Saturday, September 09, 2006


Rethinking the Restart, Part 1

The post-World Cup period is the traditional time for speculation regarding “the future of the game”, and for complaints about the various ills facing the sport.

Unless you've been living in a monastery for the previous few months, you will have heard the various cries: too much simulation, too little attacking ambition shown by most teams, inept refereeing. After almost every World Cup, football is said to be facing a crisis.

Of course, the crisis is, as it were, a continual one. Too much football is being played, too many demands are being placed on the fitness of players, and none of the major football organisations are exempt from blame in this regard.

Paul Gardner, in his latest rant (I hesitate to attach the term “article” to his increasingly apoplectic diatribes) in World Soccer magazine, is in no doubt as to what is needed. “The negative anti-football attitude can only be altered,” he writes, “by a change in the reality that it represents…obviously, that must mean rule changes.”

Indeed, the administrators, around this time, are often to be heard suggesting a number of short-term regulatory solutions to the various problems. Some are interesting, some are simply daft, all are well-intentioned.

Sometimes, one of these suggestions actually comes into practice: the negativity of the 1990 World Cup led directly to three points being awarded for a win in league competitions. Arguably, the same tournament gave rise to the back-pass rule, the effect of which has been equivocal indeed.

There are some institutions of the game, however, which are scarcely ever questioned by the powers that be. Faith in the referee's naked-eye judgements, sadly, is one of these; FIFA is twenty years behind the times on video technology.

Another, which I propose to discuss here, is a practice taken completely for granted. But I believe that perhaps it should not be.

It is the simple goalkick.

Law 16 is one of the least controversial regulations in the book:

...A goal kick is awarded when the whole of the ball, having last touched a player of the attacking team, passes over the goal line, either on the ground or in the air...

Dead simple, and far easier to explain to neophytes than the infuriating offside rule.

But let's just take a look at what traditionally happens at goalkicks. First, the goalkeeper frequently takes an eternity to place the ball lovingly in his ideal spot, and measures out his run with the care of a long-jumper. Then, the ball sails into orbit.

The next few seconds produce the ugliest moments in the game. Heads clash, often not once but two or three times, and even if a player “wins” a header, the ball passes to the opposition more often than not. Finally, the play settles down into some sort of pattern, but often not before one of the aerial duellists has gone down from a bang in the ribs or a gash on the forehead. Another stoppage, and the game continues to lose its rhythm.

“Well, sure,” I hear you cry, “but it's just part of the game.”

There might be an alternative.

What if the rule read:

...When the whole of the ball, having last touched a player of the attacking team, passes over the goal line, either on the ground or in the air, the goalkeeper is to restart play by releasing the ball with his hands, from anywhere within his penalty area...

Why? And how would it work?

Too much for one post, unfortunately. In Part 2, I'll try to sell my idea to you all...

You are not going to have to sell me on this idea Mikey. The current goal kick as you aptly describe is a stupid waste of time.

Further (and kind of related) I always shake my head in amazement when teams pass the ball around in mid-field trying to keep it from the opposition but often end up playing it back to the GK who just hoofs it up to midfield where it becomes like a goalkick a 50-50 proposition. They'd be better not passing back to the GK and instead hoofing it into the penalty box and hoping for a lucky bounce or rebound.

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