By J Hutcherson (Jan 19, 2017) US Soccer Players – FIFA may call them the “Laws of the Game” but in sports and real life, laws are subject to change. FIFA revisited substitutes, offsides, and the back pass, among other major changes to how we play the game all over the world. They’ve also tried and revised how to settle tie games. Things can and will change. Soccer isn’t the exception.
Still, there’s at least the feeling that the game as we know it is set. Instant replay doesn’t fundamentally change how the game works. Adopting hockey style penalty boxes certainly would. So would doing away with offsides entirely and using some version of the old North American shootout instead of penalties to break ties.
Those not at all unsubstantial changes got a voice from former player and coach Marco van Basten. The Dutch legend is now FIFA’s technical director, so this is more than just one person’s opinion. It’s potentially a look into the game’s near future.
AP’s Rob Harris talked to van Basten about changes to the game, including putting a hard cap on the number of games players can participate in each year for club and country. That’s also not a new idea, something that’s become increasingly problematic with tours and additional tournaments.
It’s unlikely that world soccer listens to every change proposed by van Basten, but none of them are unreasonable. The games cap and playing quarters instead of halves addresses the player fatigue issue. The penalty box and shootout is about fairness within the boundaries of the game. Whether or not the game needs it is the bigger question. At least people are asking, rather than waiting on the game to grind on until there’s no choice.
That’s what happened in the early 90s when FIFA and the International Football Association Board that has the responsibility to change the rules of the game did two things. They got rid of the backpass and the tackle from behind. Time wasting at Italia 90 brought an end to a tactic that won lots of trophies for lots of teams. Pass the ball back to your keeper who could pick it up and pause play. Restart, see if there are any options. If not, pass the ball back. Nottingham Forest was the best team in Europe playing a style that simply wouldn’t work after the rules change.
The tackle from behind played a large part in ending van Basten’s remarkable playing career at 28. It wasn’t that long ago when being a striker meant defenders sliding into the back of ankles and knees without penalty.
FIFA and the IFAB normally arent’ reactionary. The lengthy process that should eventually lead to the widespread use of instant replay speaks to that. I was at a press conference in Amsterdam last May when van Basten, in his previous job as an assistant with the Netherlands, spoke about the obviousness of instant replay. It’s a change that makes so much sense, it needs implementation as soon as possible. But in the right way, something stressed by multiple members of the working group.
Any substantive changes to the rules of the game will face the same level of scrutiny. That’s a strength of the sport. Unlike other sports where the rules major and minor can change and change back, FIFA and the IFAB prefer to measure twice and cut once. Other than the silver vs gold ball tiebreakers, there hasn’t been a lot of reconsideration. The rule changes and it stays changed.
What that creates for the van Basten recommendations is a high wall to try to climb over. It’s already obvious that some of the changes have a better shot than others, but none of them will happen quickly.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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