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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