FIFA’s technical director Marco Van Basten has come up with some pretty wacky ideas for improving the most popular sport in the world. At least one of them is familiar to the proud and few long time American soccer fans. That would be the run up shootout that the old NASL used and MLS implemented in its early days.
FIFA Rule Changes Are Crazy, Not Likely to Happen
However, that would be the least hairbrained of Van Basten’s bizarre proposals. He also came up with the elimination of the offside rule that has been around more or less since the beginning of the game. He came up with the unoriginal thought of orange cards that would send a player to the bench for ten minutes for a nasty foul that was not quite a red. He also suggested dividing matches up into four quarters, like in basketball and football, instead of two 45 minute halves.
Let’s break down each one of these suggestions and rank them on two scales. First, how crazy the idea is and second, how likely it is to actually become part of the laws of the game.
This is not only the idea most familiar to Americans, but also the one rule proposal that makes some sense. The run up shootout would replace not only the current penalty shootout, but the extra half hour of extra time we see after ties in elimination games. Here’s Van Basten on how it would work:
“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”
It’s far from a bad idea. Players are often gassed after 90 minutes let alone 120. Teams often play conservatively as to not risk going behind at such a crucial moment, which isn’t much fun to watch. The penalty shootout that follows does not involve much skill. The shooter is ridiculed for missing an easy chance and the keeper can only count on luck to make a save.
The run up shootout would present some additional strategy to the tiebreaker. Should the keeper stay home and try and outlast the shooter? Should he come out and attack to take the ball before a shot can come off? Should the shooter be patient and wait to launch his attempt or try and catch the keeper off guard with something quick?
It isn’t perfect, but there is no perfect way to break a tie. I just think it’s better than what we have now.
The main opposition will come from traditionalists and anti-Americans. Since this is a system pioneered by and only used in the American game, staunch Europeans will be hardline agaisnt it. But I hope they would warm up to it should it become real.
Craziness Factor: 3 out of 10
Probability of Implementation: 50%
No More Offside
The offside rule was created to slow down attacks and prevent players from cherry picking behind the defense. It has done that while adding an extra tactical layer to matches. The precise timing of runs has become an important skill for strikers to master. The timing of passes is equally important for midfielders. A defense can cause infinite frustration by playing a successful offside trap.
Although the rule went through a series of evolutions in the early part of the 20th century, the current iteration of two defenders needing to be between the final attacker and the goal has more or less been around since 1925. It’s a deeply rooted part of the game that would be very tough to simply eliminate.
Van Basten hopes it would increase goal scoring. I think it’s far from necessary.
“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.
“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”
Craziness Factor: 8 out of 10
Probability of Implementation: 5%
The “orange card” is often a colloquialism for a foul that is either a harsh red card or a lucky yellow. It’s been casually mentioned as a possibility several times throughout FIFA’s history. One time FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne had the idea as recently as 2014. The punishment for an orange card would be sitting on the sidelines for ten minutes while your team plays a man down.
While a little wonky, this idea wouldn’t be the worst new rule in the world. It isn’t exactly necessary, but I can see the point to it. Fans would adjust to it after a while and eventually would revel in the opportunity to debate an orange that should have been a red and vice versa. I’m sure the “red-orange card” would eventually become part of the soccer vernacular.
Because this has come up time and again without implementing it, I doubt FIFA picks now to make it a reality.
Craziness Factor: 5 out of 10
Probability of Implementation: 20%
Four Quartered Matches
Talk about upsetting the basic foundations of the game. Soccer has been played in two 45 minute halves forever. Breaking a match up into quarters would only serve one purpose: more commercial time for television networks. Van Basten disguises this lone benefit as another chance for coaches to discuss tactics with their players, but I’m not buying that. This is all about the money.
Even though money is a big motivating factor in everything FIFA does, I don’t think they will stoop to the level of fundamentally altering the structure of the sport.
Craziness Factor: 10 out of 10
Probability of Implementation: 2%
Despite the insanity of most of these proposals, I do like that FIFA executives are fielding ideas on how to improve the game. I compare it to the ideas of Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who proposed similarly crazy ideas for the game he presides over. It was mostly done to gauge public reaction and he later walked back on those ideas when he saw baseball fans are mostly not opposed to defensive shifts.
FIFA is hopefully doing something similar. Van Basten is tossing these ideas out there to see how players, coaches, executives, and fans react. I’m sure the negative reaction from most of us will be enough to turn him away. However, I wouldn’t object to those running shootouts to break ties.