While other major sports seem averse to change, soccer leagues around the world are more than willing to implement new technology and rules to their sport. Perhaps it’s the wealth of domestic leagues that are to thank for the expanding of the game’s rulebook. One league implements a new rule or technology, and if all goes well, others will follow.
As of recent we’ve seen a host of changes take place including the goal-line technology, a fourth substitution in extra time of World Cup matches, VAR, etc. With Sepp Blatter’s dictatorship finally over, we may see Infantino and subsequent presidents become even more receptive to new changes. So what new rules or technology are plausible to expect in the coming years?
Nix the ‘Double Whammy’
An infraction that results in a red card and a penalty is tantamount to ending the game early. In the latest edition of the World Cup, Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez was tossed out of the game after he handballed the ball in his team’s penalty area.
The penalty was converted and the Colombians had to play nearly the entirety of the match down a man, giving Japan an advantage that they capitalized on with a 2-1 win. Considering more than 75% of all penalties are converted, isn’t the awarding of a near-certain goal enough of a punishment?
The same logic has already been applied to last defenders that foul an opponent in the penalty area, so why not those that use their hands as well?
It’s common knowledge at this point that soccer games aren’t actually 90 minutes long. The time in which the ball is active in the average soccer match is about 55 minutes. During the other 35 minutes, the ball is dead whether due to play being stopped for an injury, goal, etc.
A recent proposal outlined by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) offers up the seemingly sacrilegious idea of shortening the game-time to 60 minutes and stopping the clock whenever play is dead. Thus resulting in an hour’s worth of truly live soccer. The switch to a basketball-like game clock would feel unnatural, but would also take the arbitrary adding of stoppage time out of the referee’s hands.
No penalty shootouts
Soccer is a team game that requires a diverse set of skills in order to succeed. A penalty shootout strips the game of its social core and isolates one skill –shooting- in order to determine a winner.
It’s evident that at the end of a grueling 120-minute match, the teams don’t have much energy to expend on industrious runs or last-minute flair. A shootout is a quick route to finality but doesn’t reflect the essence of soccer. Instead of spot kicks, why not cut the playing field in half and play 7 aside – and the first to score wins. Small-sided games don’t require as much running and quickly produce goals.
The awarding of penalties
A penalty basically equates to a goal. With 75% of all penalties being converted, it’s nearly certain that the PK will result in a goal. One can make the argument that a penalty should only be awarded if there is a 75% chance the opportunity thwarted via an infraction in the box had a 75% chance of being converted.
This is of course extremely difficult to calculate in real time. However, it seems rather obvious that players fouled while dribbling away from the goal were most likely not going to score had they not been illegally impeded. Though the suggestion will be contentious, in the future FIFA might consider awarding two types of penalties.
PKs from the spot will be granted to teams that would have had a clear scoring opportunity but illegally thwarted. The new form of penalty would be a spot-kick taken from atop the 18-yard box. Such a kick would be awarded after an unlikely scoring opportunity had been stopped in the box.
For a reference point, Carlos Sanchez’s handball against Japan in 2018 World Cup would result in a traditional penalty whereas a spot-kick would be awarded to Iceland’s after their player was fouled dribbling away from the goal against Nigeria in their 2018 WC group stage match.
Keep the flag down
Due to the all-seeing eye of VAR, 2018 World Cup referees were asked to keep their flags down during close offside decisions. Should a goal result from a lowered offside flag, VAR would be consulted and the goal retracted.
But even if VAR isn’t available, assistant referees should keep their flags down if they aren’t certain that a player is illegally positioned. Erroneously raising a flag doesn’t automatically translate to a goal being scored. An inaccurate offside decision stripes the player of a valued scoring opportunity – of which there are few.
Because refs can rarely ascertain whether a player is off or not, it’s best to keep the flag down. Even if an offside decision is missed it’s unlikely that the play will culminate in a goal. Fear not, the traditionalists, not all these changes will happen at once. Gradually the game will morph into a better version of itself, ideally. So long as the fundamental laws of the game are kept the same, we can continue to enjoy the beautiful game.