scoring and make for a more entertaining game is to loosen the offside rule.
The history of the rule is one of rather consistent liberalization. From three defenders to two in the early decades of the sport, and then in 1990, the revision that gave us the "even with the second-to-last opponent."
Adjusting the rule further, simply to allow an attacking player to be ruled onside if any part of his body is level with the second-to-last defender, would eliminate many of the razor edge calls that cause so much controversy.
Just that small change would dramatically increase scoring and allow for a more entertaining game.
A less obvious, perhaps silly suggestion that hasn't come up before: limit the size of the gloves goalkeepers wear.
Currently, there is no rule dictating goalkeeping equipment beyond that he must wear a color distinguishable from his teammates. A simple rule against oversized gloves might raise scoring without the need to increase the size of the goal (another often suggested tweak to the game).
Keeper gloves are heavily padded, much larger than the size of the keeper's hands, an obvious advantage when it comes to stopping shots.
Reducing glove size is one of the less intrusive changes available that could still have a tangible effect on the entertainment value of the game.
The change in the back-pass rule, introduced as a response to the terrible drab play in Italia '90, was one of the better fixes to a problem instituted by the powers that be. Why not take it a step further?
Forcing a keeper to play the ball with his feet when a teammate intentionally kicks the ball to him eliminated rampant time wasting. But it did little to change the fact that teams have an easy safety valve when playing negatively.
Making it illegal to pass the ball with the feet to the goalkeeper from outside of the penalty area would force players to find other passing options or, the more likely choice when facing pressure, move the ball up-field by whatever means necessary.
Long balls from the back aren't most people's idea of good soccer, but it's a fair sight better than constant passes backward to the goalkeeper, who typically hoofs the ball up-field himself.
Admittedly, this one is a little out there. Not only is it impractical to enforce (requiring officials to keep track of 10 moving players in order to count them), it represents a fundamental change to the defensive aspects of the game.
If an exception is made for set pieces, it's slightly more palatable.
By limiting the number of defenders a team can put in the box (to say, six or seven), the rule wouldn't eliminate overly negative tactics ("parking the bus"), but it would force a certain number of those playing behind the ball to stay wide.
Keep the numbers down in the box and eliminate much of that goal-clogging traffic in front of the keeper that infects so many games around the world. If you could enforce it, I mean.
Flatly stated, the penalty shootout is a terrible way to determine winners in a knock-out situation. The shootout doesn't incorporate any elements of the game beyond kicking a dead ball, and it turns the goalkeeper into a disproportionate part of a win or loss.
It's too often a matter of luck.
So why not get rid of it? Because no one seems to like any of the other options.
The obvious choice, the Golden Goal, came and went when it appeared teams were playing not to lose rather than going for the winning score. After Euro 2004, it was back to a penalty shootout if a match was tied after 120 minutes. It's that situation that gives us two teams playing for penalties.
Unique suggestions for eliminating the negative play penalties foster is to hold a shootout before extra time and only using it to determine a winner if the two teams are tied after the two 15-minute periods. In that scenario, at least one will attack knowing they must score.
Whatever the solution might be, and no matter how much drama the shootout produces, it's a terrible way to decide a winner after 120 minutes.
This one is wholly on FIFA; no need for IFAB to be involved, though it's complicated by the wide range of citizenship requirements in place in member nations around the world. How do you apply one set of standards across the board with such a disparity in approach?
At the moment, questionable practices of naturalizing and qualifying players for various national teams are commonplace around the world. Several nations could be accused of cheating the system by bringing in players with little connection to their countries. Often, all that's required is a (relatively) short period of residency and nothing more.
That's in addition to players with multiple options due their lineage, a situation that causes consternation among fanbases and leads to insipid name-calling (the word "traitor" comes to mind) and behavior that borders on xenophobia. As long as the rules stay as they are, it will continue to happen.
The simplest fix is dictating that players can only represent the country of their birth. Admittedly, that's a dramatic change from the current standard and would cause an uproar from many countries who cannot compete without their naturalized and/or dual-citizen players.
No list on rule changes for world football would be complete without the inevitable mention of goal-line technology. It's well past time for FIFA to figure out how to use the tools available to ensure that a goal is a goal.
Each time another high-profile incident pops up that reinforces the problem at hand—namely, that as long as fans can see replays, the legitimacy of the game is in question—the burden to get technology in place grows heavier.
Luckily, there's movement on the issue. FIFA is taking steps to identify the right technology, in their own drawn-out way, so perhaps a solution is on the horizon. Even a goal judge in the vein of the NHL would be a massive improvement over the situation as it exists.
The integrity of the game should always be paramount. Finally installing a goal-line technology after so much hand-wringing would return some of that integrity.
The "last man" rule is better termed the "DOGSO rule."
DOGSO, if you're unsure, stands for Deny an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity. It's the situation that dictates the referee must eject a player for committing a foul on attacker who is cleat through on the goalkeeper.
When that foul happens in the penalty area, it means the offending team is hit with the loss of a player and a penalty kick. That's a double whammy of a punishment that unfairly tilts the remainder of the game.
The penalty kick is more than enough of a penalty; the only time an ejection is necessary is when the offender is already on yellow card and the DOGSO foul earns him a second. A straight red in addition to the penalty kick is simply too much.
The rule change is simple and unlikely to cause much controversy. Time to do away with the "last man" double sanction.
Allowing an extra substitute is simple change that would provide for an infusion of energy into matches that go beyond the usual 90 minutes. An additional substitute gives the manager the chance to impact the game when his hands are otherwise tied.
In other words, there's little reason not to do it. As games drag on towards penalties, the level of play naturally deteriorates. Even one play on each side coming on with fresh legs can dramatically improve quality.
Unfortunately, FIFA withdrew a proposed amendment to add a fourth substitute in extra time at the most recent IFAB meeting in London on March 3. For the foreseeable future, the change is off the table.