Henry Bushnell: Hey guys. The Mixer is back. And it’s time to change the world.
Or, at least, it’s time to change soccer. For a while now, I’ve had several ideas for rule changes that would better the sport. So I’ve been wanting to have this discussion. I’ve been wanting to flesh out a few of the ideas, and find out whether they’re ingenious or absurd.
Feel free to jump in with ideas of your own. But I’ll start by explaining my first: I want to introduce orange cards.
I want orange cards, because no two fouls are the same. The infraction spectrum, from a slightly-too-forceful nudge in midfield to a scissor tackle from behind as the last man, is so broad. It is ridiculous that we’re content to lump all types of fouls into just three categories: red card offense, yellow card offense and neither.
Refs will occasionally create a de facto fourth category, the borderline infringements that warrant a first yellow, but not a second if the player has already been booked. So here’s my question: Why not actually legislate that into the game? Why should a possibly intentional handball and a dive bring about the same punishment as two possibly dirty tackles that break up dangerous attacks?
That’s where orange cards come in. They slot in between yellows and reds on the foul continuum. Thinking about it visually …
And the rules get a slight tweak: A red is still a straight sending off. Twin yellows, however, aren’t. Instead, three yellows are. So are an orange and a yellow.
The idea is to introduce a bit more nuance to the punishment system. That yellow card that is more egregious than a common foul, but which, if multiplied by two, shouldn’t send a team down to 10 men? It’s now a definite yellow, but it doesn’t bring the player within one booking of an early trip down the tunnel.
And that crunching, mistimed tackle that is forceful but not malicious – that can’t just be considered the equal of time-wasting, but shouldn’t fundamentally alter the balance of the game? It draws orange, and puts a player on the brink, but not over the ledge. I don’t see a downside to this.
Tweaking or scrapping the offside rule
Leander Schaerlaeckens: Here’s my pitch: getting rid of the offside rule.
First off: it’s the source of so many stoppages. When yet another play is called off because of a flagging assistant referee, it costs a fair few seconds and breaks the game’s momentum.
The offside rule compacts the field as the teams squeeze the actual area of play between their advanced back lines. But while that makes the game quick and physical, I’d also be interested to see what would happen if those constraints are removed. I suspect the game would slow down some, but it would also create a lot more space, likely resulting in more goals and more action.
Think about it, you’d have to set your defense up really deeply. And formations would change completely, in an effort to cover as much of the field as possible. It would make it a very different sport. Maybe a better one. Possibly not.
Could be fun?
Henry Bushnell: It would certainly make the sport vastly different. I don’t think it would make it better. Quick and physical is preferable. The offside rule makes the ability to play in tight spaces even more valuable. Doing away with it would enable a long-ball rebirth – goalkeepers can hit the ball the length of the field these days – and disable up-tempo pressing systems like Jurgen Klopp’s. There’d be some fascinating tactical innovations, but the game is in a great place as is right now. I don’t see why we need a radical change like that.
The offside law was one I wanted to bring up, though. Is there a middle ground here? Is there a way to apply it while the ball is in the middle two-thirds of the field, but scrap it at either end? Maybe create an “attacking zone” by introducing a stripe across the field 30 yards from the end line, and if the ball is played from the attacking zone, the offside rule is void?
My thinking here gets at your first point, Leander – the unnecessary stoppages. I think the offside rule is necessary in the modern game. We can’t have forwards standing at the edge of the opposition penalty box when the ball is back in the defensive third. But there’s no reason we can’t have an overlapping fullback a step ahead of the defensive line when a winger is driving into the area. There’s no reason we can’t have a striker a half-length ahead of a center back when a cross is coming in from wide. Situations like those are responsible for so many flags and whistles. Is there a way we can legalize them while retaining the fundamental value of the law?
Perhaps this is too complicated. But it’s something to think about.
Small-sided extra time
Joey Gulino: I’d like to propose a different way of opening up the game at a different stage, one which would help solve the seemingly interminable question of seemingly interminable matches of consequence:
Go down to 9-v-9 in extra time.
The arguments against it are relatively clear. You’re asking thoroughly exhausted players to cover even more ground in even bigger moments. Or you’re running the risk of teams bunkering back and playing for penalties.
But I don’t think that would be the case. We have more speed, more skill, more take-on ability, more players hungry to score iconic goals, more managers willing to play wide open than ever before. You’re telling me that giving Messi or Salah or Ronaldo or Hazard more space to try to deke or meg or run through defenders would be a bad thing? I think it would be incredibly exciting. Hockey’s 4v4 overtime, a rule implemented a couple of years back, has sped things up and made the extra period even more exciting than it already was. It can work!
Henry Bushnell: I’m very much on board with this. And I think we could even take it a step further: 9-v-9 for 15 minutes, golden goal. Then 7-v-7, half-field, for 15 more minutes. If we’re still tied, 5-v-5 in an area the shape of the penalty box, miniature goals, no keepers. Reduce the physical stress of the game. End it quicker. Do away with the penalty shootout. Players and fans both win.
Reforming player-referee communication
Joey Gulino: I’d also like the idea of making the captain the only player who’s allowed to talk to the referee. I don’t love it, but I also loathe how petulant players act when they crowd officials these days. A referee’s relationship with each individual player is unique, I get that. And I’m not totally sure a player who’s not the captain mouthing off directly to the ref is a card-worthy offense (maybe a two- or three-strike system here?). But it’s something worth addressing, even if the first step needs to be bold.
Solving the concussion issue
Henry Bushnell: The last thing I want to bring up here: I’m disheartened that discussions of rule changes to help address head injuries have seemingly lost steam. When there are high-profile incidents that involve concussions being mishandled, talk of fourth substitutions or temporary substitutions pops up here and there. But it never amounts to anything.
The problem here is relatively simple: Brain injuries are an inevitable part of the sport. But they’re not diagnosable in the heat of battle, because that requires several minutes at the very least if done properly. And symptoms can arise hours later, anyway. But no manager is going to be content to play down a man for six or seven minutes in a 90-minute game. Nor is he or she going to be willing to replace every player who comes to the sideline with a possible concussion. So players, with the permission of helpless (but still irresponsible) medical staffs, are sent back onto the field without proper testing.
I will admit, though, that those aforementioned solutions aren’t feasible. If either rule – a concussion-specific extra sub, or a temporary sub to allow tests to be carried out – were introduced, players would undoubtedly exploit it by feigning head injuries.
So, rather than tweaking rules to allow for diagnosis of concussions, how about we reduce the amount of concussive and sub-concussive blows to the head that players receive?
You probably know by now where this is going. I want to get rid of headers. It’s already happening in youth soccer. It’s only a matter of time before it makes its way up to older age groups, and eventually the pros. But to avoid radical change, let’s begin with an intermediate step: let’s outlaw headers outside the penalty area. Allow them in the box, so that corners are unchanged and crossing remains a viable strategy. But treat a player’s head like his or her arms everywhere else. A deliberate header is a free kick. I know it sounds crazy. But trust me, it’s the future. Something has to be done.
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• Dissecting our staff’s World Cup power rankings
• Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi: Who’s better?
• How damaging is USMNT’s World Cup absence?
• Which USMNT World Cup team – post-1990 – was best?
• Settling the great VAR debate
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• 2018 World Cup preview hub
• Group previews: A | B | C
• Bushnell: 32 takeaways from club season that pertain to Russia
• Schaerlaeckens: This is Putin’s World Cup, with FIFA’s permission