Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ways to improve football.

Just after new-year a national radio station did a phone in on ‘how would you improve football?’ I have been thinking about this anyway for a little while and whilst I didn’t phone the show, it did provoke me to crystalise my thoughts a little. So, here is how I would improve football – if I had the power! (Wahahahahaha etc.)

1. Respect
The FA seem to be entirely weak on this. Entirely weak to the point of damaging the game. The many ill-informed comments of high-profile managers and the constant challenging and attempted influence on referees by players whilst on the field cause much dismay to those of us who love the game. I think the solution to this problem is actually very straight forward.
The FA needs to do two things – one is within its power the other would need to be an international move by FIFA. Firstly, managers who publically criticise officials need to be actually punished and not given what can only be described as ‘token-fines’ at best – and often nothing at all. If the punishment is real, managers will stop making the comments, especially as many are not ‘heat-of-the-moment’ but carefully crafted words. The other change – that has been suggested from many quarters – is to simply not allow any player other than the captain to talk to the referee during the game. Say anything to any official and it should be a yellow card. No debate, no question, just a yellow card. There is no doubt that the first few weeks after this law was brought in would be chaos. There would be a very large number of bookings and far too many red cards. And then everyone would get used to it and things would settle down, just like when the back-pass rule was brought in, nearly twenty years ago. This would change the culture of football subtly and yet profoundly. It would not be possible to back-chat referees. I do think that the standard of officiating needs to be improved but that is no excuse for the appalling behaviour displayed by many on the football field towards officials. If FIFA were really smart, they would remove the pointless rule that removing one’s shirt when celebrating a goal is an automatic yellow card. (Not that I have any idea why players do this)

2. Timings
The control of time in football and the amount of stoppage time is a cause for much debate in the game and often, in my view, is a cause of unnecessary argument. I am trying very hard here not to make too many comparisons with rugby union but this is one parallel I think is worth drawing.
In rugby union, the timing is controlled by the referee, but independently. Once the ref starts the game the clock runs down, unless he calls ‘time off.’ There is no such thing as stoppage time because the clock stops for stoppages – that is injuries, discussions with players etc. (not every time the ball goes dead). Once the time is up, the next time the ball goes dead – except for penalties or try conversions – is the end of the game. Simple and clear.
Football could easily adopt this policy. Referees would merely have to signal ‘time off’ for major injuries or substitutions. There would be no room for arguing that refs had allowed too much or too little because it would be unarguable. Once 45 minutes were up – and in professional games this would be publically displayed on the scoreboard - the half would end next time the ball went dead, except for freekicks, penalties and corners.

3. The use of technology.
Eventually football needs to realise that as the world’s biggest and most significant sport, it is laughable that it is so far behind every other major sport in terms of technology. Which technologies are used and for what I think remains an open question – but that something needs to used is, in my view totally clear. Imagine Formula 1 still relying on stopwatches!
There is one piece technology I would like to see used and then we can look at the others and decide. There are many decisions in football that require judgement but whether the ball has crossed a line or not is entirely objective. I think the idea of goal-line cameras is flawed but a microchip in the ball that would indicate whether it has crossed, not only the goal-line but also the touchlines if brilliant in its simplicity. I understand that the technology is not yet perfected but I have no doubt that if FIFA said it wanted to use it in all top level games then it would be made ready in a very short space of time.
The linesman (my apologies; assistant referees) would still need to indicate who the ball game off for throw-ins and corners but they’d have no doubt that the line had been crossed. Probably the easiest way would be a ear-piece with a sound for the linesmen. Or maybe like ice hockey, a light that goes on when a goal is scored.
Once working, I could see the next step being the put microchips in the player’s shirts in order to aid off-side decisions – but that’s a potential future development, whereas I think a chip in the ball is long overdue.

4. Money
The money-related problems in football are many and numerous. In part it stems from a trend to concentrate the wealth with a small number of already wealthy clubs. That is what the various re-incarnations of the European Cup as the Champion’s League is all about.
It the long term this kind of thing will kill the game. The so-called G14 have a lot to answer for.
The solutions to this problem are many and complex but there is one very simple change that I think would be a very good start.
Up until the early 80’s all gate-receipts from matches were split between both teams. This still happens for FA cup games. Currently the home club keeps 100% of the income from the gate. Naturally that gives a massive income advantage to the big clubs. Simply reversing this stupid decision would do a lot to improve the income of the smaller clubs in each league.

The FA
So come on Football Association, save our beautiful game!