If yesterday’s Premier League games tells us anything about the state of the game today its that referees get big decisions wrong from time to time. Spectacularly wrong in the instances at Swansea City v Burnley and Manchester United v Bournemouth where the decisions had a material impact on the game, if not the result. With great power comes great responsibility and whilst many of us will question their ability to handle the pressure of a billion pairs of eyes scrutinising any and every decision, it is something that they will have to live with.
The use of video replays would have made a massive difference yesterday. In the game at Swansea, Anthony Taylor blew his whistle to give a penalty to Burnley for handball. Play was halted by his whistle so if video technology was in use, he would have easily been told that it was the Burnley play who handled, not a Swansea City player and play could have restarted with a free-kick to the defending team. Likewise at Old Trafford with the Ibrahimovic and Mings incident, play had been stopped by the referee. He knew something had gone on which should be enough for an opportunity to review the decision.
Referees have so much pressure on them to perform that it is time some of the responsibility was taken off them. The use of goal-line technology in the top flight has eradicated any doubt and opportunity for error as to whether the ball has crossed the line. Somehow, we need to get that technology working further down the pyramid. Perhaps if we also took timekeeping away from them, then there would be less pressure at the end of games when the mysterious “added time” amount is often questioned. Rugby Union and League uses a time-keeper who is able to fairly stop the clock in circumstances where unnecessary time is being taken – hardly a revolutionary change or one that would require significant implementation (and would give the Premier League/Football League further opportunities for sponsorship no doubt).
The decisions at The Liberty Stadium and Old Trafford come at a very apt time for football as this week we’ve seen the latest round of proposed changes to the game being made public. It’s that time of the year when the footballing world is treated to the bewildering proposals in the laws of the game as the 131st meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) met at Wembley Stadium. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not FIFA who make up laws just for the sake of it, but IFAB which, in a nod still to the importance the British played in the development of the game, is made up of representative from the home nation Football Associations plus FIFA. Yep, this group has more power than UEFA, South America and Asian football combined. If any country wants to suggest a rule change, then they have to get the ear of a board member and it is discussed at this annual gathering.
The decisions made at this year’s meeting will be formally ratified in the summer and then come into play at the start of next season, although some will on.y be seen in junior football, such as the implementation of sin bins. Such a change will be run as a trial in junior football with the aim to see how feasible it is to bring into the game at a higher level.
Another interesting change that will be trialled next season relates to how penalty shoot-outs are managed. The proposal is that they will follow the tennis tiebreaker approach meaning in theory no one team will gain an advantage of taking first (6/10 shoot outs are won by the team that takes first). So team A will take first then Team B will take two, then Team A will take two, and so on until Team B take the 10th penalty, if necessary.
The meeting, which was chaired by Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn, also approved further testing of video assistant referees (VARs) and agreed a strategy to improve player behaviour. From next season, assuming the home stadium has the ability to support the technology, video replays will be used in the FA Cup from the Third Round as an extended trial.
The board also discussed the issue of player behaviour and dissent towards the officials. A key part of that strategy will be considering how better to use captains. This may eventually mean only captains can speak to match officials, as is the case in rugby union, but such a rule-change does not appear to be imminent.
For now it appears the law changes won’t impact us too much. Last season’s amendments are still proving difficult for many officials to interpret, none more so than the rule about players not having to leave the field after being treated for an injury if the perpetrator is cautioned or dismissed which has been a thorny issue for our management team on a number of instances. And let’s not go into the whole “offside in your own half” business.
There’s a balance to be struck between making changes for the good of the game and making changes because it justifies the purpose of IFAB. The jury is still out where public opinion sits but perhaps they should listen more to the average fan and some of the ideas they may have. Watching 100 plus games a year gives me plenty of opportunity to think about what could be done to improve the game, so here are my five ideas for submission to next season’s meeting:-
- The use of an independent time-keeper who is able to stop the clock for any excessive time wasting and thus eliminate the concept of “injury time”. No longer would there be dispute about adding 30 seconds for a substitution (we timed an opposition substitution two weeks ago when they were winning at 1 minutes 17 seconds from stop to start of play). Likewise, there will be no silly antics of players getting involved when a goal is scored and they try to recover the ball from the net and are blocked by the defending team.
- If the ball is kicked directly out of play for a throw-in (i.e without bouncing) then it should be taken level from where the kick was made – in other words the same rule as they have in rugby. The purpose of this is to try to reduce time-wasting tactics where defenders, protecting their lead, hoof the ball out of play and thus encourage more attacking and positive play.
- Foul throws should be treated as fouls and penalised with a free-kick to the opposing team rather than giving a throw to the opposition. I’m amazed at how often at the highest levels of the game, foul throws are not penalised.
- Get rid of indirect free-kicks. All fouls and transgressions should be treated the same – fouls are given because the laws of the game have been broken and should be penalised the same way.
- “Shepherding” the ball out of play for a goal kick needs to be redefined. It’s the biggest joke in football when a defender creates a barrier yards away from the ball to stop the forward getting to it, even when they change direction of attack. Allow an exclusion zone of no more than 2 feet from the ball – anything else should be deemed as obstruction and penalised either with a free-kick or in the area, a penalty.
Of course I doubt any of these will see the light of day. If I was to predict what we will see in the future I would say it will be 20 minute half-time breaks (more opportunity to sell advertising) and that there is no limit to the number of players that can be named as substitutes – after all during major international tournaments this rule is already in existence.
I’m sure IFAB and FIFA will argue changes are for the good of the game, but if that was the case, why haven’t they implemented some of the more sensible ideas already?