Changing some Soccer Rules

Soccer is one of the oldest sports on earth still being played. Unfortunately, this is reflected by some of its rules, since they are horribly outdated. Let’s fix this by changing 4 of them.

1. Replace absolute time by actual time played

Currently, a soccer match takes 90 minutes. During the game, the referee keeps track of the time, and in one way or another he decides that a number of extra ‘added’ minutes are played at the end of each half. There are no rules that guide the referee in this. How much time to take for the celebrations after a goal? Or for stalling? Or for substitutions?

Additionally, if a team is at the winning side of the score, they have a great incentive to stall, which is excruciating for watchers. Injuries are faked. Substitutions take place in the last minutes, or even in injury time. It happens every week again, in thousands of matches – and needlessly so! For the solution, look at countless other sports and, as argued before, replace the 90 minutes official time by 65 minutes of actual playing time.

This would very easily disincentivise timewasting efforts such as this example or the one in the footage below:

2. No red card and penalty kick

In some situations when a defender or goalkeeper fouls an opponent in the penalty box, the referee decides to give a penalty. Very often, this is accompanied by a red card, because according to the rules a red card needs to be shown if a player denies a player of the other team an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, whether deliberate or not. Such situations are often game-deciders.

Take for instance the match last week, Arsenal – Bayern Munich (0-2). The first 38 minutes were awesome, thrilling – a fast-paced game with 2 attacking teams. Then, Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny was sent off for fouling Arjen Robben. Arsenal reduced to 10 men, and the excitement was over.


Wojciech Szczęsny being shown the red card in last week’s Champions League game against Bayern Munich by referee Nicola Rizzoli

The punishment – being reduced by one player and being given a penalty – is disproportionately large. In addition, the match is nowhere near as exciting as it was before. The team reduced to 10 often sacrifices an attacking player to keep enough defenders on the field. Then, they focus the rest of the game on not conceding any more goals by piling many players up in front of their own penalty box. Terribly boring for the crowds.

Therefore, unless the foul itself is of a cruel enough nature in addition to preventing a goal-scoring opportunity, think about the spectators and just give a penalty.

3. No more substitutions in the last 5 minutes of a game

This depends a little bit on point 1. If the clock is stopped when players are substituted, this is not necessary anymore. But if not, this would prevent some truly irritating scenes when a team that is at the right side of the score saves substitutes to run the clock down in the end of the game. The player coming off always (1) just happens to first not notice that it is him that is to be substituted, (2) appears to be at the opposite side of the pitch of where he needs to exit the field, (3) then walks painfully slowly across the field, while (4) on the way shaking hands with the referee and several players. All in all, a subsitution takes the pace out of the game, easily taking more than 1 minute. The referee most of the time adds some time, but honestly, never enough.

4. Time penalties

Currently, fouls that are not serious enough to be punished by a red card, can be punished by a yellow card. If the same player gets another yellow card in the same match, he has to exit the pitch, reducing his or her team by one player. This means that one team can, hypothetically, be given a yellow card 14 times (11 starting players plus 3 substitutions) without being reduced in numbers. The opposing team suffering the fouls gains nothing from these yellow cards, since misbehaving players can stay on the pitch.

It seems a bit extreme, but it happens in reality every weekend; ask Lionel Messi or any of the other big stars. They sometimes have to suffer foul after foul after foul, because players from the other team alternate in giving out nasty fouls.

Accumulated yellow cards do, however, lead to punishments. A player who accumulates a certain number of yellow cards during the course of the competition must serve the mandatory match suspension. But then the team that is being fouled has nothing to gain from it – it is the next team that benefits from the suspension!

Therefore, institute time penalties. If you’re being given a yellow card, you need to get off the pitch for, say, 5 or 10 minutes. This ensures that you are punished in the same game in which you commit the foul – that’s fair. If you’re being shown your second yellow card, you still get a red one. A clear example where rugby, field and ice hockey, and some other sports are way ahead of soccer.

Oh yeah, and Blatter doesn’t get it

Fifa president Sepp Blatter wants time penalties for diving. Mr Blatter feels players who get treatment but are not badly injured should have to wait longer before rejoining play. This assumes that referees are always able to see the difference between an injury being simulated or not – something they certainly aren’t. They aren’t doctors (and even doctors need time for their diagnoses).

There are some very clear situations in which the above rule would give problems. For instance, what should a referee do with a player that is being fouled seriously and hence needs treatment, but is really eager to join his team again as soon as possible? A burdon is put on the referee that he is not equipped to deal with.

As a matter of fact, implementing the rule Mr Blatter cooked up would stimulate (at least) 2 perverse incentives:

  1. A player might refuse treatment if he suspects that he could otherwise get a time penalty. Ignoring pain might then result in even more serious injuries – something Mr Blatter should not be a fan of
  2. An actual incentive is created to foul a player of the other team, because the player being fouled might be taken from the match for a while. A player either gets treatment or he doesn’t, but if he does, he better wait for a while, for if he gets up too quickly he even gets a time penalty! This could easily result in some really awkward situations where the player suffering a foul is being punished for it

The referee should be able to judge whether a certain action is a foul or not, and he should have the instruments at his disposal to deal with them. In this case, if a player is diving, he can be given a yellow card. If he gets treatment, stop the clock – regardless whether the foul was serious or not. If it was serious, the team suffering the foul should be given some time to recover, justifying the stopped time. If it wasn’t serious and the injury is being simulated, stopping the clock would mean that there is no advantage to doing so – it would probably prevent it from happening in most of the cases.

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