Over the course of time it is only natural that sports and their rules progress and evolve and football should be no exception. Indeed, since the game was first invented in the mid nineteenth century, the laws of the game have expanded and contracted, changing with the times. In the modern era alone we have seen the advent of three points for a win, the elimination of the back pass and the ever baffling evolution of the offside rule. However football (soccer) seems to have reached an evolutionary impasse.
The powers that be in Switzerland have stated time and again that technology will not be introduced to the beautiful game, while that may seem archaic to fans, pundits and players alike, the situation is unlikely to change. American sports were ahead of the curve when it came to employing and implementing technological advancements, the NHL and the NFL would not be the exciting (and fair) Leagues that they are today without the use of technology.
Equally the governing bodies of other global sports such as cricket and tennis have taken it upon themselves to review their own procedures and rules, ultimately turning to technology to assist the umpires and judges who control their sports. As the times move on many sports have embraced technology, leading to fairer decisions and more enjoyable sporting events. The technologies employed are by no means perfect but yet the intention is correct, video replays and challenge systems are there to keep the playing field even and the rules enforced properly.
Yet FIFA are unwilling or unable to move with the technological times. Sepp Blatter appears like King Cnut, commanding the tides of footballing change to turn away from his army of additional assistant referees, lest they get their tracksuits and batons a bit wet.
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However there is one thing that FIFA and Mr Blatter could do, and although it would be wildly unpopular, at least it wouldn’t involve technology. They could finally and officially make football a non-contact sport.
At my (very) amateur level I am a defender, and I like a tackle as much as the next man; indeed, there is nothing quite like a proper physical battle between a two players who just want to win. Yet at the top level football has changed dramatically in recent years. As players have evolved into the bigger, faster and more skilful athletes that they are today they have also become a lot quicker to fall to the turf, arms outstretched, their faces contorted with (often simulated) anger and pain.
Diving, simulation, play-acting, whatever you want to call it, is a blight on football that is not going to go away, and as the next young generation of players grows up watching their favourite players in the EPL, La Liga or any of the major worldwide leagues then they will exposed on a weekly basis to the ever improving acting skills of their footballing heroes. In turn this will no doubt lead to more inventive and convincing forms of play acting emerging in the next ten to fifteen years time. If you look back at World Cup Italia 90, you will see West Germany’s own Jürgen Klinsmann soaring through the air in an almost comical fashion compared to today’s modern standard of diving. Modern players have become so subtle and clever with their simulation that they make pioneers like Klinsmann appear amateur by comparison.
In years gone by footballers used their physical attributes to best their opposition, if you were quicker or more skilful than the player trying to mark you then the chances are you would get the better of him, sadly this no longer seems to be the case. Players seem more interested in winning free kicks and earning a punishment for their opposite number. Why beat a man with skill when you can throw yourself to the floor and get him sent off?
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Cristiano Ronaldo for example, as skilful as he is, relies far too often on his ability to ‘exaggerate the contact’ between himself and his marker. If he stuck to using his undoubtedly world class footballing ability then not only would he be one of the best players on the Earth, he would also be revered and respected the world over as great footballer, a wonderful athlete and an all round decent sort. Basically he would be Lionel Messi.
This is not to say that all footballers are cheats of course, because they aren’t. For every five play acting pros there are probably twenty-five honest players who just want to play football.
Making football a non-contact sport would initially be incredibly unpopular yes, but in the long term there are so many advantages to be gained. In the first instance you would eliminate diving. Simulation would no longer be necessary; if you can’t tackle or physically impose yourself on your opposition then diving becomes a lost ‘art’. The contentious issue of ‘whether there was contact or not’ becomes moot. There will be no contact.
Equally the recent bout of unsavoury tackling that we have seen, most notably in the English Premier League in recent years would be eradicated. The controversial tackles put in by Martin Taylor, Ryan Shawcross and Jack Wilshire et al in the last two or three years would quickly become a thing of the past. By removing the notion of tackling from football then you wouldn’t see players breaking ankles due to unfortunately timed challenges; you would see skilled players wanting to demonstrate their art to an appreciative crowd safe in the knowledge that they are not going to be poleaxed by a poorly timed challenge or an ‘inferior’ player.
The removal of tackling from football would benefit teams, irrespective of their standing in the game. The more creative, passing teams would be able to stroke the ball around to their hearts content, Arsenal for example would be in their element. However this brave new footballing world would also benefit the lesser lights of the game, a Bolton or a Wolves would be able to go to the bigger teams in the Premier League safe in the knowledge that they won’t be punished by the more cunning of Premier League simulators. Attacking players would have to rely on their own ability and hard work to beat their opposition, whereas defenders would develop their own positional sense and ability to read the game.
At the same time you would remove the inconsistent nature of refereeing. So far this season the standard of referring in the EPL has been truly embarrassing, with staggering inconsistencies from game to game. By making the game a non-contact sport, the referee’s job is made much easier. Refs are no longer allowed to employ common sense when managing a game, as such, let us just make fouls as cut and dry as possible. Not even the current crop of referees could mess this system up.
So there we have it, FIFA should like my plan a lot as it doesn’t involve any technological advancements at all. Indeed to monitor whether or not there was any contact between players Mr Blatter could demand even more officials stand around the side lines of games. Each and every one of them twirling a baton more elaborate than the last, and no one knowing quite who is in charge.
Yes it might be unpopular and hard to adapt to but at least there won’t be any video replays involved eh Sepp?