10 Rule Changes That Would Make Football Better
It seems that these days, no more than a handful of games pass by without a major controversy affecting the final result of a match.
Sometimes there's nothing that can be done about these incidents. For example, there's little that can done about a debatable red card decision.
It's the referee's job to make those decisions, and reviewing those decisions in-game via replay would eat up too much time and ruin the flow of the game.
Often, however, there are small changes to the game that could be implemented to significantly reduce controversy. Usually in these cases, bureaucratic inefficiency in FIFA, UEFA or another football governing body is the reason why progress has not been made.
We're going to go through these positive changes, detailing what aspect of the game they would improve, and what the obstacles and possible drawbacks might be.
Hopefully somebody from FIFA will be reading along.
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This first one's a no-brainer. We've had calls for goal-line technology for practically a decade now—maybe even longer—and as more debatable goals are scored, the demand for goal-line technology becomes ever greater.
The good news is that after years of refusing to address the subject, FIFA seem to have finally recognized the need for goal-line technology, and could introduce it as early as next season, if Goal.com is to be believed.
Clean Slate After Champions League Quarterfinals
Here's what World Football Lead Writer Will Tidey had to say after Chelsea's 2-2 draw over Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals, a match which gave Chelsea passage to the European final but also ruled out Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Raul Meireles through suspension:
For John Terry, the punishment fits the crime. The Chelsea captain, purposely or not, drove a knee into the back of Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez and picked up a straight red card. It was violent conduct and he will rightly miss the Champions League final next month.
But for his teammates, Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic and Raul Meireles, who will also be suspended for the match against either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, I have nothing but sympathy.
All three will miss the biggest games of their careers because of a rule that just about everybody I've ever met completely disagrees with.
Yes, they picked up a pair of yellow cards during the knockout stages of an elite competition. But are two bookings, as easy as they are to come by in the modern game, really worthy of a ban for a major final? In the strongest possible terms, absolutely not.
It's almost ridiculous to disagree. As Will points out, given how easily yellow cards are dished out in the modern game, players are bound to be undeservedly suspended under the current rules.
This is a rare case where FIFA have gotten it right. In the World Cup, yellow cards are wiped off prior to the semifinals, meaning players can only miss the World Cup final if they are sent off.
In the Champions League, since there are two legs in the semifinals, players would still earn a suspension if they picked up two yellow cards over the course of both legs.
But that seems fairer to me than suspending players for picking up a single additional yellow over the course of the semifinals.
It's about time UEFA followed FIFA's lead on this one.
Add Referees Behind the Goal in League Matches
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As much as English referees would like to believe that diving is no longer a problem in modern football, a look over the penalties Ashley Young has won this season for Manchester United should quickly dispel that notion.
Both inside and outside the EPL, diving is and probably will always be a part of football. When desperate to get his team a goal, even the classiest player is liable to try and get it "the easy way" by diving to win a penalty.
Something must be done.
In this season's Champions League, UEFA trialed placing two referees behind either end of the goal to catch divers and prevent incorrect penalty calls.
The results have not been perfect, but think back—can you think of multiple incorrect penalty calls negatively affecting the results of Champions League matches this season?
I can tell you right now that no system that relies entirely on human judgement will be 100-percent accurate all the time. But early signs are promising, and there's little to lose and much to gain in implementing this system in domestic leagues.
And maybe one day, we'll get to see these things introduced too.
Liberalize the Offsides Rule
Honestly, sometimes I find myself at a loss regarding what should be done about the offside rule.
Calls to scrap it are ridiculous, but calls to introduce technology seem a bit premature, considering no actually legitimate technology has been proposed that could a) get offsides calls correct 100 percent of the time and b) not interrupt the flow of the game.
However, I am a fan of a suggestion made by B/R writer Jason Davis:
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.
That seems fair to me. I find it unfair when a player is called offsides even though his trailing foot is in line with the last defender. That's still very hard to do, and should thus be enough to keep him onside.
It's a small change, and it could do a world of good in making referees' jobs a bit easier (they would be less likely to incorrectly call a player onside).
Scrap August and February International Friendlies
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It might be a bit of a stretch to state that international friendlies serve no real purpose (because they do), but certainly, they can be much more trouble than they're worth for many of the parties involved at certain stages of the season.
That's why FIFA are on the right track by moving to get rid of their August and February international friendlies.
Nothing has been confirmed yet, but this is certainly a move that would appease many of world football's top managers and European clubs.
International friendlies, particularly in August, can injure key players in the lead-up to the start of the season for many European clubs. Plus, August friendlies don't really serve as preparation for any international competition, since most competitions take place the following summer.
As for February friendlies, they take place when clubs are in the midst of up to four competitions, and can really put a strain on big clubs and big players, often leading to bad injuries.
They're more trouble than they're worth, and can replaced by doubling up on one-friendly weeks during September, October, November and June in odd-numbered years.
Retroactive Yellow Cards for Diving
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I don't actually understand why this rule isn't already in effect.
Instituting a retroactive yellow card rule for diving would let players know that if they get away with diving in the game, they won't get away scot-free afterwards.
EPLTalk did a longer analysis of the issue after the Eduardo's dive for Arsenal against Celtic two-plus years back, but the arguments are pretty much the same as ones presented here.
Human monitoring will never catch 100 percent of dives, and introducing technology to stop diving (aside from the shin guards I linked to at the end of my third slide) would likely interrupt the flow of the game, which is a big no-no for football fans.
This seems to be the most sensible solution. I can't think of any drawbacks, provided a reliable and trustworthy board is appointed to make these decisions.
No Second Yellow Cards for Excessive Celebration
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Let me start by saying that I have a lot of problems with the yellow card for "extravagant celebration" rules set by FIFA.
Countless times, I've seen the rule invoked to give a yellow card that, frankly, shouldn't be given. One of the most famous incidents was when Mohamed Aboutrika revealed a t-shirt stating "Sympathize with Gaza" in the Africa Cup of Nations, and was booked for it.
The shirt showed a positive message, and since then, players who have shown messages underneath their shirts, such as Gary Cahill's "Pray for Fabrice Muamba" or Mario Balotelli's "Why Always Me?" have not been booked.
Generally though, I can tolerate the rule. I think it's stupid and unfair, but if it doesn't change the flow of the game then it doesn't bother me too much.
Unfortunately, there are crazy times when players do get sent off for extravagant celebration if they are already on a yellow card. This has happened with John Guidetti this season at Feyenoord.
In an even more ridiculous invocation of the rule, Emmanuel Emenike was sent off with a straight red card in Russia for a gesture the referee perceived as offensive to Zenit St. Petersburg.
I'll admit, I do believe it is pretty stupid for a player to celebrate excessively if they know there is a risk of them getting sent off via a second yellow card. I will not try to defend Guidetti's actions.
But I believe that games should never be dramatically impacted through this rule. If you must punish the player, give him a yellow card after the game or even suspend him for the following game; but do not send him off in the game that he's currently playing in.
That ruins the match for the fans and the player's team for a very poor reason.
Liberalize Goalie Restrictions on Penalty Kicks
There's nothing really special about the video above. It's just another of Gianluigi Buffon's penalty saves.
But there is one thing to notice. Just before the penalty kicker takes his penalty, Buffon steps up from the line to get himself in position to make a diving save.
Here's the thing—under current rules, that move is illegal.
Current FIFA rules indicate that during a penalty kick, an goalkeeper's feet should remain on the goal line until he dives to make a save.
The reality is that this is almost never the case. Goalkeepers almost always step up just a bit to feel more confident and get more distance in when they dive to save the ball.
That's not the real problem, however. The problem is that referees are unable to make consistent calls due to the inconsistency between FIFA's rules and real life.
Some referees will call for a penalty to be retaken if they notice a goalie is off his goal line before the shot is taken.
This inconsistency creates all sorts of controversy when a goalie accomplishes the excellent feat of saving a penalty, only to see his good work spoiled by a referee's call to retake the penalty.
The best solution is to move FIFA's rules in line with the reality. Goalies should start on the goal-line, but should be allowed to move up up to two feet (referee's discretion) when the penalty taker begins the motion to take his penalty.
This will grant the goalkeeper enough freedom to plant his feet comfortably and dive to save a penalty without worrying about if he's breaking the rules for having moved off his goal line.
Institute Rules on Returning the Ball Following Injuries
For as long as football has been around, injuries have been dealt with on a courtesy or sportsmanship basis.
The referee has the discretion to stop play, and conduct a "drop-ball" upon the resumption of play, but generally he prefers to simply allow the players to kick the ball out of play when they notice that a player is injured, and return the ball to the team that had possession upon the resumption of play.
Recently however, it seems sportsmanship has gone out the window.
In the first leg of the Asian Champions League semifinals, Mamadou Niang of Al-Sadd scored the rather disgraceful goal in this video to put his team up 2-0. Ultimately, it would prove to be the goal that took his team to the final of the competition, as the Suwon Bluewings won the return leg 1-0.
In another incident covered by B/R's Michael Cummings, Sepahan won a penalty on an injury restart when their striker decided to pursue a ball that opponents Al Nassr had allowed to roll back to their keeper.
Sepahan's coach ordered the penalty to be missed in a case of good sportsmanship, but it was too late, as the damage had already been done—the goalie was sent off for obstructing the forward on a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
These two incidents don't mean that we need to suddenly give up on sportsmanship in world football, but rules dictating exactly how players should deal with injuries wouldn't hurt.
Especially with regards to bringing the ball back in play, players should be notified via FIFA rules that they may not attack the ball until the opposing team begins to pass it forward once more.
This would prevent incidents like the two described here from happening again.
Change the Champions League Group Stage Yellow Card Rules, Too
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If you can't tell by now, I really don't like the suspension rules of the Champions League. Here are the current rules on yellow cards in the Champions League, courtesy of FIFPro:
Players who are awarded a third yellow card after the start of the group stage in September are automatically suspended for one match. That also applies to players who are given a fifth, seventh and ninth yellow card. A fourth, sixth or eighth yellow card has no consequences. This rule will remain unchanged for the coming three seasons.
These restrictive rules have seen coaches like Jose Mourinho attempt to manipulate the rules by instructing his players to pick up yellow cards and head into the knockout rounds with a clean slate.
My recommendation would be a simple one—add one yellow card to each suspension.
Players should be suspended automatically for their fourth yellow card after the start of group stage; from there, they pick up a suspension for every second yellow card until the semifinals, at which point their record will be wiped clean.
This will allow only the truly dirty players to be punished, while players who don't really play dirty (Holger Badstuber, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic, etc.) are allowed to play their game without facing unfair consequences.