Monday, June 29, 2009

Breaking The Deadlock

The excellent sports writer, Simon Barnes, recently wrote a piece in which he assessed the modern innovations in our major sports and gave his opinion on their effectiveness.

He looks at limited overs cricket - 65 over games started in the 60s, while Twenty20 was born in 2003 - the tie break in Tennis (born 1970), the introduction of petrol breaks in F1 (1994), the many intricate rule changes made in rugby over the years and in football, the penalty shoot-out (also 1970).

I'm not informed enough about cricket to have an opinion and Formula One leaves me mystified at the best of times - whatever they do to it I can't get past the fact that the man with the best car seems to have something of an advantage. Besides, while I know the drivers are doing something remarkable I don't feel able to perceive their skill as a spectator. I mean, I know how fast they're going but on a TV screen it simply doesn't look that fast. The rules of rugby have changed so much since I was being kicked all over the school playing field that I've given up trying to understand it properly but can still sit and enjoy an international because good rugby is still mightily impressive to watch.

The most interesting assessments to me were those made on tennis and football, not least because they're both rule changes brought in to achieve the same goal: to break a deadlocked game. Here he concludes that the tie-break has been an unqualified success but that the penalty shoot-out has had a negative impact on football. And I think he's right.

While a penalty shoot-out is undeniably exciting it's not football. A tie break is undoubtedly tennis. The presence of a tie-break doesn't encourage players to play for a draw. A penalty shoot out does, if not from the start, then at some point.

Surely there ought to be some other resolution to a drawn football game that's better than the toss of a coin, fairer than a penalty shoot out and that still involves playing football... all of it, rather than just one particular part of it.

Here's my suggestion. I'm probably not the first person to come up with this. I won't be at all surprised if I find dozens of people telling me where hundreds of others have discussed it in the past. If that's the case, my apologies for not having my finger on the pulse. Here goes:

Currently they play a period of extra time and then go to a penalty shoot out. I'd suggest that when a game is drawn at 90 minutes they should play ten minutes of extra time - but that each team should withdraw two players. If it's still drawn after that, they should withdraw two more players each and play another ten minutes. And so on. Ten minutes of 9-a-side, ten minutes of 7-a-side, ten minutes of 5-a-side and if needed, ten minutes of 3-a-side. Rugby Sevens is a more free-scoring game than its grown-up counterpart because there's more room for players with pace to exploit and I would have thought the same would be true for football.

It would reward fitness, make it less of a mindgame and more of a game, maintain the fact that it's played by teams and not individuals and involve a manager making tactical decisions based on his players strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, it doesn't address what happens if, after 40 minutes of extra time and with only 3 players left for each team it's still a draw. So, um, well, then you, er, um... have a penalty shoot out.


Darren Barefoot said...

A variation of your football solution was implemented a few years ago in ice hockey. They did away with ties ('draws' in Britain). Now they play an overtime period of five minutes (a regular game is 60 minutes) at 4-on-4 instead of 5-on-5. It's sudden death, so if there are no goals after that, then they go to a shootout.

Understand that there are 82 games in the hockey season, ties are reasonably common at the end of regulation time, and the average game takes two hours and fifteen minutes with intermissions and stoppages, so it's important that they don't extend the game too much beyond the 60 minutes of playing time.

Speaking of football innovations, as a casual observer I find myself bewildered as to why they don't implement an automated system to get offside calls right every single time. They can be so essential to a game's outcome, and the rule requires the official to be focusing on two places simultaneously. A set of computer-monitored cameras and a sensor in the ball would do the trick.

Andrew said...

"Of course, it doesn't address what happens if, after 40 minutes of extra time and with only 3 players left for each team it's still a draw."

At that point football is down to its purest form: one-a-side, rush goalies.

Alternatively, just have the keepers go into the centre circle and slog it to the death while the rest of the team gather around to stop them from escaping.

Matthew said...

Do you envisage going down to a half pitch as more players are taken off?

You could play a version of cuppies, where the team who gets to three (or some other arbitrary number) goals in the quickest time wins. Or, maybe make it headers and volleys only, to see who has the most skill!

bob said...

There was a penalty shootout in rugby this year (Leicster, Cardiff, Heineken Cup semi final). When is began, there was excitement, but almost immediately, it was obvious how wrong it was. More wrong than in soccer, where there is at least a competition between one player from each side.

In rugby, there are huge numbers of stats available during the game, and in the event of a tie, these could be used to determine the side that 'deserves' the win. First would be number of tries, then least number of yellow/red cards, then penalty count, then free kick count, then scrum count, etc. The probablility of all these being equal is infinitessimal. In knock-out stages of a competition, the record through the competition could be used too, and weighed to reward the more entertaining/adventourous side.

Much of this could apply in soccer too. Not territory, because it's a less territorial game, but possession seems reasonable, along with a corner count or shots on goal. The more attacking side will simply have more shots on goal, will win more corners etc. Red and yellow cards could be used. Cards in earlier stages could be used. A side that went through on goal difference would lose against a side that won all its pool games, etc.

Anyway. Lots of stuff that would encourage a better approach to a tournament as a whole.

Some teams may just play for a draw, of course, but to do so is a risk, and they'll have earned the right to take that risk by their conduct through the rest of the competition

Jack said...

Best and most simplest thing to do would be golden goal extra time - keep playing until someone scores.

LB said...

Dave, I've always favored a similar system to the one you suggest, albeit with a tweak. Why don't they play for an additional 10 minutes but all players on a yellow card have to remove, this could mean a "dirty" team loses more players than a "clean" team, basically giving hte advantage to the "better" team. Then after deadlock continues for 10mins then revert to your system.

LB said...

awful awful spelling and grammar, apologies, must type slower

Paul L said...

I think it would stretch the game so much that nobody shows any adventure. The biggest issue appears to be that extra-time = dull because both teams would rather go to penalties than lose it in extra time (usually).

The best suggestion i've heard was by a lady who wrote to the Times when they asked the question.

Her suggestion was:

Let the opposition managers pick the penalty takers for their opponents.

This would be brilliant! Managers would have to come out and choose players they didn't fancy thus risking deflating a few over-inflated egos, it'd make for a more interesting shoot-out.

Personally i'm torn. I like shoot-outs but hate extra-time, yet I don't think it'd be good to go straight to pens (otherwise extra-time dullness is just transferred to the last 20 mins of normal time).

Therefore my suggestion would be...

The team that had the most on-target shots in the (entire) game is the team that wins if it's level after extra-time.

Promotes and rewards attacking play.

Dave Gorman said...

@Matt: no, I don't envisage the pitch becoming a half-pitch... part of the point would be the greater chance of scoring opportunities being created by having more space to play into.

@Bob: I've heard people suggesting the team with the most corners or possession etc before. But I don't think it would work. I think it would encourage teams to hold on to the ball without trying to score a goal. If you knew you'd had the bulk of possession, why try to score when you could instead focus on preventing the opposition from doing so knowing that you'll win the game that way?

@Jack: they did try Golden Goal extra time. Teams played for a draw. They can't play forever - these innovations are largely down to the needs of TV coverage etc. so they need an end.

@LB: I like the idea of the yellow cards automatically removing players at 90 minutes. It rewards the fairest team. (And would probably remove some petulance from the game.)

@Paul L: While the suggestion of the managers picking the opposition penalty takers is appealing it doesn't address the problem that a penalty shoot out is in no way a representation of the game itself. It's dramatic. It's better than tossing a coin. But it's simply not what football is really about no matter who picks the takers. Spectators like penalty shoot outs - they provide great drama - but they're just not representative of the game in the way that a tie-break is representative of tennis.

I do kind of like the idea of the shots-on-target stat being the deciding factor... but when I think about what would happen, I go off it. It wouldn't change the start of the match... but if it was 0-0 at 80 minutes and one team knew they were well ahead in shots on target, they'd just try to shut the other team out. Or teams would just start hitting long-range shots that they knew weren't going to score just to adjust the now crucial stat in their favour.

I'm sticking with my suggestion but adding in LB's amendment whereby players on a yellow card are automatically removed from the game at the end of 90 minutes.

Jack said...

DG, golden goal didn't work before teams would rather lose on penalties than in sudden death. Without penalties both teams would have to score to win the game (which is the main point afterall) and would attack.

It is used in hockey over the pond and rarely does an overtime game last more than two periods (although I accept hockey is a higher scoring sport than football).

The idea of removing players who have been booked is a good one but I fear this would discourage players from making challenges and make football more of a non-contact sport.

LB said...

I think we have the football equivalent of the Duckworth-Lewis method, Shall we call it Gorman-Lizardbouy method? I'll call Sepp, you call Platini?

Dominic Sayers said...

One vote for corner-count in soccer. I think this would add to the excitement during the original 90 minutes since one team would be ahead even if the goal-score was tied.

Corner-count could still be tied so a fallback method is needed, though far less frequently.

Dominic Sayers said...

Oh, and obviously the glorious futility of a five-day Test Match ending in a draw should be retained for ever lest we forget what it means to be English.

Dave Gorman said...

@Jack: I disagree with you on the Golden Goal idea. Teams weren't just playing for a draw because there were penalties coming, they were playing so as not to lose the game. Priority number 1: don't let the other team score.

@Dominic: I abhor the corner count idea. At the moment you could look at a recently drawn game and say that the team that had the most corners had attacked more and so suggest it was a fair result. But if it was in place we'd just see an awful lot more corners. It's the 89th minute, you're on the byline, do you try to skilfully beat your man and drive into the area or play it off him for a corner to "win" the match?

@LB: Yup. Gorman-Lizardbouy it is. Michel isn't answering. Let me know how you get on with Sepp.

fourstar71 said...

The problem with the idea of the yellow cards automatically removing players at 90 minutes is that there is already an issue of players feigning injury to get another player booked or sent off.

Surely the idea that this might also assist them if the match went to extra time would be an added incentive to try to influence the referee in this way.

So if teams have to remove players every 5/10 mins, how about allowing the opposition manager to choose who gets taken off? Clearly if he goes for the obvious choice - the goalkeeper - then the other manager can do exactly the same.

Single Track said...

What an incredibly interesting discussion. Penalties is just wrong, always has been but I'm really liking the Gorman-LB method, especially with the yellow card element.

Interestingly (always dangerous to start a sentence with that!) corners were used to decide matches in some domestic scottish competitions many years ago - I remember my dad telling me my team (Partick Thistle) had been involved in just such a fiasco in, I think, the now-defunct and not at all missed "Texaco Cup" - I'll see what I can dig up...

Dave Gorman said...

@fourstar: I agree that players feigning injuries or otherwise cheating to get an opponent carded is a problem in the game... but I'm not sure this would make it any worse. There's already a great incentive to do it because a player on a yellow has to be so much more cautious. And once he is on a yellow people can try to get him carded again in normal time for the same advantage.

I personally think that video evidence should be used retrospectively. Bad tackles happen when people try to make good tackles... but players feigning injury, diving etc. that's a scourge on the game and takes cynicism. Rivaldo's fake, face-clutching fall in the World Cup when Brazil played Turkey ( was embarrassing and brings the game into disrepute. The ball struck his knee. The punishment for that kind of thing should be so severe as to make it unthinkable to attempt it.

I don't see any improvement in allowing the managers to remove opposition players either. The point is to try to find a system that continues to represent the game in microcosm not to find a solution that isn't-football.

fourstar71 said...

@dave: "...but I'm not sure this would make it any worse..."

It certainly wouldn't make it any better though :)

OK, if we're trying to decide matches by actually playing football rather than any other scheme then surely the only acceptable system must be to keep playing until someone scores. That would be better than a fixed period of extra-time as there would be no point in being defensive; you must try to score.

Television scheduling shouldn't be an issue as it is already a moveable feast; I watched Andy Murray last night and the News waited nigh on half an hour until he had finished playing.

Dave Gorman said...

@fourstar: You're right it won't make that particular problem any better. But that's not the problem being addressed. It ought to be addressed though, which is why I'd propose the use of video evidence and serious punishments. To my mind, anyone caught actually cheating - trying to cynically con a ref - should be banned for so many games as to make it unthinkable. If it's driven out of the game it won't be an issue affecting the G-LB method.

fourstar71 said...

@dave: Absolutely, couldn't agree more. Whilst teams may pay lip service to the FIFA Fair Play Code, we now need some serious punishment when that code is broken. In my view FIFA is too close to the big teams to upset them in any way.

Clearly it is also ridiculous that "asking them to behave like sportsmen and not cheat" would upset them, but there you go. That does seem to be where we are.

bob said...

Yep. Use video to retropectively punish players. Severely. In a tournament, just kick them out.

Why not punish teams too ? A player caught doing a Ronaldo gets banned, but also his team gets docked a point in a pool or a goal in knoockout. That could result in more tied games … but not for long. In the event of a tie caused by this, you give it to the side who didn't fake. In the event of equal amounts of fakery in a knockout, chuck both sides out of the competition. This is essentially what they do with drugs cheats in athletics.

It would be a mess to start with, but teams that consistently fail to get the message aren't going to win anything.

Refs should not have to put up with aggression either. The FA / FIFA should allow refs to simply send people off if they charge at them like loonies. It should be made clear before the first game, to the players, the refs and the fans, that this is going to happen. And when the ref sends off 3, 4 or 5 players for this, the MotD/SKY presenter, newspaper reporters, etc, should all be primed to say "The ref was brilliant. Those players made a mockery of the game. That's exactly what the game needed".

It'll never happen, of course.

Jon said...

The main alternative I've seen promoted is the "halfway penalty", which is advocated by someone odd like David Pleat. It IS like penalties, except that the taker starts on the halfway line and has a set time limit (say 15 seconds) within which to score. At least it would mean that the player has to beat the keeper using a wider variety of "real football" skills such as change in pace or direction, feints, or the like.

My reasonably eccentric suggestion is to have three mini-games, each of which is won by a single goal, played in sequence. For each, you play 3 outfield players plus the keeper. After a goal is scored, you have to replace the outfield players with unused ones. The "spare" outfield player can be used at the manager's discretion in any one of three mini-games.

Tactically, this adds questions of mini-team selection as well as where to use your bonus player.

Obvious, really...

Cold Tuesday Evenings said...

The penalty shoot out between Spurs and Man Utd in the League Cup was interesting - they say it is a lottery but one team totally bottled it that day and the other team took their pens with conviction. Keep it in I reckon. What really needs to change is the playoff format.

Cold Tuesday Evenings said...

Oh, and corner count would punish good defending. Too much of an attacker's game as it is.

Y'know said...

How about first removing anyone in the game who has had a yellow card, then after ten minutes removing anyone who has had a yellow card in the competition. In the spirit of fair play.

Alternatively throw in an extra ball every five minutes.

Si said...

Karlovic playing for a tiebreak right now against Federer.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have the supporters fight to the death and see which football team wins that way. It would have the added advantage of ridding the country with many thousands of closed-minded, racist, sexist, homophobic morons at the same time! Murray

Anonymous said...

If the penalty shootout has to exist then maybe have it before kick off. That way the team that lost the shootout before the game know that if they were losing come extra time they would have to really go for it. The only problem with this is that it could effectively turn a single leg game into something like the second leg of a two legged game.

Paul said...

Firstly, I must admit I haven't had chance to fully read all the previous comments, so apologies for any duplication.

I think it is hard to find a sensible workable alternative to the shoot out. It is easy to critique suggested alternatives as much as it is the shootout itself. My main surprise is that so few alternatives have been trialled. Unless my googling isn't up to scratch....

The yellow card/corner count type situation puts more pressure on officials.

Removing players intermittently in my opinion is less realistic than a shoot out - when else would you be constantly reducing numbers and adjusting positions accordingly throughout the game? Bar a lot of regular sending offs....

The MLS is America tried the one on one shootout approach, as in the ice hockey version where you dribble from the half way line one on one with the keeper, but they reverted to a standard shoot out. See, my googling wasn't entirely fruitless.

My suggestion for trialling is some sort of 3 on 3 "game". 3 players from the attacking team line up in centre circle and 2 defender on edge of the box, goaly on the line, for example. They then have 30 seconds to score. That is a rough outline as I would hope variations on this would be trialled. You could have 3 or 4 of these, using all players at least once and the mini teams could be picked in advance, randomly or alternately by managers once other mini team is known.

Just a few thoughts.

Other than that, hope the gig in Leamington goes well tonight, since I will be there. Feel free to work any of the above into your set....... And don't expect Leamington Spa Dave Gorman to attend.

Anonymous said...

After the Federer-Roddick epic, Bill Bailey remarked on Twitter what an excellent final it was - but did they really have to settle it with that endurance test? Perhaps the umpire should've hosted a quiz, or made them do an egg-and-spoon race round the court, or get them to balance a baguette on their chins and see how long they can keep it up there?

Gareth J M Saunders said...

How about the first players that have to be removed in your extra-time idea are the goalkeepers?

Seems to me that if the aim of the game is to get the ball into the back of the net then remove the most obvious obstacle to achieving that quickly.

Or, how about, if after extra-time it's still a draw then all players are issued with side-handled battons?

A nice consequence of that is that if any players are seen writhing around on the pitch then at least we'll know there's a good reason, for once.

I seem to recall that the 'Nice Family' in Absolutely (Jack Docherty, Gordon Kennedy et al) came up with a solution to quickly conclude a drawn match: a short general knowledge quiz.

Sounds fair to me.

fourstar71 said...

How about an old fashioned Dance-a-thon? Teams could pair off (goalkeepers excluded) and the last pair standing win the game for their team? No?

Pete said...

Ooh... imagine when it gets down to 1v1. Gerrard vs Ronaldo or Iniesta vs Ibrahimovic for the champions league. Would love to see that.

Morgan Phillips said...

You can't remove players... footballers are delicate souls after all, they would all be crying off to the transfer request counter because their manager had so publicly showed that he rates player A more highly than player B.....

Personally I love extra time, it means we get 30 more minutes of football to watch regardless of how boring it is, it is still better than whatever other crap would have been on.

Still drawn after extra time? Each team is given a ball that they have to keep in the air. They both start at the same time (on the refs whistle) one in each half of the pitch, whichever team drops the ball or leaves the field of play first loses. They aren't allowed to just balance it on their bodies, it has to be keepie uppies!!! It's a test of skill, a chance for footballers to show off, it should be quick, it is dramatic and Brazil will win everytime!!