Gone are the days of jumpers for goalposts and scruffy kids pretending to be George Best and dribbling worn footballs around molehills of broken glass and dog poo in the local park. If Euro 2016 is anything to go by, nowadays they are more likely to avoid anything that resembles a spherical object and pretend to be a double decker bus built of brick instead, and park themselves in front of the fat kid goalie (not to be fattist, but they are always the ones stuck in goal in football mythology, aren’t they?). Because apparently, that’s modern football. It’s not about possession, stupid.
Perhaps it’s a sorry reflection of our politically correct, risk averse, health and safety obsessed culture that’s made teams fearful of traversing the protective confines of their own half. Only if teams know their Green Cross Code and have looked both ways and are holding mummy and daddy’s hand will they dare to venture beyond the half way line.
Or maybe, association football as we have known and loved it, has simply passed its sell by date. After all, adventurous, attacking Brazilian style you score 3 we score 4 football is so last century. Modern football is played by impossibly rich, ultra fit, endlessly drilled professionals who are organised within an inch of their lives (except for clueless England, of course) to ‘not lose’ games. Yep, not losing is the new winning. The drabness of Euro 2016 though is not a current phenomenon, nor is it limited to international tournaments. It has also been the mode in many club finals for quite a long time now (when was the last time we had a decent FA Cup Final?).
However, it reaches its nadir every two years at international tournaments, where the fear of failing seems to eclipse all ambition and render genuinely talented teams catatonically defensive. This paralysing effect was epitomised by the last 16 match between Croatia and Portugal where two teams containing the sublime footballing gifts of Messrs Ronaldo and Luka Modric couldn’t muster up one shot on target between them in 117 minutes of football. Yet, the truly bitter irony was that when Croatia, facing the uncertain prospect of a penalty shootout, did, eventually, dare to be brave and strode forward, they hit the post, and were then cruelly caught out on the counter attack and conceded the only goal of the match just 3 minutes from the end of extra time. Portugal, of course, were rewarded for their negative, defensive football by going on to win the tournament.
As Croatia’s luckless venture starkly illustrated, there is simply no premium in playing attacking football any more. If a team goes out to attack and fails,they just lose out. So why bother? Better to sit deep, suffocate the opposition and then try to get lucky on the counter in the dying minutes, a la Portugal. Such tactical expediency might have been a terrific pay off for the victorious Portuguese, but it rendered the rest of us catatonic through sheer boredom.
So maybe, just maybe, it’s time to accept that the rules of football, the fabled ‘Laws of the Game’, which were codified way back in the smog filled Victorian era, need to change, to make them relevant for football in the 21st century. The object in football should always be to score more goals than the opposition, rather than to stop the opposition from scoring. But if you want to discourage negative tactics, the best way is to incentivise attacking play. So here are some suggestions (my own, as well as others I have seen broached) that could be implemented.
- Make the goals bigger.
- Introduce a shot clock as in basketball – a team has a certain amount of time to move the ball from their half into the opposition penalty area, and if they exceed the time limit, possession automatically passes to the other team’s goalkeeper.
- No pass back allowed into a team’s own half once the ball has crossed the half way line.
- Introduce sin bins for fouls – different types of fouls would incur different time penalties, with more serious fouls getting longer time penalties. Red card offenses would continue to result in a sending off.
- In extra time, one player from each side is taken off every 10 mins – so 10 v 10, 9 v 9 etc. Even if teams start by taking forwards off, it will stretch play and create space so it should increase goal scoring chances.
- Alternatively, simply reduce the number of players that are allowed on the field of play to 10 v 10 – this idea was suggested by Tony Cascarino in a Times article recently – http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/pitches-are-just-too-small-for-todays-superfit-footballers-it-might-be-time-for-10-v-10-gkjnfdpbm
- Introduce bonus points for high score (3 goals plus) draws or wins.
Ok, and breathe!
Obviously I am not suggesting that all these rules be implemented immediately at the same time! Nor am I advocating turning football into a giant sized pedal version of basketball. I would merely like to see some of these ideas developed and experimented upon in lower league or youth football to discover whether they might be viable in successfully counteracting negative tactics and encouraging attacking football.
Surely, if football tactics have evolved with the passage of time to render the game almost unrecognisable from its original form, then why shouldn’t the rules be changed likewise to ensure that the attacking ethos upon which football originated is preserved? Modernisation should work both ways. The laws of association football were never set in stone, like some kind of Ten Commandments, to be preserved in eternity and obeyed unquestioningly. Football needs to discard its antediluvian mentality and start being proactive if it is to maintain its status as the most popular sport in the world.
The beautiful game is worth fighting for. It should always be about scoring more goals than the opposition, stupid.