Last week, Dutch legend and current FIFA Technical Chief Marco van Basten made some waves in the footballing community. van Basten proposed a series of rule changes to improve the state of the game, and while some seem like legitimately good ideas, others have drawn the ire of fans and managers alike. Here are my thoughts on the matter.
Eliminating the Offsides Rule – As much as I dislike when teams employ an offsides trap to neutralize attacks, I think that the offsides rule is still a crucial part of keeping football a non-gimmicky sport. On one hand, eliminating this rule would theoretically allow for more attacks by giving strikers the ability to roam wherever they please on the pitch. No longer would they have to worry about timing their runs perfectly, and the assistant referees would no longer draw the anger of fans for missing close offsides calls.
On the other hand, I think that this would prove to be more harmful to the game than anything. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told reporters, “I think offside is what makes the team be together.” The legendary manager also added that he thinks offsides is an intelligent rule that is vital to the game. While I would love the increased attacking play that eliminating this rule would produce, I also feel like it would lead us down a slippery slope into creating a game that we no longer recognize.
Sin Bin – Yes, I love the NHL and I also love the great power-play dance that I get to do when I’m at Scottrade Center watching the St. Louis Blues. That doesn’t mean that I want to do that when I’m watching a match. van Basten proposed that football adopt a similar “penalty” system to the NHL by instituting timed penalties rather than issuing cards. This would mean that a challenge that was once a yellow card, would instead lead to a team playing a man down for as much as 10 minutes.
Hockey isn’t the only sport to institute this kind of rule. Lacrosse has similar timed penalties, and even indoor soccer has them as well. I think that the reason these types of penalties work in their respective sports is because of the speed that those sports are being played at. All three of these sports feature end-to-end attacks for the duration of the games, and on-the-fly substitutions also add another element of confusion to the mix.
I know that to some, these changes may seem like a perfect way to attract a new audience to the game that we all know and love, but at what cost? Jürgen Klopp hit out at the proposed changes saying, “My opinion is this wonderful game that we all love doesn’t need rule changes … (Marco van Basten) can create another game. There is enough pitches around the world.” The Liverpool manager also argued that FIFA are putting the integrity of the game in danger by trying to squeeze every last dime out of it, and I have to agree with him.
Stopping the Clock in the Final 10 Minutes – While I may disagree with a lot of the things that van Basten has proposed, I’m big enough to admit that he also has some great ideas. The one that really sticks out to me is his proposal to stop the running clock when the ball is out of play in the final 10 minutes of a match. Something that I have really grown to hate over the last 10 years has been the blatant time wasting techniques that players employ in the final stages of a match. I cannot stand having to sit and watch a goalie take 60 seconds to set up a goal kick before deciding that the ball needs to actually be moved over an inch to the right.
I think that this change would help promote competitive matches that let the best team win. It would discourage players from faking injuries late in matches, and those pesky ballboys could no longer become internet heroes for not doing their jobs and forcing the players to chase after every ball. Above all, I think that these changed behaviors, even if they’re only for the final 10 minutes, would set a good example for all of the kids watching the matches.
8 vs. 8 Matches for Youth Football – Speaking of the kids, van Basten also addressed youth players with a proposed rule that would limit their matches to 8 vs. 8 rather than 11 vs. 11. I completely agree with him on this one. Especially in US youth soccer, from what I’ve seen at least, young players struggle to express themselves on the pitch because it’s simply too crowded for them. I know that some will argue that if they’re good enough, a kid should still be able to maneuver through these crowds, but they’re not going to do it without getting unnecessarily whacked a couple of times.
Limiting the number of players on the pitch should encourage players to develop their technical abilities a little bit more rather than learning “when in doubt, kick it out.” With the professional game becoming more and more possession and passing based, it’s time for the youth game to adapt with it.