I’m something of a traditionalist, really. There has been a considerable amount of debate over the last few days over the quality of football played at this World Cup, and whether rule changes are needed to make the game a more exciting spectacle. My response to this is a fairly robust “no”. So, to anyone hoping to see me start a campaign for bigger goals, sin bins, multi-ball or robot referees is going to be disappointed. Football has coped pretty well with only minor rules changes over the last few decades and, so far as I can see, we simply don’t need wholesale rule changes to please people that seem to think that there is some sort of magical elixir that will rid football of cheating and negative play. If you change the laws of the game, players will just find new ways around them. What is needed is a re-think of how the game is refereed, and what we reward teams for.
Of course, the needs of the spectators should come first. Many of us will watch over a hundred matches over the next twelve months, and many of them will be watched from the comfort of our sitting rooms. So I’ve included a few things that could be introduced to make the viewing experience a more pleasurable one. Some are specific to the World Cup, and some are general. It would be foolish of me to think that more than one or two of these would ever stand so much as a cat in hell’s chance of ever being implemented but, if I was in charge, things would be a little bit different.
1. Make the Fourth Official a proper official: I never thought I would have said this, but… it’s probably time for video evidence. I don’t mean anything that Alex Ferguson or whoever can get their grubby mitts on it. I mean, a fourth official in the stands watching it live who can contact the referee by radio over dives, missed fouls, and so on. They obviously need a clearly defined role, and they wouldn’t have the power to over-rule the referee, but the time has clearly come to try it out and see if it works.
2. Retro-active punishment for diving: Before anybody chips in, I’m not saying this as part of any anti-Portugal agenda. Having, however, watched all bar about twenty minutes of this tournament, though, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the single most infuriating thing about this tournament has been the amount of diving going on. FIFA need to act on it, and it would be wrong to issue red cards during matches (because of the risk of getting it wrong), but maybe the idea of a one match ban if caught will prevent it. Diving needs to become as taboo as tackling from behind.
3. Enforce the off-side law correctly: The offside law should always benefit the attacking player. I thought we all knew this. But the number of strikers caught “offside” when they’re really no such thing is just ridiculous. Clear daylight should be the key, and if there is ANY doubt whatsoever, then it isn’t.
4. Only the captain speaks to the referee, unless the referee speaks to them first: Pretty simple, really.
5. Professional referees: Does it do football any good to have referees that are butchers, bakers and candlestick makers? Come to think of it, why not make all professional referees sit a degree in refereeing?
6. Stop throwing replacement balls straight into play: Players deserve the occasional ten second break. Stop wearing them out by throwing balls at them the second one goes out. It doesn’t “interrupt the flow of the game”. It just knackers them.
7. De-clutter the shirts: Why do they need numbers on the front of them? And little labels on the sleeves telling you what tournament they’re playing in? Marketing? Are people going to stop buying them? If clubs and countries want to produce and sell shirts covered in crap, then fine. Just don’t inflict it on the rest of us. And that includes numbers on the front of shirts. Don’t even get me started on that.
8. Get rid if those bars round the bottom of goals that hold the nets down: Goal nets need to be held down. This much we know. Those bar things annoy me at a very profound level. I know why they’re there (so they can just be lifted up by groundsmen between matches to cut the grass), but they’re just aesthetically displeasing – especially when they “clunk” when the ball hits them, or (even worse, and this has happened at Chelsea a few times) the bar lifts off the ground. When the ball hits the back of the net, it should nestle. Preferably spinning. You’re right – I should clearly get out more.
9. No points for a 0-0 draw: Why should anyone be rewarded for not providing goals over the course of 90 minutes? I can’t see any justification for anyone getting the same for a 0-0 draw as they do for a 3-3 thriller. If two teams are level and goal-less, it might encourage them both to chase the game a bit.
10. Make the television companies be impartial: I don’t know whether this is unique to Britain or not, but can we please have no agenda other than analysis when a football match is on the television? I’m not interested in whether Alan Shearer or Ian Wright hate rhe Portuguese now. I just want the match to be analysed and the “experts” to explain things to me that I didn’t already know.