A Response: What rules must FIFA change to make soccer more attractive?

In where “attractive” has multiple meanings, from increasing the speed of play, to the concept that Nike spread with its Joga Bonita ad campaign, to possibly trying to gain market share in the one country that still doesn’t “get it”.
more after the jump…

Player Reduction
Flawed thinking in this one. The reason the game dynamic changes with less players is not the number in specific, but the mental game that goes on when one is down a player. You must now make up for the lost man on the field, players are then prepared to play with more gusto to accomplish the same goal with what is perceived as less capability. Lower the number to 9 and you will see the same complacency as is currently seen. As for the extra field space obtained with fewer players, I don’t see that as giving the game any more pace, on the other hand I could see it slowing the game down, the extra area that would need to be covered just tiring the players.
Substitution Increase
Having played in “hockey style” substitution tournaments as well as my current weekend league, I’ve experienced first hand the effect this has on the game. But at the same time it brings in new dynamics that I don’t think the trade off would benefit the game as a whole. Why cater to the Beckham’s of the game by letting them sit on the bench except when needed for a free kick? Too much like American Football for my tastes. As well, with free substitutions you have players moving out of position to get to the sideline in mid game, or you have to stop the game often to make substitutions. If we are trying to speed up the game, I don’t think the trade-off here is worth it.
I would agree on increasing the substitute limit though. Teams generally have around 20-22 players, that’s enough to sub your entire team, yet no more than 2 or 3 are allowed. Let teams make up to 5 substitutions. This will give gains in multiple areas. First, fresher legs will reinvigorate a game as it slows down due to fatigue, four fresh set of legs out of 10 field players per team can make a huge difference in the speed of the game, allowing some players to rest a little more while on the field, allowing them for bursts of energy. As well, more “B team” players will get field time, while not necessarily having the skill and experience as the “A team” players, their fresh legs will make them an important part of the game, and by giving them more field time in real league games, you build up their experience and field confidence, you never know when one of your B team players will become an A team player because of key performances in clutch games.
Along with this, I would require that player substitution time not be clocked time by the referee. Too often substitutions are used by teams to waste time when in a lead. This dead time just slows the game down. With the increase in substitutions this just becomes worse. As well, when players know the time doesn’t count against the clock they may have more incentive to move quickly off the field.
Again, something that won’t necessarily speed the game up. Though TV would love the guaranteed 2 minutes of commercial breaks. I still don’t know how I feel about this. Seeing sports like Basketball and Hockey, two of the arguably fastest team sports around interrupted by timeouts, I question their true efficacy. In Basketball timeouts are saved until the last 15 minutes of the game, where they are used more strategically to stop the pace of play and throw the other team off of a streak than to allow coaches to do some direct coaching. If timeouts were allowed, I feel their use would have to fall under certain criteria so as not to fall into this basketball style usage. Though, I also feel that if either hockey style substitutions or even raising the limit to 5 players is allowed that these time-outs would not be all that necessary. With changes to the substitutions though, the coach can just tell players what he wants them to do when they go on the field, no timeouts needed!
Referee Changes
I don’t know if adding referees would help, many of the duties the second referee would take on are already assigned to the assistant referees, though they must be heeded by the referee. I think the real problem is that too many referees are poorly trained and poorly experienced. With the few good referees we had this tournament we see what can happen when a referee understands the game, is in proper physical condition and has proper training and experience. Too little attention is awarded to the art of refereeing in soccer, too much politics are involved and not enough players are encouraged to take courses in refereeing and pursue it as an alternative/compliment to their career as soccer players. Considering not everyone will go on to play at the professional level, getting these kids refereeing will help get referees that have the experience of having played and getting them started at refereeing at a young age where they can gain the experience needed to be able to referee at the professional level at an age more similar to that of the players.
Video Replay
If limited to use in specific scenarios and with a properly implemented system, such a beast could harmoniously exist in soccer. With the introduction this cup of the inter-referee communication system, allowing a sideline video replay referee to communicate directly with the field referees is possible. But such a system is expensive, and its use fairly limited if one wishes to prevent the game from coming to a standstill. This money I feel could be better used to produce a better structure for encouraging people to begin refereeing and better training. It would also be good to have a “supreme court” of sorts for referee issues. A forum for FIFA officials, FIFA referees and the national soccer/futbol/etc federations to discuss specific instances of disputed calls, so as to allow referees to have a better understanding of how to handle situations in the future. Many referees have ego issues because they don’t like to be questioned on their performance, but having an open forum may help referees better handle situations that many time escalate into the referee losing control and violence ensuing.
The Ball
I question whether the ball is at fault for this “space race” going on. Flight dynamics dictate that the ball’s trajectory is independent of its weight. What does the trajectory depend on? Direction of applied force. For a soccer ball this includes foot angle and point of impact with forces that cause spin to dictate how the ball will interact with the air it travels through. All the weight will do is slow the ball down and cause its travel distance to be shorter. You want players to stop kicking it over the goal, train them better. I for one encourage designs like the new World Cup ball. Lighter with a smoother air travel profile (causing less mid air spin, and a slight increase in position volatility). Passing did not seem to be affected much, which shows that with the proper angle and power, low speed travel was not affected by the changes. What did change was high speed travel, the ball’s lower weight possibly allowed for higher travel speeds and its smoother surface yielded slightly more erratic movement as it moved through the air (though possibly causing a more noticeable slowing of the travel speed a-la the golf ball “dimple” effect). So with a properly placed shot on goal the job of the keeper is now more difficult, allowing for the possibility of higher scoring games.
Offside (Dear English speakers, stop adding an ‘s’ to the end)
The offside rule is the most controversial, misunderstood law in soccer. It is designed with Fair Play in mind to eliminate “cherry picking” by which attackers can just sit around and wait for a long ball pass, from which a life of its own has emerged as players push the limits. No part of the players body, except for the hands and arms, may be in an offside position at the time the ball is touched by a teammate in which the offside player is part of the play. This is not an easy call to make by linesmen, they must be able to watch the player on the ball to see when the kick occurs and see if any players are in an offside position. Because this task is technically impossible for a single person to make (unless one is cross eyed I guess?), many linesmen will make the decision based on more than part of a body part, requiring roughly the whole players body to be offside, allowing for what is thought of as the “strikers advantage” in which the striker may be partially beyond the body of the defender and still be considered onside. While technically not part of the law, it allows the assistant referee to better judge the timing.
It is the duty of the assistant referee to indicate to the center referee that a player “may be penalized for being in an offside position”, not that he is offside, but that he is in such a position that if the center referee deems him part of the play he may call him offside.
So how do we solve the problem of poor offside calls? Its tough to say, I don’t think there may be a complete solution, better training and more experience could definitely help. Video replay of a possible offside situation that leads to a goal should detract little time from the game (that the goal celebration would not take up) and could at least alleviate the pressure placed on the linesmen, possibly helping them make more clear minded decisions.
Attractiveness (Joga Bonita)
Joga Bonita. What Nike tells us is the concept of a more beautiful game, no malicious tackles, no diving, and playing to the art and skill of ball control. It’s a grand idea, and one no one will argue against (except perhaps the Latin love of the well acted dive).
5 Minute Penalty “Box”
While we can’t regulate art and skill, we can try and eliminate malicious tackles and diving. Hockey again can give us some practiced ideas, the 5 minute penalty timeout could be put to good use in combination with the yellow card. This would provide both a cooling off period for the emotional hot headed fouls and a deterrence to commit the more random fouls (as opposed to strategic fouls), by creating a situation in which your team must play a man down.
Diving is an odd beast, playing on the knowledge that a referee does not have a perfect view of the intricacies of the entanglement of players, it is there only to deceive the referee. How to handle players who dive has already been taken care of as the FIFA Laws state that diving is a yellow card offense. What is needed is a method to catch the diver in the act. Here again video replay can be put to good use in the right situations. Fouls called in the penalty area leading to a penalty kick could be examined as the kick is setup, and allowed to proceed if the video replay shows the foul to be true. Were the foul deemed to be due to a dive, the kick would then go to the other team (the ball could be left at the penalty kick position as the point for play to begin) with the offending player cautioned by the referee, which should be a yellow card given the level of deceit. Fouls outside of the penalty area can be handled similarly when advantage would be given the attacker on the opposing side of the field, with yellow card for the deceit offense being at the discretion of the referee and the ball being played in the same manner.
Without video this becomes much more difficult. League play offers an easy punishment system with diving subject to game suspension upon later review. Single elimination tournaments do not have this luxury, and I can’t think of a good method, other than linesmen talking to the center ref (which in my opinion, should occur with any foul in the penalty area anyway). Perhaps the game suspension ability will slowly eliminate diving from the players repertoire over time as well.
One comment made was that the offside call should be eliminated from taking effect in the penalty area. While this provides the opportunity for more goals, I don’t see it being able to help too much. Offside currently does not take effect for the first touch on a corner kick, nor does it really make much of a difference in this situation. For breakaways many players get caught passing to a fellow attacker in an offside position, though I see this more as an issue with the players knowing better, but still failing to realize their folly (stay a step behind the ball, its not that hard to remember!). I can see it helping some in more regular play in the area as many potential goals are called back due to offside, but I don’t feel such a major change with enforcement issues of its own is warranted.
The U.S. Market
Much concern is made towards soccer’s foot hold (potential pun intended) in the U.S. market. Mostly by soccer fans in the U.S., but very much discussed in other parts of the world for varying reasons (possible soccer super power, we hate Bush, etc). My concern is that too much thought is put into changing the game to cater to this potential market. Why should the rest of the world suffer simply for one market already flooded with sports?
I believe patience must be practiced here. Soccer is one sport in a flooded market, a market where social and political norms and beliefs work against the sport of soccer taking an immediate foot hold. I don’t want to speak much more on this, as it really deserves its own entry. Though, I will say that we need to wait, let at least another generation grow up, one that played soccer and grew up with a domestic league, can have hopes as a child of breaking into the domestic league as a real occupation.
I also take offense, though not personally, to the ADD reference. Have you ever watched Football or Baseball? Those are slow, long winded games yet they are the two most popular. No, the U.S. aversion to soccer is not due to “the low scoring”, or “slow”ness of the game like many like to say. American Football barely has more scoring (multiply soccer scores by 6 or 7) and baseball has ended in boringly low scoring games; and Baseball takes 4+ hours to complete many games (for which I recently sat through a 19 inning Red Sox game with friends), with American Football taking roughly the same amount of time. The two combined may have something to do wih it, but there is much more at work here…

2 comments on “A Response: What rules must FIFA change to make soccer more attractive?
  1. My apologies for the ADD comment, which was mine. I merely meant to indicate that American fans (of which I am one) tend to like quick and interesting and high action sports, and cannot understand nor really retain the patience for a soccer game that has 88 minutes of plotting and setting up and 2 minutes of real action. Think of the spurts of action that hold the american public captive in those sports you mention: the pitch and hit in baseball, the football play, also look at hoops with the 24 second shot clock, not to mention my favorite team sport, hockey. Quick, fast paced action, constant bursts of energy…not a lot of time testing, pressing, looking for chinks in the defense’s armor. At least that is what I’ve heard in my travels. Your experience might run different, but think of it this way; if you had a 2-1 soccer game (equalling a 14-7 football game), how much fun would you have if there were a boatload more shots on goal than currently? How many plays does a football team get during the course of a game? How many pitches in a baseball game, with all the budding excitement that might happen with each throw? Basketball possessions that do NOT end in a shot are even sometimes exciting. And hockey… How many shots on goal do you see in the typical World Cup match? MAYBE 10 total between the teams? I think it fundamentally boils down to “a lot activity without much exciting action accomplishments”. And I’m a FAN of soccer.
    You can go to youtube.com and Google Video and see astounding goals scored by players. But the OVERALL game must be made more exciting as a matter of course, or else we’ll never capture the imagination and interest as much as we’d hope. Remember, we are not trying to impress those who already play hookey from work to watch the World Cup, we are trying to attract people who don’t know much about it. Those are the people we need to get into the game…
    My humble opinion.

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