FIFA should open up to change

Marco Van Basten recently suggested making some radical changes to football’s rules and the way it’s played. Football doesn’t like change and Van Basten came in for a lot of flak in the media and online. Below is my response to one critical article.

Critics of Van Basten seem to have fallen into the same dull thinking that FIFA has suffered from for too long. OK, no one could be quite that bad, but too many people think football is almost perfect and doesn’t need changing.
How on earth can anyone (especially FIFA) think that a penalty shootout is a good way to end (after nearly four years of competition) the biggest sports tournament in the world? It’s absolutely pathetic. A football match should be ended as much as possible with … a football match.
One possible answer (which I’ve never seen anywhere else but just seems to make so much sense to me) is to reduce the teams to nine men in extra time. I would play 20 minutes of that with a Golden Goal winning the match (another good idea that FIFA couldn’t handle). If there’s no result after 20 minutes, then play 10-15 minutes (or sudden death) without goalkeepers. Sounds radical, but the two teams will still be playing football, not shooting from 12 yards.
If you want a direct equivalent to the penalty shootout, how about a corner shootout? Maybe with four or five outfield players on each team (perhaps five attackers and four defenders to make goals more likely) and with a 10-second limit for a goal (the guy taking the corner isn’t counted as an outfield player). It wouldn’t take longer than a penalty shootout and might actually be quicker. It would certainly be more interesting.
As for quarters in a game. Well, studies have shown that the action in football lasts for around 55-65 minutes; so let’s say it’s an hour and have a timekeeper like in American sports. I have no problem with a game being divided into quarters but actually think dividing a football match into thirds would be better with two 10-minute breaks so the teams have enough time to have a cup of tea and a piss. This will change the timing of the game, but really it won’t affect the football at all.
Sin bins might also be a good idea. My alternative is that yellow cards should be come with a points system. At the moment wasting time and breaking a player’s leg can carry the same punishment. Writing a number down next to somebody’s name is not going to be an added burden for the ref (although maths might be for some). How about a three-point system? Maybe OK. If you get five points, you’re off. People will say that players might get confused. That’s their problem. If the ref blows the whistle, the players have a responsibility to pay attention to what he says and does. So, he calls a foul, shows the yellow card, puts two fingers up (yes, I know…) and off we go. The red card would still be an option, of course. Or maybe we only need one card with a five-point system.
Do away with offsides? This has been trialed before. It sounds like it might be a good idea and would do away with the most contentious decisions in the game. I think it would make the game more interesting but would like to see it trialed again.
If you want another sensible and radical suggestion, try this: Do away with penalties. Penalty areas have become a joke. So many people fall down, it’s like a recreation of the Battle of the Somme. (Perhaps part of the answer is to bring back the obstruction rule. When was the last time you saw that used?) But the best answer is simply do away with penalties completely and award a free-kick. (I’d also like to see the penalty area removed from the pitch but it’s needed as a goalkeeper area.) Of course, awarding a direct free-kick one yard out might create difficulties, but indirect free-kicks have been awarded in similar positions. I would suggest that the attacking team could have the option of moving the ball back 5 or 10 yards on a direct line from the center of the goal.
Another idea that has been considered is to let trainers on the pitch while the game continues to avoid unnecessary (and fake) injury stoppages. This has the potential to be disruptive but again is something that could be worked out if people would just open their minds and think about it.
And that’s where the problem lies. FIFA and the F.A. and football in general have been run by people with severely limited imaginations and thinking power. Marco Van Basten is one of the most enlightened footballers of all time, so dismissing his ideas is somewhat insulting. There’s a whole bunch of radical ideas that could be realised (how about a Champions League made up of champions?). Mr. Infantino has just raised the number of teams in the World Cup to 48; that makes sense when you realise that the best football competition in the world is not the World Cup but the European Championship.
The problems start when people shut down their imaginations and limit their thinking. Other sports have made radical changes with really positive results (volleyball springs to mind; also cricket to some extent); football has been lagging behind.
Debate the ideas and come up with alternatives; don’t just shut them down because you don’t want to change. Well done, Marco, keep the flame alive. It takes perseverance as I (and FIFA) discovered when cohosting was suggested for the 2002 World Cup. “It can’t happen,” Blatter told me in a letter.
But it did….

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