Burning Question: What one rule would you change?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game. Today’s topic is rule changes.

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With VAR instituted this season, the rulebook has never been under more scrutiny. Some people have criticized the offside rule, claiming the rules must adapt to the changing times and the improved technology. Others have attacked the penalty kicks tiebreaker, saying it doesn’t fairly determine the outcome of a match.

So, with that in mind, let’s break down some of the rules we could change.

The obvious one: The handball rule

While the offside rule has been the most scrutinized over the past year with the implementation of VAR in the Premier League and beyond, the handball rule is almost certainly the most unanimously despised rule of the current times. More specifically, a handball in regards to the buildup to a goal.

The current rule in the FIFA rulebook states: The following ‘handball’ situations, even if accidental, will be a free kick:

  • The ball goes into the goal after touching an attacking player’s hand/arm
  • A player gains control/possession of the ball after it has touches their hand/arm and then scores, or creates a goal-scoring opportunity

While this sounded nice in theory, in practice it was horrible. Goals were chalked off because the ball brushed an attacker’s arm, even if the attacker gained no advantage and it did not help the attacker in his creation of the goalscoring opportunity. Goals were even chalked off in the buildup to a score, and while that is being changed this coming season, with IFAB

Man City was held to a point by Spurs early in the season thanks in large part to the late winner being chalked off for a clip off Aymeric Laporte’s arm, and it only got worse from there. Leicester City saw a key goal chalked off in a 1-0 loss to Norwich City just days before the suspension of Premier League play, with Kelechi Iheanacho barely grazing the ball with his hand before scoring what would have been the go-ahead goal.

There’s been near-unanimous outrage over this rule, and it has to go.

The controversial one: The offside rule

With VAR firmly entrenched in the world of soccer, the offside rule has come under increased scrutiny over the past calendar year, with fans believing the technology has ruined the spirit of the rule.

Thanks to video review, offside decisions are being scrutinized down to the millimeter, and goals are being cancelled for inch-tight calls. Offside decisions have always been black & white, but unlike the goal-line technology, the fluidity of offsides in the past and the difficulty of making a call has always given fans more leeway to accepting tight decisions even if they were incorrect. Now, with technology making the calls truly black & white, many fans feel the calls have hampered attacking play.

The problem is there are no good solutions to fix the problems presented. Some have suggested a six-inch allowance for attackers in offside decisions, but all that will do is push the black & white line six inches further, meaning there will still be inch-tight decisions further out. Other ideas floated include a margin of error, likely visualized by a thicker line for the defender than the attacker on replay. This idea is similar to the “umpire’s call” in cricket where the rules write into law an admission that technology cannot always be pinpoint accurate. The issue that arises here is that while in cricket the technology is attempting to predict the flight of a ball, VAR is simply placing lines on a field with far less assumptions or predictive room for error needed.

At the end of the day, there is no good solution, and fans are probably going to have to simply get used to the new way of doing things. Some good goals will be ruled out, and VAR can certainly improve its methods to allow for more transparency, but as far as the laws of the game are concerned, this one is here to stay.

The long-debated one: Penalties

Penalty shootouts have been debated for years as a match-decider.

Let’s just put this to bed right here: Are penalties a fair sporting way to determine a match? No. Is there a better, more fun option to decide a game without running the players to death? No. This one’s also here to stay, thanks in part because there’s few better options and also in part because they’re downright tense and fun. Leave penalties alone.

The other long-debated one: Away goals

The away goals rule is another tiebreaker often disparaged for its non-sporting qualities. While detractors of the away goals rule have more to stand on than those who dislike penalties, and it probably could be done away with altogether with very few people even taking note, it’s not the problem those who call for change make it out to be.

The dark horse: Goalkeeper protection

While the rules protecting goalkeepers are talked about on rare occasions, they have mostly become an accepted part of today’s game. Which is ridiculous. The amount of play goalkeepers are afforded while entirely uncontested is flat out ridiculous. Every time a goalkeeper goes up to claim a ball in the air and is left unchallenged is a crime.

While yes, there were far too many goalkeeper injuries in the past, the rules in today’s game are an overreaction. There has to be a middle ground for players to challenge a goalkeeper’s authority while still keeping the netminders safe.