The critics of the ‘old guard’ and their utopian suggestions to make football more ‘fun’ and ‘entertaining’ resurfaced.
Some months ago, FIFA via their many channels communicated an inquest into improving effective ball in-play time, one of the many suggestions, which they even went on to experiment in youth games, was to make football a one hour affair, sixty minutes instead of the ninety we are used to, because apparently only 45-55 minutes on average of those ninety were football being actually played.
Injuries, set-piece setup time, fouls and even goal celebrations amongst others were stealing valuable ball in-play time from us.
To stop this, the big brains in the game proposed an NBA-style time management method where the game clock would be paused on every interruption in play, and instead of a 90-minute football match, we would have sixty minutes. An effective ball in play time of sixty minutes, at least 10 minutes more than many football games.
Merits of the proposal
There is a legitimate problem of effective ball in-play time, and for the viability of the game in the world we live in today, where football is competing against several sources of entertainment, for an audience whose attention span gets shorter by the year with all the options available.
More ball in-play time means more action, more action means viewers are tied down and kept attentive.
There is a majority agreement in the existence of the problem, the disputes arise in the best possible way to solve it.
When I decide to watch a football match, I know I would be tied up for the next two hours- minus some minutes , and I am fine with that, it is a time commitment I am willing to make for the entertainment I hope to get.
It might be football but when one has to commit more than two hours, it becomes a problem, with the excess added time we are getting, about half an hour is added to that commitment, and that is problematic, a 9:00pm fixture might keep you tied up and maybe even out of the house till almost midnight.
Why does the audience have to suffer and pay with their time when there is a method that cuts through that.
Also it forces teams that employ ‘anti-football’ tactics, using time wasting techniques to wind down the clock, buying time and point(s) for their team to play in a way purists believe football should be played
This is the argument echoed by the proponents of change.
Problems with this change.
The first question to ask is how much change do we make until football no longer becomes football?
How many modifications do you make on a living organism before it becomes a cyborg? Where is the line? How far do we go before the sport as we know it today is no longer recognizable?
Match day experience.
The change postulators claim time wasting affects the match day experience, however they fail to realise that variety and dynamism is what makes football so unique, teams do not play the same, there is no one cap fits all, and when team employs time wasting techniques, that in itself is one of the ingredients of the match day experience, narratives are created on it, reactions are borne out of it, emotions are compelled from those who are suffering from the ‘antics’, and those who benefit from it.
There are footballing cultures where these time wasting techniques are ingrained in their way of the game. Do we steal this way of life from its people because we want our sport to be cooler?
Many of the changes we have seen suggested over the years have been inspired by basketball, probably the coolest sport in the world, but football is not basketball, and a lot of nuance and culture is lost when one tries to be like the other.
Shot clock violation
Shot clock violation is a law in basketball that ensures the game remains interesting and is never drab, the rule states that a team in possession must attempt to shoot the ball every 24 seconds.
This rule is now a culture of the sport, shooting regularly is a big part of basketball because the shot clock violation exists.
Juxtaposing with football, there are many teams that play ultra defensive football that we sometimes refer to as ‘Haramball’, these teams set up blocks metres away from the opposition goal and result to counter-attacking techniques for offensive play.
In the spirit of ‘improving the game’, we might decide to introduce shot clock violation into football, you know, to make it more interesting and ‘keep the teenagers interested in our game,’ forcing teams to shoot every X seconds, surely that is more entertaining is it not ?
I use this rule as an example because it shows clearly the difference in sporting culture between both sports and it’s easier to see the problem from this particular rule.
This rule means football loses a lot of its ingredients, the change is not organic and only a limited type of football/footballers would be successful.
We would have lost narratives like Spain 2010, Inter Milan of the same year, the Pep Barca we always refer to as an example of football heaven, an era of Italian Catenaccio.
This is not the change they are proposing now, but where is the line ?
When does it become too much ?
Would reducing game time to 60 minutes change anything.
Very honest thoughts on this is that football at the end of the day is a very low scoring game, it is a game that is not capped and there is a very very long distance from the best teams to the worst teams.
This means that a good percentage of teams would favour tactics that ensure they do not concede because it is easier, than those that would help you score.
So the time could be reduced even further, and teams could be forced to keep the ball in-play at every turn, we might even blur throw-in lines and allow play-on when the ball hits the advertisement board, teams would still find a way, antics, tactics that favours not conceding more than it does being on the offensive.