What rules must FIFA change to make soccer more attractive?

This World Cup saw goals at a premium (2.3 goals/ match), a record number of yellow and red cards, and diving as a universal disease. Even the Africans tried their luck at selling it to the referees and succeeded. Pimpong flopped when Onyewu barely touched him, and Marcus Merk bought it in the Ghana vs USA match. Steven Appiah scored the PK and sent the US home. Much of these dives and flops happen because that first goal is so important. It overwhlemingly favors that team about 90% of the times. The 5-4-1 formation stifles any attack unless it happens to be the Serbia and Montenegro defence. Chances of scoring are now far and few in between. The soccer player of today not only has to learn his soccer skills but he is also a lawyer learning how to bamboozle the jury or in this case the judge into believing that his client has been victimized. There is a great video of Cristiano Ronaldo diving onto the ground and while doing so he turns to look at the referee with stricken eyes. He was virtually begging the referee for a foul. It was so pathetic. Ronaldo scored one goal through a PK for all that fancy footwork.
So lets see what we can do. In many matches we noticed that the pace considerably picked up when the team lost a player due to a red card. In fact, the soccer seems to become far more free flowing. Portugal picked up after Costinha was booted out in the Netherlands game. The same happened for Netherlands when von Bronckhorst was evicted. For long spells the same happened in the Italy vs the US game when De Rossi was chucked out. The US looked good when Larrionda decided that he wanted to see Bocanegra’s back. The reason was that every player was forced to give up the conventional striker-midfield- defender role and play something close to total football. The midfield was less clogged up and there were more opportunities to break free.
> So let us reduce the number of players. Let us go one better. There should be nine per side. This means that the players will have to be protean. They have their strengths be it on defence or attack or controlling the flow of play but they can switch to any mode on contingency. Having a 4-3-1 does not sound so bad because it means that we can be versatile with more space in the middle with more overlapping. Imagine what a Riquelme could have done with that space?
> To offset fatigue, the number of substitutions should increase. In fact, there should be no limits to substitutions. It has to be a dynamic flow and go. You can send in or off three at a time. In fact, Beckham who disappears for 89 minutes in the game could be brought on in free kick or corner kick situations. This is absolutely tenable because Beckham very rarely creates free or corner kick situations. Having Beckham collapse into tears was so painful to watch. Here was a player who did not understand why he had to play 90 minutes of a game. You could easily bring him on for a couple of minutes and he would do as much damage the entire match. Meanwhile a flying Aaron Lennon would have created about 15 free kick situations.
> Let us get the coaches involved shall we? You often times see Big Phil Scolari getting up and gesturing impotently with his hands. He wants to give instructions but he can’t. There are no time outs. A limit of two should suffice. The coach has seen enough that his attack is not going anywhere or that his defence is giving too much space to the attack and calls a timeout. Regroup and refocus. This takes care of those spells where soccer seems to be going nowhere. Or those Frank Lampard moments where the blasting of the ball has a negative correlation to the distance and the target it needs to achieve. Sven if he was the counselling type could have just said, “Steady on son, just do what you did at Chelsea.”
> Video review. When Fabio Grosso dives and the Italians are awarded a penalty kick against the Socceroos, then Guus Hiddink is entitled to a review. Or when Malouda sold the foul to Horacio Elizondo against Materazzi that led to Zidane’s PK, then Lippi should have been allowed to roll tape. Or a goal awarded when it was clearly an offside, eg., Thierry Henry against Brazil, when Viera was offside. Or when the expulsion of a player happens on a dubious foul. Two reviews per game. This is not too much to ask for.The problem is that the referee is the final arbitrator in soccer using very subjective measures which is truly frightening. He rarely consults with the other linesman, has no video review, and magnifies or misses fouls left, right, and center.
> A referee runs on an average 7 miles a match and he is usually a lot older than the players. If God could be anything it would be a soccer referee, having to be omniscient as well as omnipotent. Not possible in this day and age, when Theo Walcott can run the 100 meters in less than 11 seconds. We also cannot hope to have a PierLuigi Collina like personality that can bark something from one corner of the field and have every player run for their lives. So lets give the referee a running partner. Another referee. 18 players and two referees on the field sounds like a proportional amount. Of course, it would never do to have Graham Poll and Valentin Ivanov on the same field. Having 54 yellow cards and 15 red cards and still have 20 players on the field would stretch the limits of human imagination and Timothy Leary.
> Lets make the ball less aerodynamic. Everybody wants to join the space club. We had so many balls sailing over goal it seemed like every country’s space program wanted to outdo the other. Leg strength has gone up not down. We have balls that shift weight if you look at them funny. Lets give soccer balls a reality check. The idea is not to hit home runs and look chagrined after that. The idea is to get the ball into the back of the net and look happy that your high school knowledge of Newtonian physics stood you in good stead. So Adidas lets get back to the ball of the 1970’s. That is when the ball stuck to your feet and was not an unruly dog having to be yanked back by a leash all the time.
Thew, Tilam, SteveA, Dave, Christian, Zach, and the rest, please throw in your ideas too. Cruzeiro and Humberto, Brasil and Argentina will be back. Thew had mentioned the offside rule and maybe something could be done about it as in the present circumstances the rule seems quite contrived, and it should be changed to benefit the striker. If the pass beats man to man coverage, maybe it should be allowed? After all it is a test of reaction time and then a foot race. If you are quicker why should you suffer?

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7 comments on “What rules must FIFA change to make soccer more attractive?
  1. Shourin, I guess you can put me in the “don’t change the rules, change the approach” camp, if there is one. To me, it is a no-brainer to put more referees on the field (at least two or make the linesmen officials); to allow “instant replays” and time outs (two is a good amount). The vaunted “flow of the game” is destroyed right now anyway due to all the fake injuries.
    Further, I would have any player taken off the field due to “injury” stay off for a minimum of five minutes (I would prefer 10 minutes). I like the idea of unlimited subs, but I would say once you are pulled, you sit. Your “hockey style” sub-on-the-fly approach is spot on. I would also bring back the “Golden Goal.” I also like the idea of sending off the yellow card player for a period of time (say 5 minutes).
    With those changes, you would see marked change in approach. I would not fool with the ball or offsides (though my preference would be to eliminate it altogether) or to reduce the players – I don’t think you need to.
    Finally, and I have said this ad nauseum, the referees need to keep the whistle quiet. Players dive because it works. They are rewarded. For all of FIFA’s talk about punishing diving, the only thing they did was improve the level of dramatic performance. (If I were a WC Ref, as soon as I say someone grab their HEAD, I would card them for diving. No one grabs their head when something else hurts.) The fact is, you know when someone is faking or not. I am not advocating replicating the Battle of Berne, but there is a lot of ground in between. Let the boys get a little physical.

  2. Okay, easiest to just run down the list…
    I’m not sure that decreasing the number of players would help. That is a fundamental change in the game across the world, and is difficult to envision. World Cup players seem to be notoriously lazy most of the time (why run when you can dive?) and making them run more while changing the entire game structure I’m not convinced is an easy nor a welcome change. Or at least that is my thought on this…
    However, a better suggestion offered is the unlimited substitution. I cannot believe that this is not in place, and certainly creates an excellent opportunity for “situational” substitutions like Beckham on a free kick. AND, certainly it would create the need to have a skilled and balanced team from top to bottom, where everyone must be ready to run in and contribute at any given time. Run like a mad fool for 15 minutes then get a breather. Fantastic idea. Same with the time out suggestion. How archaic can FIFA remain by not allowing more than 3 substitutions and no timeouts?! Get with the new world order; games should be faster paced, more exciting, and we should be able to see “specialists” on occasion (and we KNOW that Becks is a free kick specialist and not much else, except to Posh) really tilting the nature of a match with a quick play. You see it in almost every other sport, why not soccer?
    Video review is an interesting subject. I’d propose a bit of a compromise…video review is required for any play that involves either a) an awarded penalty kick, and b) a player being sent off the pitch, either by a second yellow or first red card. Overturn a few blatant dives and watch how the game will change.
    One referee on each side of the center line is another excellent suggestion – but the choice of referee’s here will need to be closely watched – I would say that there is nationalism and favoritism and grudges played out here quite a bit, although not as much as figure skating. OR, as a different spin, have one referee from EACH country referee the offensive zone of his country. So the US referee will run the side of the pitch where the US is attacking the Mexican goal, and vis-versa. Watch how equitable the calls go there…much like pre-détente US/Soviet relations, it’s mutually assured destruction. If you screw the opposition by awarding a PK or free kick to your country, then you can be assured that there will be retaliation by the opposing referee to even things out.
    Leave the ball alone. This would produce another debate such as the famous “Master’s Ball” debate that periodically crops up like Whack a Mole, where people are stating that the Masters needs a generic ball that all golfers would use to better put a premium on skill. Who would make it? Who would design it? Yadda Yadda Yadda. That marketing blitz and infighting among the manufacturers would frighten me!
    On to the post identified as being mine…I’m a big fan of hockey (Go Canes!). What hockey did to spruce up the game and make it faster paced and higher scoring was to eliminate the red center line and the “offsides pass”. I won’t go into it, as hockey rules are in most cases completely cryptic. Basically, what I thought might open up the game is if we, too, took away the center line and moved the off-sides line, say, halfway between the end line and mid field. What this does is increase the amount of space that a player could NOT be called offsides. The mid field offsides trap could not be enforced nor played to perfection like I’ve seen it done too many times in the past, and this might just open up the game and produce more goals (I’m NOT going to spout sacrilege like Tilam and say “get rid of offsides”). Certainly teams who don’t adapt well and play the offsides trap close to mid field will find a lone and legal striker behind them and running like mad to catch up to a perfect lead pass. Look at the hockey statistics, goals per game is up and if you watched the Cup, the games were faster paced, more exciting, had more flow, and produced more goals. There were many games where a team came back from a multiple goal deficit to either steal a point with a tie or win outright (in regulation or OT). ANYTHING to open up the offensive side of the game and produce more goals. Give the strikers and offensive mid-fielders more room to operate, see what happens then.
    Remember, sports fans in the US are “instant gratification” type people, and the pace of the game doesn’t suit our fan demeanor. While the Brazilians can party and drink and sing and dance through a 1-0 game, enjoying both themselves and the play on the pitch, most US soccer viewers need to see that excitement almost constantly; we aren’t interested in “89 minutes of strategy interjected with 1 minute of scoring”. Hence, the ADD of the typical US sports fan.
    I’m sure that the posters of this fine blog can solve the World Cup woes and probably world hunger if we set our collective minds to it. These are certainly excellent points put forth by Shourin and would merit discussion at all levels of the game. But remember, FIFA is stubbornly glacial in considering any changes, born of the arrogance of overlording the “world’s most popular sport”; so we might only solve it in our minds unless we can get more to come to our cause.
    On another note, I would like to congratulate Christiano Ronaldo on his election to a spot on the Portugese 3m springboard DIVING team for the Summer Olympics.
    My apologies, once the fingers started typing, this became a novel.

  3. You guys are funny. I like Thew’s idea of increasing the distance of the offside lines.Ice hockey just got a lot high scoring because of that. I also like Tilam’s idea of a ‘sin bin’. Get those divers and foulers off the field and let them stew for about 15-20 minutes, rather than give them a card.
    Maybe if we get more specific and detailed,we could send FIFA our proposals. Who knows, there maybe someone out there who is not just a pen pusher, and can implement some of these.

  4. 2 big suggestions:
    1 – get rid of offsides in the box. It’s a first step to changing the offsides rule that could open up play close to the net and create frantic, goal-mouth play.
    2 – the sin bin like in rugby where a player receiving a yellow card has to sit off for 10-15 minutes
    These are both easy to implement and act as incremental steps to a free flowing, cleaner game.

  5. I would only make one change and see what happens in Euro 2008 and perhaps WC 2010 before making more drastic changes.
    The one change would be consideration of post-game video evidence to punish a prescribed set of offences such as diving and dangerous conduct, along with stringent punishment such as two or three match bans.
    If things don’t get better, then I think ten a side should be considered. No need to go to nine without seeing how ten plays out.
    Free substitutions – absolutely not. The reason soccer is becoming less attractive is that it is being planned and played more efficiently. Players are stronger and faster and better coached, strategy and tactics are better, the organizations (club or country) function better, etc. Two perfectly coached teams with the perfect athletes would make for a boring contest. Unlimited substitutions would increase efficiencies. You’d have a bunch of specialists who are really good at what they do, cancelling out each other. The game would become much faster and more athleticized, which most fans consider less attractive because soccer is not about the fastest and strongest players – it’s about nuance and art. Riquelme would not be able to play in a system with unlimited substitutions as the opposition would just rotate three super-athlete defenders who would never get tired to defend him, and that’s that.
    In fact, if there were any change to the substitution rule, I would reduce it back down to two.
    Time outs, the same arguments above apply. As a coach, I know that coaches=deadlock. Too much coaching, and you end up with Deep Blue v. Deep Blue instead of Kasparov v. Karpov.
    Making the ball normal again, I agree with entirely. Now, I see the benefits of the super ball forcing defenders apart to block shots. On the other hand, it seems to have had the effect of more defenders congregating in the middle form a shield and ready to block shots. Also, the ball’s difficult to control. Finally, it’s quite aesthetically displeasing to see a shot straight at the goalkeeper go in because of the balls random movements.
    I would to back to a slightly slower ball over the next couple of years and study the impact.

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