Friday, 20 January 2017

A game of four quarters?

Dutch legend Marco van Basten, scorer of one of the greatest goals in European Championship history (as featured in my very fine book Incredible Moments in Sport!), this week suggested a number of changes that would change the face of football as we know it.

In his current role as FIFA Technical Director he put forward a number of ideas designed to provoke debate, and it certainly seems to have done just that. Mostly it seems his suggestions have gone down like a lead balloon, but perhaps there is some merit in some of them. Certainly there is no reason why football should stand still. Most of us would agree that the recently introduced goal-line technology is a good idea, and if you go back in time you will find times when many of the elements of the game that we take for granted today were missing, such as substitutes (first allowed in England and Scotland in the 1965-66 season, and then only if a player was injured) and the introduction of penalty shoot-outs (the first in a professional match in England being in 1970 - before penalties ties were decided by a replay then the drawing of lots if teams were still level).

It's hard to remember matches without subs or cup matches without the possibility of penalties, so could we be forgetting a time before some of van Basten's ideas? Here's what he put forward:

  • Abolishing the offside rule - he believes that it would lead to more attacking, more entertaining football, but isn't the argument against this that it would encourage goal-hanging? Also, don't we all secretly enjoy shouting at the linesman for getting an offside decision wrong?
  • Scrapping extra time - to conserve the players' energy and improve their performance in the next round is his argument. Certainly your average extra time tends to be a pretty cagey affair, so doing away with it might not be a bad idea.
  • Changing penalty shootouts - van Basten suggests giving players a 25 metre run-up to put the ball past the goalie within 8 seconds. It's similar to the method used in hockey, which was certainly exciting when Great Britain's women won Olympic hockey gold last year. Also, with England's terrible record in penalties, a change has got to be worth a try.
  • Four quarters - the theory is that coaches would have more time with their players, but surely this would break up the game unnecessarily and subject TV viewers to even more adverts. It would also mean managers could no longer tell reporters after the match that it was a "game of two halves".
  • Sin bins - possibly the best idea of the lot, players could get an orange card, between a yellow and a red, which would mean 10 minutes out of the game. Used widely in rugby union and league, this would give the opposing team more of an advantage following a misdemeanor without changing the whole game.
Only time will tell whether any of these will be implemented, but along with innovations such as retrospective bans for diving, which the FA announced earlier this week it was considering, hopefully the game can continue to develop for the better. Care needs to be taken, as rugby union is finding with it's controversial changes to the high tackle laws, but none of us would say that football is perfect, so there's room for the right improvements.

Who knows, maybe one day England will win the World Cup on a 25 metre shoot out after scoring a late equaliser in the fourth quarter which would have been offside in the past against opponents down to 10 men after a sin-binning...