Fever Pitch

Soccer fever is upon us and come world cup time it is most contagious. The World Cup brings neighbourhoods, communities, towns, cities, and countries together. Almost nothing can compare to the beautiful game during the World Cup. Players from the best soccer nations on the planet all gather for a chance at immortality. To be crowned champion of the world. All eyes are going to be on South Africa on June 11 when the 2010 edition of the World Cup begins, but I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you why there has to be changes made to the game of Soccer.

Soccer fans will be the first to tell you why there don’t have to be any changes made to the game. The first thing they will point out to you is that Soccer is the most popular game on the planet, so if it’s the most popular game in the world there’s obviously no reason for change. First of all, if you think that that argument is correct you must be wearing blinders. It’s like meeting a hot girl and not noticing that she could very possibly be the most annoying person you have ever talked to. Soccer is the most popular game in the world because it is cheap to play, and also because there are leagues all over the world that local fans can cheer for unlike the North American based sports such as Football and Basketball. There is no reason to believe that anything could not be improved in some manner, and soccer is no exception.

Time after time, game after game, it is clearly evident that the glaring problems in the game of Soccer are just screaming for change. However, FIFA’s consistent close-minded approach is always willing to overlook the need for change.

There are two words that make me wonder what goes on during the meeting of the mind’s at FIFA headquaters. Those two words are video review. I don’t understand why FIFA is so reluctant to implement video review, mainly because it is such an easy fix. Video review is better than ever now-a-days through the combination of technology and the many different camera angles that can be provided. I think one of the keys to a great game is allowing the players to decide the game. I don’t mean this in the sense that the ref should put away his whistle. By all means the referee should make all calls that are specified in the rule book, but when it comes to disallowing a good goal or allowing a bad goal sometimes the refs just can’t tell. But with the implementation of video review, all the controversy that results from “was it or wasn’t it a goal” would be taken away. A wrong call on a goal could be the difference between a world cup title and a runner-up finish. Video review has been proven to work very well in American Football, Hockey, Tennis and Basketball. The key is getting the call right, and the fact is that humans are not perfect. It is inevitable the some big calls are going to be wrong. The most recent example of this would be in Major League Baseball when a perfect game was taken away from the Detroit Tiger’s Armando Galarraga because of the wrong call by umpire Jim Joyce. MLB has begun to use video review but has not utilized fully. FIFA would be best to use the same approach.

For the most part, I find soccer to be an incredibly boring game. Now don’t get me wrong I love to play soccer and I have my whole life, but watching it is a whole other beast. The only soccer that I can watch with enjoyment  is the Champions League and the Euro and World Cup. The main reason for this is a lack of offensive chances, and most importantly goals. So much of a soccer game is either the better team dominating possession, while the weaker team sits 10 men back in its own third of the pitch hoping for a tie. The other option is two more or less equal teams cautiously trying to penetrate each others defence, while most of the play is in the middle third of the park. The only time I ever see good soccer is when two top teams play without any caution and are constantly trying to attack and make plays, not worrying about the defensive consequences. Hence, lots of offensive opportunities. However, even the best of soccer games still lack scoring, which essentially is the most entertaining part of any game.

The question is how do we fix the problem?

Here’s my solution. Change the offside rule. So often the weaker team plays in its own third, but on top of that they are playing an offside trap. The offside rule in soccer condenses the field so much as it only allows strikers to play up to the last man on defense. So often strikers are thwarted  because they are offside, despite being deep in the offensive end. Getting rid of the offside rule all together is not the answer though. The answer is to make an offside line similar to the one in hockey. It prevents cherry picking, yet at the same time it prevents teams from shrinking the pitch deeper in the offensive third of the pitch. I am thinking more of a combination between hockey and soccer. For instance, the offside line would go somewhere between each opposing goal and the center line. I think that the rule should be that if the ball is inside the offiside line then there is no more offside, thus expanding the offensive end. If the ball is not inside the offside line then have the traditional offside rule in place. It also should be said that offside, other than diving, is probably the most difficult call to make in soccer. The call is constantly made wrong and I don’t blame the refs, I blame the degree of difficulty that it takes to make an offside call. Where to place this line is not an easy answer, but I think an easy solution to a big problem is inputting an offside line.

Diving is an issue in soccer that almost no sane fan condones. It seems that a Cristiano Ronaldo game is not complete without his best Vince Carter “injury” impersonation. Diving is one of the things that refs have tried to crack down in recent years, but refs alone have been unable to stop it. This is because diving is so often an impossible call to make live. What has to happen is that the head of the leagues have to review all questionable plays that could be considered diving. Depending on the severity and the player (i.e. repeat offender), a hefty fine or game(s) suspension should be placed on the player. It is so easy and it would immediately cut out all diving from soccer. Players afraid of losing pay, or top players having fear of missing a game or two is the solution to stopping one of the most despicable displays in sports. It’s sad to see that on youtube there are such videos entitled “Best Soccer Dives.”

One last thing that I’d like to mention quickly is not really a change to the game of soccer but to the competition in soccer. Every year you see the same teams at the top of the table, whether it be Manchester United and Chelsea in England, or Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. You rarely see a non-big name team reach the top 4 of any league, and never will they win. Just like in baseball where there is essentially no salary cap, the rich owners just buy all the best players in Soccer. There needs to be some sort of salary cap in soccer that prevents the richer teams from just buying all their championships. Not like the cap in baseball where the only penalty is paying money, which the rich owners are more than willing to pay for championships. I’m not sure why the middle of the road teams in the top division ever get fans to a game. All you’re going to see is a perennial average team playing some boring soccer with no fear of being relegated and no excitement of a potential championship. Even though soccer garners tons of enthusiasm, a salary cap would provide more competitive soccer, making for more exciting finishes to the seasons.

This Utopian vision that is being provided for you right now is one that probably will never come to life. However, I strongly believe that if people opened their eyes to see the light, the game of soccer would truly be a beautiful game.

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About Chris Ross
Questions, comments, suggestions? Send yours to cross_can15@hotmail.com. Follow me on twitter @paintstheblack

9 Responses to Fever Pitch

  1. arotberg says:

    Chris…

    Thanks a lot for the comment. As long as you aren’t just bad mouthing the game, I love that you are posting about the sport.

    Video review is probably the right move and if FIFA is too stubborn to do it, they should at least add an additional referee behind the goal on each side. It is only a matter of time until the Theirry Henry incident reappears in an even higher profile game.

    The offside provision is interesting but FIFA is wayyyy to old fashioned to make a drastic change like this. Only the NHL strike was able to spur an American league into game changing revisions.

    Diving also threatens the integrity of the game and you are often seeing divers retroactively punished for their actions with multiple game suspensions.

    The European governing body is also in the process of instituting rules which prevent teams from spending outside of their means. Not a complete salary cap but it should at least bring the outrageous transfer fees into more realistic levels.

    -adam
    ifischi.wordpress.com

  2. liambell1 says:

    Hi Chris nice post, it’s good to see somebody from the States (I hope I’m right, given your use of ‘soccer’ instead of ‘football’ lol) taking a serious interest in the sport. I agree for the most part.

    Diving is one of my biggest frustrations with the game and I think we are seeing a move towards punishing players retrospectively for doing it, although it is understandable that governing bodies don’t want to undermine the referee too frequently.

    The adjustment you propose to the offside rule is an interesting one – to be honest I was not familiar with the rule in hockey and I applaud you for coming up with such an original idea.

    And although I am a Chelsea fan, I wholeheartedly agree with a salary cap in the sport. Not necessarily per player, but I think each team should have a total wage cap that they can manage as they see fit. So a team could still splurge on a big name player, but they’d have to deal with a limited budget for the rest of the squad.

    Thanks for checking out my blog and keep up the good work.

    Liam
    bellsports.wordpress.com

  3. theicehockeystick says:

    I’ve read a couple of your posts, and I like your blog, especially your suggestions, opinions and your reasons for that. Keep up the good work!

  4. Like the article, agree to an extent. I don’t see offsides changing, and I don’t think it should. My opinion on rule changes is this: They cannot change or alter the spirit or root of the game itself. I think changing the offsides rule would be close to completely changing the strategy of the game (changes positioning on the field, strategy of coaches and players, etc). However, diving (I would have refs give yellow cards on the field if it is clear that it is a dive) is not in the spirit of the game, and thereby I believe that can be changed by assigning refs the liberty of giving players yellow cards as mentioned. In addition, as I wrote in my blog today, I believe that widening and heightening the nets is the way to go, because it doesn’t change any rules or redefine the game itself, it just gives the offenses a slight advantage in the game, so that maybe a 3 goal game isn’t the second highest scoring game in the World Cup so far, or so that France can be actually rewarded for thoroughly outplaying Uruguay (it was a 0-0 draw). My problem is not that soccer is “boring,” because for a lot of people it is not, but my problem is that right now, the more talented and cohesive teams are not being rewarded for their superior play simply because it is too tough to put the ball in the net consistently. Instead, more often than not, games are won on fluke plays. Not what you want on the world’s biggest stage.

    Keep writing man, and thanks for the visit to my site. I’m sure I’ll take some looks back at yours as well.

    http://bobsportsblog.wordpress.com/

  5. KQ says:

    I have a strong dislike for this. First off, there already is the “offsides line” like in the NHL… its the middle line along the center of the field. you can be up to that line without being offsides. What can instant replay do? what is there to look over without stopping at every foul to see if it was a real foul or a “dive”? if you replay every one of them the game will go from its 90 minutes to probably almost double. instant replay just doesnt work because like bob long said for baseball, the play never really comes to a stop until half time and the end. the refs all go through training and the world cup has the best refs in the world so that they calls can be as correct as possible. i have seen a few questionable calls so far but none that i strongly disagree with. there are four refs and they all talk to each other out on the field and make the calls together. in henry’s case, it was just bad luck that none of the four refs saw that, but the better team in france is playing in the world cup making it more interesting for all.

    then you said players should get fined or suspended for “diving”. doing this would only make the game less interesting because the “diving” calls would be wrong sometimes and the best players would have to be suspended eventually for “diving”. if the best players in the world are not playing many fans who only watch the world cup will not know any of the players and it will be more boring plus without the best players, there will be less skill on the field and less goals because defenders never “dive” so only your best forwards and midfielders will be suspended. terrible suggestion there. plus “diving” creates more opportunities for goals. if a player clearly “dives” he is given a yellow card. that is already in the rule book.

    what is wrong with seeing the best players playing for the best teams playing on the biggest stage most of the time? nothing. it makes games more interesting for everyone to watch. the barclays premier league had a great finish to the season and chelsea played manchester united in the 2nd to last game and the winner of that game (chelsea) just had to not lose their last game.

    one thing that could be done could be not awarding points for a tie which would force teams to try harder to win and not just sit back on defence and almost play for a tie

  6. Sueso says:

    Nice post- I agree with arotberg. BRING IN VIDEO REPLAY. This was evident in the US match vs Slovenia today.

  7. eclectic24 says:

    A very thought provoking and constructive article, Chris . Enjoyed reading it and also the responses. Your comment about the need for video review was prescient ; the referee for the Slovenia – U.S game really screwed up when he disallowed the U.S goal.
    Like you, I feel that something must be done to give the attackers more of a a chance to score. The game has become too defensive , with most matches ending in a 1-0 result as whichever side scores first falls back on defense and frustrates the other team. I’m not one of those who wants a goal fest but it would be nice to see a bit more scoring. The adoption of an NHL type offsides rule would go a long way towards improving matters.

    A ‘hard’ cap like the type that we have in the NFL would make the EPL and other soccer leagues more competitive but I think we are whistling in the wind if we think it is going to happen anytime soon. Unfortunately, the ruling body in soccer is very resistant to change . The only one of the changes you propose that has any chance of succeeeding is video review, and that not anytime soon. In order to prevent too many reviews and stoppages of the game , perhaps each team could be allowed one challenge per half and only for certain decisions e.g disallowed goals, red cards etc.

  8. Pingback: Lampard non-goal didn’t matter…are you kidding me! | Chris Ross' Painting the Black

  9. unclemonkey says:

    Video replay is such a no-brainer. In the time that is spent with the players arguing with the referee afterwards, it would already have been solved within seconds by a 4th official in a booth. All refs wear head sets now a days, so the communication would be a breeze.

    I think what is really killing soccer is the fact that too many teams play not to lose. I love soccer but even I was frustrated and bored with the World Cup. When teams like Holland play not to lose, there is something wrong and something that needs to change about the game. Instead, teams like Germany should be rewarded for the attacking mentality that breeds creativity and makes the game exciting. I think the only way to fix that is to award more points for a win. Another idea would be to award teams for scoring goals, maybe giving a point for each goal scored up to 3 goals. Now a team that sits back for a 0-0 tie will not really gain much if they only come out with 1 point in a game.

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