Monday, July 24, 2006


The Penalty Curse, Part 3

So much for the "palliatives". Now to the genuine "penalty cures" - alternative means of deciding a cup tie when a replay, for logistical reasons, is not possible.

1. Institute a system whereby individual players attempt to beat the goalkeeper from the halfway line, with unlimited touches

This system has been tried in America, with, apparently, mixed results. Certainly it requires a greater level of individual skill (though, arguably, less mental toughness) than a single kick from twelve yards, but there are several drawbacks to the procedure. Firstly and most obviously, what happens in the case of fouls? If the "penalty"-taker is fouled within the area, one would assume that a penalty would result; but if he is fouled outside the area? Penalty again? More questions begged there.

Secondly, bare one-on-one challenges between attacker and goalkeeper are frequent harbingers of injury for one or the other. One of the few things to recommend the penalty shoot-out is that it scarcely ever results in an injury. In a one-on-one challenge, however, the physical risk should not be underestimated.

And the final objection is simply that one would expect the conversion level to be greater even than from penalties; as a result, the procedure could last an intolerably long time.

2. The team with the better record in the event thus far progresses

This is an obvious and expeditious solution, but an equally obvious drawback is that one side will go into the game knowing that a draw is sufficient for it to progress. Impenetrable defensive solidity and lack of ambition could well be the result. However, in practice this can work either way; in the 1982 World Cup, Poland and Brazil both needed only a draw from their final second-round game to progress to the semi-finals, against opponents with inferior records. Poland did indeed play a plodding, dreary game against Russia which ended 0-0. Brazil's match against Italy, however, was one of the most exciting in the history of the competition.

Another major objection to this method is that "tournament records" cannot fully take account of the respective opposition faced. Manifest injustices could occur, as a result of one team racking up a hatful of goals against inferior opposition, then getting through on "tournament record tie-break" against a side that has faced much sterner tests in the earlier rounds.

3. Result decided by total number of shots at goal during the game

There are a number of suggestions similar to this, including decision by corner count, overall possession, etc. I will deal below with as many as seem vaguely sensible.

We all want to see teams going for goals, but endless hopeful whacks followed by long drawn-out goalkicks would be a spectator's nightmare. An often-suggested refinement to the idea is decision by the number of accurate shots (sometimes referred to as shots on goal), but in my opinion it would change little. A joyful thump as soon as a player finds an inch of space, and endless wasted time.

Corner count is occasionally deceptive, especially since one corner is often followed by a few more for the same team. Some styles tend to produce more corners than others, too, and it seems unfair to punish those teams who prefer the slow build-up through the middle. They are entitled to try to win in the way they deem most effective, without consequent disadvantage.

As for possession, this rather subjective statistic is not always a true reflection of the balance of the play. We regularly see defences lazily passing the ball around as if taking some light exercise at a picnic; the thought of such time-wasting non-football actually being, in effect, rewarded is not a comforting one.

4. Result by means of foul count

My perennial favourite, for a number of reasons.

Number one: it discourages fouls. Wouldn't we all prefer football to have fewer fouls (and stoppages therefrom)?

Number two: it would generally favour the team that has shown the more enterprise; it is rare that a defensive team suffers more fouls than it commits.

Number three: the idea allows for some flexibility, but can remain objective. Particularly violent or cynical offences are punished by yellow or red cards, and such sanctions can be allotted a larger proportion in the "count". But is a yellow worth two fouls? Three? More for simulation? Is a red worth four? Six? Trials could indicate the most appropriate system.

Number four: the count would be easy for the fans to keep track of (unlike, for instance, possession statistics), but in my view, the likelihood is that the players, with their minds firmly on the game, would NOT be able to keep track of it.

There are certainly problems with the idea. The most common objection is that the incidences of simulation would skyrocket. Possibly, but if referees are aware that a decision by foul count is possible in a cup tie, and that successful simulation is therefore more in the players' interest than ever before, would they not be more likely to police it more strictly? In my opinion, simulation should add a red card's worth to the foul count even if it only attracts a yellow. This would surely make it a risky option.

A similar objection is that the foul count method would give ever-fallible referees an even greater influence on the outcome of the game. True enough. But how many matches at the recent World Cup had eventual foul counts that did not reflect the balance of the play? In my opinion, surprisingly few.

The referee would, effectively, only have a decisive influence on a tie were the count to be relatively close.

There you have it, folks. A summary of some ways in which football could rid itself of that hateful procedure, the penalty shootout. Any other suggestions or comments from my fellow tragics would be most welcome.

I don't know how realistic this is, but how about instead of penalty shootouts, have corners with a certain number of players allowed in the box from each team? Once the defending team kicks it out (or beyond a certain distance away from the goal), it is time for the next attempt. This obviously has a few of the same disadvantages of penalty kicks, especially where the result generally has no reliance on the game that has just been played, but on the upside:
- More drama, the ball spends more time in the box and several different players have a chance to influence the result
- Less fault on the goalkeeper for something he generally has not much hope in doing (stopping a penalty)

Another disadvantage would be with the referees having to adjudicate on fouls in the box, which I think is currently very inconsistent; but this is no different to what they have to do for corners during regular time...

The system would follow the same as used for penalties, with 5 per side (possibly with different kickers) and sudden-death if the result is even. I've only just thought this up now... what do you think?

Great blog BTW mikey.

Thanks for the interest Mark!

Re your suggestion, it's a worthwhile idea; I suppose you could even have it as a sudden death system where the first team to score wins (since I imagine you'd only get, on average, about one goal out of every eight or ten attempts, or thereabouts).

And it does have the advantage over penalties in that factors like fatigue, etc., which DO constitute some sort of connection with the game just finished, would come into it...well, more so than with penalties, at least, although they do figure there too.

As for the apportioning of blame, I feel that the goalkeeper NEVER attracts any blame in a penalty shootout, it's always the penalty takers that carry the can. In any case, your system would avoid that as well, in all likelihood.

There are probably other ways of doing it too...what always bugs me is that penalties is the only method that's even been tried by FIFA, other than tossing a bloody coin!!
Foul count would be horrible in an Brazil vs. Australia knockout match refereed by a certain German referee. :-p

My ideal has always been to take off players (possibly with additional subtitutions) and keep playing, but that's in an ideal football world with far less football and thus players not being over-worked.
Apart from taking players off during extra time, I don't think anything else is a feasible alternative.

I actually don't have a problem with penalty shootouts per se, but I do have a problem with teams cynically boring us to death whilst blatantly holding out for one.

Perhaps - and I'm just shooting from the hip here - there is a way that shootouts themselves can be somehow weighted towards teams who have earned what is deemed an advantage during extra time, or even the entire match. Perhaps foul counts, shots on goal, corners and behinds, or some of the other previously suggested criteria which promotes attacking play.

As to what advantage should be given in the shootout...well I don't know, but if you think the idea has any merit, I'm open to suggestions...

Perhaps (again off the top of my head);

- one team can be given a one goal headstart?

- one team has to take their first penalty from the edge of the box?

- one team gets one "get out of jail free card" whereby if they miss one they are be able to retake it? A 'Mulligan' in amateur golfing parlay.

It is perhaps a suitable blend of maintaining the status quo, whilst further promoting attacking play.

- Subby
I like your last suggestion best Subby (the Mulligan)...certainly manages to blend foul count (or whatever system you use to determine the superior/fairer side within the match proper) with penalties in a meaningful way, without creating too much of a handicap for the other side.

Maybe you could also work it so that whichever side comes out tops on whatever count you use, the linesmen will actually LOOK to see if the opposing goalie is coming off the line during the shootout, and occasionally, shock horror, call for a kick to be retaken if required... ;-)
Haha. Another of your pet hates. :-)

The main problem though is that whatever system you use to determine the 'advantage' must be easily measured, so it can be used across the board, from the World Cup all the way down to the u/11B's on Saturday morning at Sutherland Oval.

For that reason, perhaps the foul count is the most feasible, even if it is, as Hiraldo pointed out, sometimes severely open to refereeing interpretation or judgement (it'd hardly be the first of such cases within the game).

Then again, refs don't count fouls either now (only bookings), so they could theoretically be made to count fouls, or corners and behinds, or shots on goal... or whetever. It would need to be as simple as possible so that refs don't need to become statisticians, and as non-controversial/murky as possible.

The idea of having a mulligan in a shootout is surely a strong enough motivator to alter how teams approach the match (or extra time), yet not overly extreme for the purists (or the stiffs down at FIFA HQ). :-)

- Subby
I'm starting to warm to your idea of counting fouls, mikey. It would promote more attractive play (play the ball, not the man), it would force referees to be much fairer (a game like Australia v Brazil would be a bigger scandal than it was and less likely to happen; as it was, I believe Kewell was let off the hook for blasting Merk because FIFA didn't want Hiddink and the FFA to raise a stink about the molly-coddling Brazil was given).

The problem is the places where foul-counting would most likely be trialled are probably where it would a) be least effective and consistent have least benefit, and b) have the least benefit in the first place.

It's quite hard to think of decent alternatives to penalty shoot-outs. Besides the old favourite, of course: multiball.
1. Multiball!!
2. Hir0's suggestion - still and always will be my favourite. Especially if there is a World Cup or major championship on the line.
3. Your 'foul count' has a convincing argument - but only when the refereeing culture truly wishes to penalise diving, or possible immediate video sanctions by a transparent commitee of backroom staff.

Keep up the good work.
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