Football: 4th substitute

For what it’s worth I think the 4th substitute which is being trialled in certain tournaments is a good addition to the rulebook.

Just to qualify the 4th sub usage, it is only allowed during extra-time in tournament knock-out games. If three subs can be used in 90 minutes, why not one more in 30 minutes, there is a certain symmetry here.

Personally I hope it doesn’t open the floodgates to having unlimited substitutions, rather like ice-hockey, but for once FIFA seems to be trying something proactively.

One point to be raised is that of two-leg knock-out games. If extra-time is needed at the end of the second leg, then the home team for the second leg will obviously be playing a significantly greater part of the two matches in front of their home supporters. I’m not sure if a 4th sub is appropriate here; be careful FIFA.

Video refs

Rugby has used video refs for years, and it has proved very successful. In fact it’s hard to imagine an important match without having the option of video referrals.

So why not football? The simple answer, which pervades the whole fabric of football, is time-wasting. Football has a long way to go to repair the fractured ethic of fairness that was broken long ago.

Penalty shoot-outs, an alternative

Has anyone ever said that penalty shoot-outs are by far the best and fairest way to settle drawn football matches?

No. The most common reaction I see is that it is a ‘lottery’, and it is clear there are a great number of players who do not want to go anywhere near that dreaded penalty spot.

It cannot be denied that pk shoot-outs have provided a host of dramatic moments over the years, and have made heroes of many a goalkeeper. It is also unarguable that deciding games through this method is so much better than tossing a coin, or drawing lots.

However when pk shoot-outs were first introduced they were viewed as ‘better then nothing’ and the general attitude was that they would be adopted until something better came along.

Other variations have been tried, often based on the theme of player v keeper. For example a player would start with the ball 25 yards for the goal and would have 5 seconds in which to try and score against the keeper. I don’t know why this never caught on, perhaps it lacked the instant thrill or despair of a penalty, but for some reason the pk shoot-out became established as the only way to resolve draws.

There were also golden goals and silver goals, whereby the first goal of extra-time would decide the game. This didn’t last long, it appears that it put too much pressure on the players, but doesn’t a penalty do much the same thing? And these golden goal still didn’t eliminate the pk shoot-out, just reduced their frequency.

As well as thousands of everyday games a great many tournament finals have come to pk shoot-outs, the ultimate being the World Cup Final which has been won and lost by the penalty lottery on two occasions.

Surely there is an alternative.

Personally I feel the outcome of the game should be resolved by the performance during the game, not by an instant, made for TV, apres-solution.

So let’s look at the measurements that are made through a game. Perhaps the winner could be decided through territorial superiority, or possession, or by corners, or by shots on goal. Or even by fouls committed, or red/yellow cards. But any football fan will tell you that none of these can consistently and fairly reflect which team deserves to win.

This leaves me with one alternative, and the more I think about it, the more I feel it would be better than pk shoot-outs.

The game should be decided on how many times the woodwork was hit.

If the ball hits the post and subsequently goes in the net to score a goal then obviously this situation should not count, but otherwise the number of woodwork hits could be totted up and the team with the highest number wins. Attacking football would be rewarded, and it might even encourage teams to shoot more often. And it is clear and fair.

Again, like the golden goal, it would not eliminate the pk shoot-out completely, since the teams may hit the woodwork an equal number of times, but it would greatly reduce them, and would almost certainly prevent teams from ‘playing for penalties’.

Surely it is better then the pk lottery.

Bring Back the Cup-Winners’ Cup

It was always the purest of the European football competitions, the European Cup-Winners’ Cup was a straight knock-out contest of all the cup winners from each country, who in turn had been victorious in straight knock-out cup competitions. In short it provided the best cup team in Europe.

And then it was deemed one European competition too many, and in 1999 the last final was won by Lazio. The Cup-Winners’ Cup was absorbed into the growing UEFA Champions League competition.

Admittedly the Cup-Winners’ Cup had become the little brother to the other two European competitions: the Champions League and the UEFA/Europa Cup. And it was widely thought that the standard of football was noticeably lower. On top of that the public interest appeared to be on the wane.

But did everyone forget the ‘glory of the cup’? Did everyone forget about minnows and the excitement of giantkilling exploits? Did everyone forget the intensity, the beauty, the thrill of knock-out games? It seems they did.

Now decades on, the popularity of football has never been higher. The almost insatiable appetite for more European games would surely have room for the return of the purest of European competitions.

So here’s a suggestion: bring back the Cup-Winners’ Cup. The winners of each country’s cup competitions would compete in a knock-out competition, with each match being home and away, over two legs.

No seeding, no favoritism, just draw the names from a hat (or balls from a bag) and let the games begin.

Should the cup winner already be qualified for the Champions League or the Europa Cup then of course they couldn’t enter two European competitions, so they would have the choice of which to enter. If they chose not to enter the Cup-Winners’ Cup then the losing cup finalist would be invited to enter, then the best semi-finalist etc. This may well give the chance for an unfashionable team to have the rare experience of competitive European football, even perhaps a club from the second tier. What a fillip it could be for some long-suffering fans.

Since we could be delving quite deep into the league hierarchy for some countries, it would seem fair not to award coefficient points for this competition, and for the coefficient system to retain its status quo.

We could see the return of real cup glory, the magic of the cup, cupsets, and a trophy well worth winning.

Football: the Inequality of Sendings-Off

In football, and many other team sports, for certain types of foul play the penalty is the sending-off of the offender, thus reducing the team’s playing strength by one member. This can have a huge effect upon the team. And there is usually a subsequent ban for the player involved, which can also affect the team.

Here, we are not going to be concerned with refereeing inconsistency, where one referee adjudges a transgression to warrant a sending-off, when another referee might adjudge what appears to be a virtually equivalent transgression unworthy of even a free-kick. And we are not going to be concerned with whether a certain transgression should or should not be punished by a sending-off. These arguments will be dealt with on another day.

Instead the focus here is on the inequality of the effect of the sending-off.

As mentioned above the effect of a sending-off on the team is great. Playing the rest of the match with 10 players against 11 is a big difference. And it is meant to be. After all it is designed to be a disincentive to commit transgressions. I have no problem with that. But what I do have a problem with is the length of time of the penalty.

Let’s look at two extreme examples to highlight my point.

Example A: a player is sent off in the 1st minute of a game, and the rest of the team must play for 89 minutes with one player short, an enormous burden, not to mention a much greater risk of injury.

Example B: a player is sent off in the last minute of a game for handling on the line, preventing a certain equalising goal. The resulting pk, with the last kick of the game, is missed. The team play zero minutes minus one member, and wins the game courtesy of foul play.

This is inequality

In many countries and tournaments there is further punishment for a player who is sent off, usually a 3 game ban. The team can play with a full complement of players but of course the banned player is ineligible, so there may well be a disadvantage to the team, especially if it is one of their best players. But who benefits? The opposition. And who is the opposition? Almost certainly not the team that the original sending-off was against. So an advantage accrues for teams lucky enough to be the three subsequent opponents, who may well be rivals of the team that the original sending-off was against, thus punishing an innocent team.

This also is inequality.

So there is an inequality insofar as a player sent of early in a game ends up missing nearly 4 matches (sent of for most of one, and banned for three), whereas a player sent off in the dying moments of a game misses only the 3 subsequent matches.

How can this inequality be addressed? Not an easy problem to solve, but one possible option would be for the player involved to be banned for 3 matches plus the amount of playing time he had when he was sent off. So someone who is sent off in the 15th minute (and who therefore missed 75 minutes of that game) receives a 3 match ban plus 15 minutes.

In effect, having missed the first 3 matches, he could be placed on the bench for the next match, and could enter the game as a substitute any time after the 15th minute.

For someone sent off in the 85th minute the ban would be for 3 matches plus 85 minutes. After serving a 3 match ban he could be placed on the bench for the next game (as in the previous example), but he would not be able to enter the game until after the 85th minute. In a real situation the manager may well decide not to select the player for this game, for the sake of only 5 or so minutes of playing time, but nevertheless the option remains.

So in both of the above examples the player who is sent off is forced to miss exactly the same amount of possible playing time, 4 matches worth. And this would be true of all situations. This is equality.

But there is the additional problem: a team who has a player sent off against them gains no direct advantage from that player’s subsequent ban. Finding a suitable solution here is even more tricky. However simple is best, so the 3 game ban should apply to that player’s next three games against the same opposition. And if one of those games happens to be a cup-final, or whilst playing for a different team, then so be it. For tournament football, like the World Cup, then the current rule is obviously better, since some countries don’t play each other for decades, but for regular club football it would surely be fairer. This again is equality.

Just a final caveat: these are tentative solutions which I have come up with all by myself. Surely a FIFA think tank could come up with something better? Or is that too much to ask?

Football: the Red Card and Yellow Card origin

Referees used to ‘book’ players who transgressed the rules by writing their name in a small, black book (so they wouldn’t forget) and if that player transgressed again, he would be sent off the field of play, reducing the team’s number of players by one for the remainder of the match.

After the 1966 World Cup when a few players were booked who later professed ignorance of the fact, and were subsequently sent off, a clearer system was needed.

While driving home from a referees’ meeting, the chief referee of the 1966 World Cup, Ken Aston, had a brainwave when he was waiting at a set of traffic lights. Yellow, or amber, is the halfway signal, warning the driver to slow and stop, and red is the stop signal. These highly visible colours would communicate to players and spectators alike exactly what was happening.

And so the red and yellow cards were born, lifted from traffic signals.

Football : Video Judge

It’s inevitable that video judging in football matches will eventually be mandatory. But it’s going to take something drastic to trigger any action from FIFA or UEFA.

Imagine this scenario. Fast forward to the last day of matches this season. The title is between Leicester City and Manchester City. They are both level on points but Man City have a better goal difference by a solitary goal.

But they are not playing each other. Leicester’s game has ended in a 1-0 victory for Leicester, but Man City’s game is still on, a goalless draw. It’s the final minute of added time, and a Man City player tumbles in the penalty area, a penalty is awarded. The opposition are livid. A draw would be enough for them to escape relegation, defeat would send them down.

TV replays show that it was a blatant dive by the Man City player. The replays are not shown at the ground but the management of both teams have seen the TV replays, and many of the spectators too, on their tablet computers. Twitter is buzzing. The ref has been told it’s a dive, but he is powerless. Man City score the penalty, the last kick of the game, win the championship, and Leicester, who have never won it, and who probably never will, are denied. And Man City’s opponents are relegated.

If this were to happen video judgements would be in place by the start of the following season.

Rugby and cricket have managed to incorporate video judgements, and football is still in the dark ages. Is not technology a tool for helping ensure a fair result?