True football fans are probably going to verbally lynch me for this, but I believe that the game needs serious rule changes to expand its reach to non-fans.
I don’t usually watch much football, nor cricket for that matter, but the recent World Cup final — billed as the most exciting ever — showed needs changing.
The final between Argentina and France was pronounced to be most thrilling final ever because the game see-sawed from an easy Argentinian lead to a sudden French revival towards the later stages. It needed a penalty shoot-out, after extra-time, to crown its victor.
If the thrill in football comes from the uncertain nature of the game’s build-up and goal-scoring, surely, we need more attacking football, and a decider every time.
Personally, I found some of the league stage matches boring, despite the many upsets delivered by lower rated teams (Tunisia beat France, Croatia beat Brazil, both Japan and Morocco beat Spain, South Korea beat Portugal, Japan beat Germany, and Saudi Arabia beat eventual champions Argentina).
In the league stages, where you still get points for a draw and a loss after early wins is not a problem for most teams, the tendency among teams that are ahead — whether in a match, or in the league table — is to play defence, including indulging in time-wasting tactics.
This cannot happen in T20 cricket or one-dayers (ODIs). Remember, Test cricket lost its charm not only because it went on for too long, but in the end, it may still not produce a result.
A tie is rare, and most matches, unless washed out by the rain gods, lead to decisive results. Even when rains intervene, Duckworth-Lewis ensures a result.
Football needs a T20 version, or at least rules that facilitate a competitive game and which provide a result that can hold viewer interest. Purists may balk, but remember, Test cricket enthusiasts derided ODIs as pyjama cricket, and now T20 is reducing ODIs to an also-ran.
A shorter football game of 30 minutes, with 10 minutes of extra time, after which there will be a compulsory penalty shootout, will force teams to play more exciting football, including a more offensive game.
The second anachronism, which ended up ruling out several goals that most teams thought they had scored, is the offside rule.
The offside rule says that a player “is in an offside position if (a) any part of the head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half (excluding the halfway line) and (b) any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.”
This is a ridiculous rule, in my opinion, for any attacker trying to score a goal is focused on getting the ball into the goal, not figuring out where his head, body or feet are vis-a-vis the “second-last” opponent.
This rule should either change, or be regularly subjected to electronic surveillance and verification. Also, why penalise a scoring team for what it should be doing anyway: get the ball past the goal line instead of watching what the other team is doing?
The third issue is low use of off-field umpires supported by cameras and other gadgetry. In cricket, resort to the third umpire has reversed many wrong decisions.
In football, where rule violations are much larger due to the close proximity of most players, and where the field umpire is frenetically running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, the umpire may sometimes not be in the best position to judge who violated what rule.
Clearly, teams should be allowed to appeal more often to the third umpire in football too — say, three times in any match of the current duration, and once if we get a T20 version of football.
Fourth, if these rules are not changed, sooner than later — and there is already plenty of evidence pointing in this direction — speed and brawn will overshine control of the ball as the key determinant of success.
African genes tend to dominate anything that needs athleticism and power, and the game will soon be taken over by Africans, who seem, on average, to run faster and push harder than their White counterparts.
Most European teams already have a large contingent of Africans. In the recent World Cup, we found (sometimes) that teams that focused only on possessing the ball may not win.
The Moroccans often did not possess the ball, but managed to score whenever they got the chance.
This is why they became the most impressive team of 2022, using aggressive defence tactics and opportunistic run towards the opponent’s goal.
Football is called the great game, but it could be greater if it made a few changes.
Now that I have said my piece, may the brickbatting begin.
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