Eliminating penalty areas, working offside and stopping the clocks: Five other legislative changes we'd like to see

Eliminating penalty areas, working offside and stopping the clocks: Five other legislative changes we’d like to see

Soccer is pretty good, isn’t it? yes yes it is

But that doesn’t mean it can’t get even better. It was nice 30 years since the Passback Act and immediately (well, almost immediately after goalies learned to kick with both feet and override a lifetime of muscle memory) the game improved tremendously for the better. There must be other ways we can improve the game even further. Luckily there are exactly five of these ways and they are these.

1) Penalties are only awarded for preventing a scoring opportunity
This would be quite a seismic change to the game, but we’re absolutely positive it would be for the better.

The idea behind it is simple enough; Make penalties commensurate with the crime. In different situations this will benefit both the attacking and defending sides, but the idea is that by doing this we end up having a fairer game. The last defender cynically knocks down a striker 40 yards from goal? Penalty. Piss little foul on a player walking away from goal in the far corner of the box? No punishment. Pretty much any handball other than a full Luis Suarez vs Ghana? No punishment.

Well, this isn’t perfect, and we’re aware of the fact that we’re going to trade one set of controversies for another. But we are ready for you there. We have a justification and it is as follows. Yes, a ‘scoring opportunity’ is quite subjective, but it’s a concept that already exists in football laws and that people are familiar with. Difficult to describe, but we all know it when we see it. Sure there will be borderline cases that will lead to debate and discussion, but we would argue that this is more than adequately covered by an end to the debate and controversy over marginal handball calls or small fouls in the box corner which no longer merit such analysis, because they would no longer be punishments.

Perhaps (definitely) naively we also think, “What is a scoring opportunity?” offers room for a more interesting philosophical debate than arguing about “ball at hand” or “there’s definitely a contact for me, Clive”.

But at the most basic level, aside from simply wanting to watch the world burn, we have two main reasons for supporting this change. First, under the circumstances in which they are awarded, penalties so often feel like an absurdly harsh penalty, equivalent to about four-fifths of a goal for infractions that are very often minor or even non-existent. But the most important are two indirect free kicks and that way we get more of them.

2) Whoever wins the penalty takes the penalty
Speaking of penalties. Quite simply, that. Not fair anymore throwing the ball to Harry Kane so he can collect stupid and stupid numbers. no The fouled player must dust himself off and take the penalty himself. If they are injured, their substitute has to take it. No exceptions. Obviously we assume that by this point we’ve managed to introduce a rule change so penalties for handball will be much less common and pretty much just for blocking shots on goal so it’s pretty easy to judge who is taking those penalties . Whoever had the shot, obviously.

If for some reason we still stick with giving penalties for crosses that hit defenders in the arm, then the player who crossed them has to take the penalty. Which would also make for a welcome return of the penalty taker genre. Your Julian Dickses. Your Denis Irwins. The Leighton Bainese of this world.

3) Do penalty shootouts
A few little crafts here that should be standard by now and it’s silly they aren’t. FIFA had considered a brief foray into replacing the standard ABAB shootout format with the ABBA method, which has nothing to do with hit pop groups and more to do with tennis tiebreaks, but abandoned it despite posing as a fairer, albeit slightly, turned out more complicated system. Somehow the game gives away what they and the fans really want from gunfights, but that really isn’t good enough.

It’s actually pretty easy to follow ABBA gunfights, and statistically they’re a breeze. If there’s an advantage to going first – and all the data says there is – then you’ve solved the problem. And if there is no benefit, then there is still absolutely no harm. The ABBA system has no disadvantages, only potential advantages. so let’s do that please

Also, if a Sudden Death Shootout goes to the 11th player and you sent off a player, that still counts as a miss. Logically, it’s the only fair way. Otherwise, you’ll have to go back to your best penalty taker when you should be using your worst. A punishment has become a significant reward. Forget that fad of switching to penalty specialist goalkeeper at the end of extra time; Under current rules, the real shooting move is getting your weakest penalty takers to all try to get sent off in the 120th minute. Of course, that would only work in a final. Because of suspensions. But still. Easy move, and while an automatic error is less fun than the prospect of centre-backs trying to get red cards on purpose, it’s still pretty fun. And also fairer than what we have now, which is probably important.

4) Judge offside based on foot placement only
We’re pretty sure there’s no perfect way for the Law of Offside and VAR’s pursuit of millimeter accuracy to ever truly co-exist, but we’re also sure there can be a better way. Greater margin for error has definitely helped reduce the number of disputed calls, but it certainly hasn’t eliminated them entirely. There are still offside decisions that just don’t fit our understanding of what offside meant before VAR showed up to measure armpits and the like.

In fact, arguably the biggest issue with VAR offsides as they currently exist is the more thorny issue of deciding which frame represents the moment the ball was played. But we don’t really know the solution there, feels like one for the tinkerers. What we can do is improve the way attacker and defender positions are measured once the arbitrary “right” frame has been chosen. And it’s very simple: we simply measure from the feet. This has obvious advantages. One, more people will be on the site. While the nagging about VAR offsides obviously comes mostly along tribal lines, like all nagging about decisions, we suspect people are generally more excited when goals are excluded than when they are excluded. That’s when it feels most like we’re all being robbed of something by a nerd with a set square in a Stockley Park broom closet. But secondly, the feet are – in most cases – either on the ground or near it. This will make drawing the lines far less controversial than it currently is.

Obviously the other option here is just junk VAR, but maybe we’re not ready to put that particular genie back in the bottle just yet.

5) Stop the clocks
Would love to see this properly tested to combat time wasting. Honestly think it could be as successful as the Passback Act. It’s amazingly simple: we reduce the game to two halves of 30 minutes each, but the clock stops when the ball is not in play. No more arbitrary overtime by officials, and with a quick, decisive move, wasting time becomes pointless. The data is out there showing we would still get about the same amount of football as we currently do, it’s just the way we measure it that’s changing. And the playing time becomes constant across all games and no longer depends on the whim of the referee. Must be worth it.

They also take away the subjectivity of not just when the game ends, but how. Once time runs out to zero, play ends the next time the ball is out of play (retaining the current restriction on penalties). If we think about it, even if we can’t stop our clocks, we’d still love it if “final whistle only when ball is dead” was still a thing, please.


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