IFAB Proposes New Rules for Football (and I add a few of my own)

By Tim Todd

The International Football Association Board or IFAB is set to debate a set of new rules for football aimed forcing teams like Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers, Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace, Sam Allardyce’s English National Team, and any team managed by Jose Mourinho to play football against their opponent rather than playing against the clock.

There are only three things that a coach can manage during a game: space, the ball, and time. And it has become increasingly easy for coaches to manage time. Teams these days manage time as a tactic; simply kick the ball out of play, rotational fouling, and get a lot of restarts, take extra time on free kicks, have the keeper hold the ball, switch sides for his free kicks, and fake injury, then take your time during any restart. If you score a goal, double down on the time wasting.

As a result in the modern game it’s a damn fact that football matches see less than 60 minutes of actual ball in play. That’s being generous: Petr Cech revealed on Twitter that matches effectively only see 25 minutes of action per half. In the Champions League final, the showcase of modern football excellence, the ball was in play for only 56 minutes and 45 seconds. That was a game contested between two teams who wanted to play football.

Seeing this problem IFAB, the governing body which writes the laws of the game, wants to debate some changes to the rules. Changes that they think will speed the game up and make it more enjoyable.

The boldest proposal is a 60 minute game clock which would be stopped for any.. uhh.. stoppages (interruptions?). Throw ins, long free kicks, goal kicks, and the like would see the referee stop a clock on his wrist which would be linked to a clock in the stadium that all could see.

This seems practical at first glance. Teams who want to gather their teammates forward and try for a long free kick can still do so but they aren’t rewarded for taking their time. Player subs, which are supposed to add 30 seconds on to the game clock but never do, will be actually timed. And playing like you are fouled so that you can get treatment and kill the game would just see the clock stopped.

But I don’t know if it would stop teams from timewasting. Timewasting has two advantages, it kills the clock but it also kills an opponent’s momentum. And many teams use free kicks and corners as one of the few ways they generate shots. I suspect that if the clock is stopped, some teams will take even more time over the ball and we could see 50 or even 60 minute halfs.

Stopping the clock is not a disincentive for teams who want to stop the clock, added time is. If IFAB wants to punish time wasters it needs to instruct the referees to add on more time. And they know this, they have outlined that as a proposal which could be implemented without a change of the laws. Referees would just start accurately keeping track of stoppages for penalty kicks, goals, injuries, subs, and free kicks. Imagine Mourinho’s face if the referee added 12 minutes on to the first half of a game against Arsenal! He would be so angry that he might literally explode, which would make the game more enjoyable for all fans of football for the rest of human history. I am in favor of this change rather than a 60 minute game clock.

The “in between” proposal is to have the referees accurately track time in the last 5 minutes of the first half and the last 10 minutes of the second half. If they are going to go down the path of having a stop-watch-like timing mechanism, I’d like to see it deployed this way first.

The other “rules” change that I would implement to improve the flow of the game is to punish rotational fouling. We punish last man fouls and other professional fouls more harshly, so why not rotational fouling? Especially when targeted at one player. If yellow cards start flying early for rotational fouling you can guarantee that rotational fouling will stop.

IFAB is also proposing several minor changes which are intended to speed the game up: kicking the ball to yourself on free kicks and corners would be allowed (in other words, allowing the team with the ball to start the free kick with a dribble instead of a pass). I’m in favor of this. Forcing the keeper to take the goal kick on the same side as the ball went out of play: again this is just sensible. And allowing the keeper to kick a rolling ball rather than making them retake the free kick: uhh yeah, totally sensible.

And one last rule I would like to see changed is the absurd “advantage” rule. Referees don’t apply advantage the same across the board. They know which teams want to stop the game and which teams don’t and they play “advantage” in weird places. For example, Arsenal are often granted an advantage in their own final third after they are fouled, as a result they will sometimes turn the ball over and their “advantage” actually becomes the opponent’s advantage. If we are going to allow players to play a free kick to themselves we can stop giving “advantage” and just stop the ball at every foul. This will also make it clearer when teams are rotationally fouling and allow the referee to take corrective action,

I think simply enforcing the laws of the game already on the books would be a great way to fix the problem of time wasting and adding a few minor tweaks such as allowing players to take free kicks quickly, forcing keepers to stick to the six second rule, and

Here are three more controversial laws I’d like to see implemented:

Undercutting: when the ball is in the air and one player goes up to win the ball, their opponent will sometimes “make a back” and cause the player challenging for the ball to fall over him uncontrollably. This act of backing into or ramming an opponent in the air is insanely dangerous and I would go so far as to say it’s a red card offense. To describe what I mean in more clear terms: player A stands on the pitch, player B jumps to win a header, player A just stands there and doesn’t challenge for the ball – that would be a foul. Deliberately backing into the opponent in the air would be a red card. In basketball this is called “undercutting” and is the source of many playground fights. It is also punished as a foul in basketball and as a result we just don’t see it happen very often. But in football this happens all the time. How many times per game do we see a player lying on the ground after his defender undercut him? I see it at least once or twice a game and that’s too often for my taste.

Offside: we either need to abandon offsides or at the very least roll it back to where it was a few years ago when players weren’t allowed to stand offside and interfere with play. This season, we have seen too many examples of players in an offside position, interfering with play, and yet the goal is allowed. I’m an Arsenal supporter and I’m not supposed to say this but Aaron Ramsey was offside and interfering with play for Arsenal’s first goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. That goal shouldn’t have stood but the confusion over the laws of the game allowed it. One simple change would fix this: goals will be chalked off for any player in an offside position in the 18 yard box. Done. Or abandon offsides all together – which seems to be the direction we are headed. Scoring would go up!

Racism in the stands: This issue simply needs to be treated seriously. UEFA and FIFA need to crack down on clubs with racist fans so that the clubs will ban these racists from their stands. That means huge fines, playing games without spectators, points deductions, and barring clubs from playing in the Champions League or barring countries from the World Cup, Euros, and other tournaments. 5,000 Euro fines are not the solution to players being racially abused.  It’s a disgrace that this is still happening and the fact that FIFA, UEFA, and the various leagues don’t crack down on this makes me wonder if those governing bodies are racist as well?

Read all of IFAB’s suggested changes to the Laws of the game on their “Play Fair” web site.

What are your thoughts on IFAB’s suggested changes and mine? Sound off below.


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