• Thu. Sep 28th, 2023

Van Basten reignites debate about reform in football

ByTomas Meehan

Feb 1, 2017

One of the greatest footballers of all time, Marco van Basten, has opted for a set of proposals to revolutionise football. If implemented, the results could be sub-par. The Dutchman, who now works for Fifa, has expressed the desire to strip extra time and penalty shoot outs from knock-out matches – two adrenaline-pumping climaxes of cup games.They ignite a sense of urgency and nervousness that cannot be created so easily with van Basten’s replacement of time-limited runs from the halfway line at the end of the match.

Extra time is a drain on footballers and, when teams only have three substitutes per match, it can seem like quite a taxing finale. Fast-tracking straight to the penalty shoot out could get rid of an unnecessary 30 minutes more of lactic acid build up, but placing time limits on players starting off at the halfway-line to scurry down the pitch and score a goal would not help this, nor would it make the shoot-out any more exciting. Doing away with extra time could be beneficial for the television companies, as they would be able to work out time slots for the programme more easily, instead of an extra half an hour of pub talk analysis from ex-pros.

One of van Basten’s worst ideas would be to omit the offside rule from the game which has evolved a lot over time since its inception in the early 1800s. This reform woulld allow players to be ahead of the ball when attacking, similar to rugby in this regard. The current offside-rule, as of the 2014/2015 season, has been altered to not include the arms, but it still remains roughly the same in the sense that attacking players must seek to carve open defenses. It would be a nightmare if all goes wrong, and would mean that football would have to start over again. Scrapping the offside rule may be more effort than it is worth.

On the other hand, it can be seen that five-a-side football matches do not feature offsides, and they seem to be fairly well adapted. Nonetheless, a game with no offside rules is not likely to make the 11-a-side football flow any better, since the battleline of the back four would be gone and there would be no need for attackers to tear through it.

One of his better suggestions includes only allowing the captains to speak with the referee: a rule present in rugby. Another suggestion, also seen in rugby, includes the use of a sin bin. An intermediary orange card would impose ten minute sin-bins on players who commit five fouls. This might sound like a good plan, but ten minutes is not really enough time for a team to capitalise on the advantage of an extra man and, additionally, the move could encourage players to try and win cheap free kicks.

Furthermore, players would be allowed to play no more than 60 games a season, attempting to stave off burnout and injury. What happens, however, if a player is approaching 60 games and has to miss out on a major international tournament, or compromise on taking part in important club fixtures later on in the season?

Much of the media response to van Basten’s proposals has been negative, including a column written in The Daily Mail by former England footballer and manager Glenn Hoddle, although he did agree that some of van Basten’s points were of merit.

“I can’t say I agree with any of them. But I’m not one of those who wouldn’t touch the rules of the game…I think there are several ways football could be improved and some of them in the same areas as van Basten discussed.”

The odd bit of reform to the game may improve it, but an attempt to flip the entire system à la French Revolution could have people gasping for a return to tradition.

There is, therefore, no need to drastically change a framework that already works well for the most popular sport in the world.


Image courtesy of Jon Candy

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