Bullet point brief explanation of what this is all about. It is about:
- The application of existing rules
- Rethinking the interpretation of the rules
- Piecemeal improvements to the rules
- A psychological examination of refereeing decisions
One of the basic statements made about football is that it would become more attractive if there were more goals. It is probably the case that FIFA officials are also constantly working on ideas that specifically serve this purpose. But there is also a consensus that football should essentially be left as it is. Accordingly, rule changes are more likely to be implemented only as minor modifications.
One reason for the conservative attitude is, of course, that if you leave everything as it is, you probably maintain the status quo. Since football is the world’s number one sport, there is relatively little reason to think about or implement improvements. Changes could jeopardise the top position. Of course, there is also the attitude with other (proposed) changes – example: politics – that if you keep it the same (i.e. conservative thinking), you know what you have – the status quo – and are used to dealing with it. Change, on the other hand, can have both positive and negative effects.
The first step to realising the project propagated here — changes in small steps to increase attractiveness — is first of all a necessary rethinking. This rethinking starts where existing rules are applied or interpreted by the referees. For it is not uncommon to speak of rule interpretation. By definition, this already offers a certain amount of leeway. It is also not uncommon to hear statements such as “that was a courageous decision”, which on closer examination mean that there could have been alternative interpretations. Incidentally, “courageous” is usually used to describe a decision in favour of a goal, a penalty or against offside (i.e. in favour of letting the ball go).
A further clue to prove the validity of the considerations is that for the 1994 World Cup in the USA — incidentally due to the fact that the Americans urgently wanted more goals — a passage was included in the rules that deliberately opened up this leeway. Since then, the rules have stipulated that, in the case of offside decisions, the assistants are to “give the attacker the benefit of the doubt”. The term “doubt” indicates that it can be interpreted either way – and the assistant is given the freedom.
The rethinking should start in all cases where the decisions, analogous to the offside interpretation, favouring the attackers, would ultimately increase the goal situations and thus the number of goals – and thus, as said in the introduction, the excitement and attractiveness of the game. The paying spectator should be the primary focus of interest. If this spectator is a fan of a team, he will certainly focus on the team’s chances of success. He will perhaps always be indignant when his team is denied a goal, when a penalty is whistled against his team, when his team is denied a penalty or when his team is whistled back for offside and he refuses to see it. This view is also called “through the club’s glasses”. These fans, who by the way can be players, coaches, managers or presidents, should not be mentioned here. They are always outnumbered by the total number of spectators. One should think of the neutral fan who simply wants to watch a game for the beauty and excitement of the game of football. If, by the way, these no longer exist – of which there are some indications — then there is an urgent need to win these spectators back. If the excitement, the fairness and the attractiveness and beauty of the game are great enough, these spectators would surely soon be on board (again). Winner: football.
In summary: Rethinking the interpretation of the rules in favour of the attackers is the demand made here. The point is: more goals. More goals guarantee more excitement.
Note: the status quo is that almost all interpretations are to the disadvantage of the attackers. Actually, it would already be enough if only this were to be eliminated and simply interpreted fairly.
To avoid any misunderstandings: There should be no handball results, that is not the goal. An increase of one or two goals per game will certainly attract (even) more spectators or provide more entertainment for the current ones. The plea is also clearly directed at the (re)acquisition of the neutral spectator, who, according to his own assessment, is far underrepresented, which can be seen as evidence of a lack of attractiveness of the game of football. In other words, people do not watch football simply because it is being played and it is such a great game, but only because their own team is competing.
Now the evidence is to be taken up that, contrary to the claim made here, the rules are being interpreted more and more in the direction of the defenders. To this end, some typical game situations will be highlighted that occur in practically every game. Then we will look for the reasons for this behaviour:
The most obvious of all decisions that are permanently to the disadvantage of the attackers is, of all things, the one in which it was explicitly included in the rule that it should be the other way round. According to my observations, about 90% of the offside decisions go against the attackers. There are constantly situations — especially in modern football, which is becoming faster and faster, in which attackers and defenders move in opposite directions — in which it is, even according to the commentary, “very, very tight”. And when it is, the flag is raised. The terse commentary, regularly heard after watching the slow-motion replay, is always: “Oh, he was wrong here” does not change anything and such a wrong decision is not made a big issue. He was wrong, was the verdict, but it was also hard to see. A mistake, yes, an interpretation contrary to the rules, but at the same moment a “bygones be bygones”.
Now here is the first moment to start rethinking. Because: precisely because it was difficult to see, the question of interpretation must be asked. And this is “in doubt for the attacker.” So: rule misapplied. And permanently. In this situation, too, the demand made here is: rethink! Keep the flag down! It’s even in the rules, so finally apply them!
That guarantees more goal situations. More goals. More excitement. More spectators. Nothing changed, just finally applied correctly. Incidentally, the problem has long been recognised by more and more voices. Comment then: “It does say in the rules that in case of doubt it should be for the attacker, but I don’t know if this rule has ever been applied.”
2) Distance between walls
The rules state that the wall must be 10 yards, the equivalent of 9.15 metres, from the ball when taking a free kick. Please, just enforce it. There is a penalty for non-compliance. And as an alternative to a yellow card, you could even, as recently suggested in England, increase the distance by two metres if the wall cannot be moved back.
Instead, you see more and more often the situation where a defender breaks away from the wall long before the shooter touches the ball and runs towards the ball. In addition, the players in the wall used to protect their soft parts, but today they hold their arm bent at head height, obviously with the intention of making the referee believe that they are only protecting their head, but often enough they intercept the ball with their arm. And far more than once we have seen the referees generously overlook the handball that has taken place in this way. In addition, please bear in mind that the situation also plays a role for the shooter. One is already irritated during the run-up and loses concentration. You know that a mistake will be made, that a player is running towards you or that everyone is holding their arms above their heads. At the same time, you know that these offences will not be punished. You also want to get the ball on goal. And when you see the physical obstacle of the arms, your approach to the shot is already different, because you don’t want to shoot against it. This costs crucial percentages of concentration, so that the execution suffers. Also offences which are not realised – but only implied – cause an advantage for the defence in this way.
3) Foul in the penalty area
In England it has long been recognised. There, the comment in such a critical foul situation is always: “Anywhere else on the pitch its a free-kick. In the area is nothing.” Anywhere else on the pitch it would be a foul. In the penalty area it is not penalised. There is hardly any doubt that it is. It would be better to clarify the question of why this is the case. This is what we are going to talk about next.
There are so many situations in which the defender gains an advantage through tiny obstructions. The problem for the striker is anyway to take the one single direction, to place the possible shot so precisely that it not only arrives at the goal, but also hits it, i.e. past the keeper. The defender has every other direction of the ball to help him. It doesn’t matter where he clears it, the main thing is that it is cleared. The shooter has to get the ball into the goal. This gives the defender a permanent advantage in the duel. This is also shown by the duel percentages in the databases. However, in critical situations, the defender often gives himself an even greater advantage by obstructing the attacker more than the rules allow. As soon as you hear the sentence: “That’s not enough for a penalty” or “you can’t give a penalty for that” or even better “that’s not a foul worthy of a penalty”, you know where you stand here. It is foul play, as is universally recognised, but the magnitude of the offence is not sufficient to warrant a penalty for it.
4) Handball in the penalty area
Handball in the penalty area is not much different. It is sensational to see all the defender’s arms flying around. And again and again, when a ball goes against it, it is explained that “the hand didn’t go to the ball” or “he can’t do anything from that distance” or even “he can’t get his arm away. In principle, the way it is interpreted is absurd.
When we were young, there was a simple rule that every defender followed. It was “arms to the body.” Because: if you didn’t have them to your body and you got the ball against, you got a penalty, no matter how much you intended it. The behaviour of the defenders today is actually much more reminiscent of that of a handball goalkeeper. He makes his typical jumping jacks when throwing at the goal – with the much faster ball – and eventually gets the ball. At the point where he gets the ball, he certainly did not intentionally hold out the body part. Nevertheless, there was basically the intention to stop the ball.
This is exactly the intention of the defender. He makes his body a little wider with it, sometimes considerably. And feels well protected. Because: if he gets the ball against his arm, the intention is not concretely imputed to him. The referee uses the possible interpretation of the rules that there was no intention. The favourable playing situation is once again prevented. Why are these freedoms granted to the defender, which serve no other purpose than to prevent goals, often enough in an illegal way?
All in all, one may ask the question: Who benefits from it being interpreted in this way? Or is it not possibly detrimental to football, to the sport?
5) Cross into the penalty area, scramble
Another increasingly important situation: a cross enters the penalty area. Often enough after a corner kick, where there are usually a lot of players in the penalty area. So the ball sails in and while it is still in the air you hear a whistle. You know what the whistle is for, it’s obvious: a striker’s foul. It’s always a striker’s foul. And if you just can’t make it out, the commentator says: “He must have seen something,” which is also the terse comment here. There is considerable doubt here about “having seen something”. He just whistles like that. He could also do that blindfolded Firstly, he would be taken to task, by the commentator, by the officials, as indicated above, besides, there was certainly “something” practically all the time. Only, the claim here is, surely the striker did not break the rules any more than the defender.
It is the crucial question: did a striker foul more than a defender? Anyone who has played football knows that there are always arms wrapped around you, a quick tug of the jersey that just decisively throws the attacker off balance in his intention to hit the goal, or a push, pull, shove, shove. That’s normal. It’s just that it’s pretty much split 50:50, according to the estimate. The forwards do it as well as the defenders. However, the decision is 99% in favour of the defence. If that’s ever enough.
So once again it remains a question of interpretation: What would one like to see, what to overlook?
There should be a brief interjection on points 3, 4 and 5, which all refer to penalty situations: If these actions were to be punished with a penalty kick according to the rules, what would be the foreseeable consequence? It would not be that we would suddenly see results of 10:13 or 8:7, let alone 20 penalties per game, as Berti Vogts once said when asked whether penalties should not have been given in a certain situation. No, the consequence would be that the defenders would know what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do, and they would stick to it as best they could. The arms would be on the body, the opponent would not be permanently obstructed, even if each individual offence was tiny. He would avoid causing the penalty kick because it would be whistled. Further consequence: you would have more goal situations with shots and saves and — an increased number of impacts. Desirable? Or just fair AND exciting at the same time?
6) Goalkeeper protection
Goalkeepers should be subject to special protection in the five-metre area. This is a fixed rule. Well, one is allowed to be sceptical about all rules that are effectively directed against goals being scored. So you are welcome to delete them as well. Why unequal treatment of players and goalkeepers? The protection zone may have made sense in times when there was no problem with the number of goals. But today? But if it is now written, one can think about the interpretation and application.
A ball enters the penalty area, even into the five-yard box. Do attackers have access there? If not, then perhaps a ban on access should be included as a new rule. But if they do, then one wonders why they cannot/are not allowed to get to the ball? The goalkeeper will always be there at the cross, sure. But if the striker had the chance to reach the ball, the goalkeeper will pounce on him or over him. Since he naturally goes down in this kamikaze action, and there was contact, there is now an interpretation of the rule. Only in 99% of cases it is the same: Striker’s foul. Even if he doesn’t even move. But the last percent does not go to goalkeeper’s foul. There is no such thing. If the striker is very lucky, play continues – and of course the ball flies over the goal at the uncontrolled touch of the ball caused by the obstruction.
What’s more, it happens often enough that the whole situation takes place outside the five-yard box. And even then the rule is applied as if it were inside the five. The goalkeeper gets a free kick. The main thing, they seem to think, is that there is no goal.
Why this overprotection? There would be more goal chances and more goals if not. Through simple application and the leeway of interpretation of existing rules.
The expression “courageous decision” has intuitively come about in such a way that one senses that the decision in question will result in a blatant shift in the distribution of chances as far as the outcome of the game is concerned. The courageous (but, by the term and just as intuitively probably), correct decisions often enough lead to a goal. Be it that a penalty is given, that an offside is actually (not) whistled for the striker in case of doubt or that a player is sent off instead according to the rules. The referee was courageous in allowing the shift in the distribution of chances for the ultimate outcome of the game by a decision. In this respect, any decision that allows a goal is somehow courageous.
To illustrate this a little I have made a diagram here. A second-division match between Duisburg and Rostock at the start of the 2008/2009 season was recorded. The odds, translated into probabilities, were taken from the betting exchange betfair, where bets were placed live on the match and the odds offered changed every second. The recorded curves represent the reciprocal of the odds, i.e. they are the probabilities as estimated by the betting market.
The blue curve shows the probability of victory for Duisburg, the red the probability of victory for Rostock and the yellow the probability of a draw. The match went like this: Duisburg went into the game as favourites (probability of victory approx. 45%; this makes them favourites, as there is also the possibility of a draw). Then the score went up to 1:0 after only 3 minutes, resulting in an increase in the probability to 70%. Then a constant, slight increase. The reason: playing time had passed and Duisburg continued to be superior.
Then, shortly before the break, the equaliser, very surprising. The draw rises, the probability of victory falls for Duisburg and that for Rostock rises, as they have come closer to victory through the equaliser. Then, shortly after the break, 2:1 for Duisburg. Win probability rises to 80%, because of the later minute of the game. Then, a few minutes later, an (unjustified) penalty incl. sending off. After the penalty is converted, Rostock’s probability of winning the match exceeds Duisburg’s, as the game is now 11 vs. 10 and the score is even. Then the draw probability rises constantly, while the two win probabilities converge. This went on until the final whistle, the draw increased to 100%, the two win probabilities both went towards 0, and at the final whistle the result was fixed: 2:2.
Here you can see the consequences of goals. They drastically shift the chances. The red card – which, however, happened at the same time as the penalty and the goal – would otherwise already have caused a clear shift. Since man probably has a perceived tendency to preserve the as-is state, since habit tells him that at least he has made it this far and a change can trigger doubts or even fears, he shies away from decisions that can ensure this change. The referee feels the same way. So if he disallows a goal, nothing changes. In football, compared to ice hockey or handball or basketball, a goal results in this drastic change every time. And intuitively you don’t want to allow that, so you look for mistakes. In football, you find them often enough.
The fact is: in this game, there was no critical wrong decision to the detriment of a goal. But if there had been, there would have been nothing in the diagram to indicate it. Accordingly, it would appear to be insignificant. Courageous, discussed even better, is the decision that allows an incision in such a diagram. This one is perceptible, visible, the other, against the goal, is not. Regardless of whether this or that was flawed.
Another small proof that one is afraid of the wrong decision that leads to a goal: Markus Merk had recognised a goal scored by Bremen against Dortmund which, according to the television pictures, was irregular. After the match, he not only wrote a 30-page paper in which he called for video evidence, but also spoke of “his worst mistake in the last 10 years. This lends expression to the fact that a mistake that disallowed a goal, of which he has certainly committed many more in these 10 years, has no significance whatsoever, has long been forgotten. The one mistake that allowed the goal is so bad that even technology is sought to avoid it in the future.
Every referee is therefore afraid, not only that the chances will shift so drastically, but above all that they will shift so much because of his mistake. So at the slightest doubt, the goal situation is stopped.
Incidentally, the plea has another obvious consequence: if the change in thinking could be implanted, then the significance of the individual goal would decrease due to the higher number of goals — and the referees would have less to fear from the mistake.