The thing about football is that even though it is the most popular game in the world and a sport with one of the most venerable histories, it is still in its infancy as a global game.
To this day it continues to be dominated by Europe and South America. Indeed, no country from any other continent has ever won the World Cup, and, frankly, it might be a while before one does.
Football is only recently picking up in Asia and Africa, and it will be quite some time before footballing talent is fully democratized and equally distributed from Brisbane to Buenos Aires.
The fact that football is still in its infancy is readily apparent when we consider the game’s tactical evolution. Teams of years past now look woefully unsophisticated (forget about 4-4-2, remember that in the 1950s teams lined up in a 2-3-5 formation … 2-3-5!) and there is little doubt in my mind that the best teams of today would most likely have torn teams from earlier eras to shreds.
This being the case there is really no reason why the rules of football shouldn’t evolve alongside with the tactics. There have already been many changes to the rules of the game since it first began, from allowing substitutions (so that your keeper wouldn’t have to continue playing with a broken neck) to the continual tweaks in the offside law (to say nothing of the seminal rule change in 1925 which gave us the modern offside law), so we should certainly be open to a few more.
Game clock: Stop the clock when the ball goes out of play. This one should be a no-brainer. It would instantly solve the problem of time-wasting, etc. Furthermore, the official game clock should be public so everyone can see how much time is left at any given moment. The current cloak and dagger situation with everyone waiting breathlessly to see what the ref decides is just plain silly.
Free kicks: The 10 yards between kicker and defender should be enforced with a taser, range exactly 10 yards. If you are too close you get zapped. If you are standing where you should be, nothing to worry about.
Goal-line technology: It’s absurd that we still rely on the naked eye of a referee or linesman who may be 20-30 metres away to determine whether the ball crosses the line or not. Alternatively, the low-tech solution would be to keep a midget referee inside the goal at all times.
More refs: If the in-goal midget ref idea doesn’t fly, we could still have more refs. Why not one ref and two linesmen for each half of the pitch? they don’t cost much.
No studs: Most football injuries are caused by the studs on the soles of the boots. No studs, fewer injuries.
Offside: How about a cricket-style red light/green light system for offside? Once the flag goes up, the play is dead and cannot be bought back. Let them play on, and in the event of a goal, go to the video-tape. In the long run surely a system of sensors can automate the process.
Discipline: The yellow card/red card system is too blunt an instrument. Perhaps a hockey-style sin-bin system would work better.
Half-way line: Like in basketball, there could be a rule that once the ball has crossed the halfway line, you can’t go back. This would encourage more attacking football. Or if not the half-way line, a line 35 metres from your own goal.
Back pass: Outlaw passes back to the goal-keeper, full stop.
More offside: The offside law still needs to be fixed, or its interpretation by referees needs further looking into. It ought to be designed to discourage goal-hanging and to encourage players to run onto through balls played behind the defence. In its current incarnation it accomplishes the exact opposite.
Football is and always will be the beautiful game. But it could get more beautiful still, and as the game evolves and its centre of gravity shifts southwards and eastwards, there is no reason that the rules cannot be further perfected, as well.
I am not advocating anything as radical as Twenty20 football (Heaven forbid), but let us never forget that the game is, even after over a century, still in the process of being born, and that there is, at least for now, still room for improvement.
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