5 Rule Changes That Could Improve World Football
Rule changes have been popular in most sports.
In football, however, they have only come slowly and have often faced antagonism from both FIFA, the professional game's governing body and traditionalists who look to maintain whatever purity still remains in the sport.
Yet, for numerous reasons, trends have forced changes in the manner that professional football is played and officiated way before the current debates on goal-line technology and the limitations and accountability of match referees.
In the 1950s, rules concerning substitutions were put in place after Horst Eckel became the first-ever, game-time replacement in a 1954 World Cup qualifying match between Germany and Saarland which paved the road to the three permitted substitutes allowed in football today.
Similarly, in the early 1990s the Golden Goal rule was introduced as a “sudden death” alternative in order to avoid penalty shootouts. Following the 2004 Euros in Portugal, it fizzled out and was replaced instead with two fifteen-minute halves prior to penalties, increasing fairness in the eyes of FIFA and once again altering the Laws of the Game.
So, while rule changes to improve professional football have sometimes been few and far between, they are by no means rare.
Now that goal-line technology has been sanctioned by FIFA and seems to be in place for upcoming seasons, there remain only a handful of rule changes that upon implementation could arguably improve as well as better popularize the beautiful game.
The following list includes five potential changes that the powers behind professional football should consider for the future.
No Direct Red for Last-Man Fouls
Daniel Agger of Liverpool Ejected for Last Man Foul Against West Bromwich
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In the past few seasons, there have been countless times that players have been ejected for professional fouls simply due to being the last opponent or "last man" in defense.
Liverpool have already suffered at the hands of this ruling in the 2012-13 campaign when Daniel Agger was sent-off in their opening match against West Bromwich Albion for a minimal shove on Shane Long, who went on to miss the subsequent penalty kick.
According to the official FIFA Laws of the Game, a player who commits an offence which denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, should be sent off.
Nevertheless, it is often an unfair fate for defenders, especially when the fouls called are often slight or almost nonexistent when compared with others that are typically issued in leagues such as the English Premiership. In most cases, officials are too far from the play to even get a clear picture of the play.
An alternative would be to yellow card the player committing the foul and have the official review whether the offense was heinous enough to merit automatic ejection. But, that leads to another potential rule change...
Video Umpire/Instant Replay Reviews
Calls for goal-line technology have finally reached the usually congested ears of FIFA president Sepp Blatter and at least one system will be in place ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Yet, many in the world of professional football have been urging the organization to take even further steps to increase refereeing accountability and accuracy in a sport where high stakes are typical.
Aside from issues with controversial goal decisions, as evidenced in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal between Germany and England where an obvious Frank Lampard goal was disallowed, there are also the problems of shirt tugs, simulation, ejections and off-the-ball fouls that often lead to incorrect decisions by officials that drastically affect the balance of football matches.
In the NFL, coaches are given a limited number of "challenges" which allow them to protest on-field calls and have the referees review a video replay and either reverse or reinforce the contested decision. Most other professional sports, including basketball, tennis and cricket, also provide some kind of video umpiring in the case of controversial instances.
While FIFA under Blatter has usually been resistant to changing the laws of the game, football could certainly benefit from some other limited form of video technology and reviews.
Increased Goalpost Size
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Several years ago, there was a debate between Alexi Lalas and another commentator on ESPN about what kind of changes would be useful in football considering the remarkable athleticism and physical prowess of modern-day players compared with those of the past.
Lalas, the first-ever US footballer to ply his trade in Serie A, suggested expanding the dimensions of the goal to compensate for the height of most goalkeepers nowadays, who typically stand well above 6’3".
While the suggestion may initially seem absurd, it is given much credence when taking into consideration the amount of missed shots and close calls in a game that is becoming increasingly tactical—often a synonym for defensive—and features less goals and more penalty shootouts.
One suggestion would be to increase the width between goalposts by one meter (from 7.32m to 8.32m). This would represent a 12% increase in the overall dimensions and might result in more entertaining matches.
And guidelines could go further and enlarge the height of the goal by one meter (2.44m to 3.44m) as well to mimic the current dimensions of goal frames. Goalkeepers might find themselves more at risk during set-pieces and increasingly exposed for long-shots, but supporters pay to see goals and not 0-0 stalemates.
Worse Consequences for Simulation
Arguably the most damning feature of football which has degenerated the worldwide view of the game over the past decade.
Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Sergio Busquets of Barcelona have made the deception a type of art-form and there are footballers from every league in every nation on the planet that try to use diving for their benefit in order to gain set-pieces or have their opponents ejected.
Sometimes it is blatantly evident and the simulation is easy for both referee and audience to detect, such as in Alberto Gilardino's disgraceful effort against Celtic in the 2006-07 Champions League. However, on other occasions, proponents have successfully duped officials into incorrectly making calls in their favor as evidenced last season when Ashley Young of Manchester United theatrically won penalties against Queen's Park Rangers and former club Aston Villa in consecutive weeks.
Lesser-known leagues such as the MLS here in the United States have taken significant strides forward against diving in the professional game and began handing out fines in 2011. Last season, Charlie Davies and Álvaro Saborío were both fined $1,000 and suspended for one game after the league's Disciplinary Committee decided that they intentionally tried to deceive the referee and committed unsportsmanlike behavior, threatening to increase fines for future incidences.
While heftier fines may prove a decent deterrent to some players, the massive salaries of most high-profile stars and those in Europe's top leagues will barely be affected by any kind of financial penalty for diving.
Automatic ejection with a one-game suspension would likely be the more effective option, as it would harm both the player and their club—hopefully enough to get more managers willing to discipline theatrical players who are causing great harm to our beloved sport.
Eliminate Penalty Shootouts
Italy Defeats England in Penalties at Euro 2012
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One of the most demoralizing and exhilarating aspects of professional football are the penalty shootouts that follow stalemates in major tournaments.
For winning teams and their supporters, it proves the epitome of excitement and absolute chaos follows in a way that has only otherwise been seen following Golden Goal victories before the method was removed from the Laws of the Game in 2004. However, for losers, it serves as a disastrous and often undeserved turn of luck that leaves them reeling what could have been.
The issue with penalty shootouts in recent years has been that a handful of teams willingly play out draws in hopes that luck will be on their side in shootouts, leaving supporters witnessing an often terribly boring match for the duration of 120 minutes.
Also, the sheer multitude of important tournaments—2006 World Cup, 2008 Champions League, 2012 Champions League, 2012 African Cup of Nations—that have culminated in shootouts has left many wondering whether there is a better way.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter labelled penalty shootouts a "tragedy" following Chelsea's triumph in the Champions League and called for task forces within the organization to brainstorm effective alternatives in preparation for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
A return to the Golden Goal system is a possibility, although games may last significantly longer and risk fatigue for teams advancing on in playoff competitions. A similar effect would happen if matches were to be halted at 90 minutes and force a replay as in England's League Cup format.
Another alternative could be the Attacker Defender Goalkeeper (ADG) method. This extra-time approach would feature a series of ten contests in which an attacker has thirty seconds to score a goal against a defender and goalkeeper combination. At the completion of the ten rounds, the team with the most goals is the winner.