The game of football has improved and evolved to what it stands now; a model of near perfection. With Goal Line Technology getting a long overdue green signal, another feather has been added to the cap. Football has shed many a cobwebs over the years and the grey areas have been removed slowly but steadily. Spectator satisfaction and the opportunity for the players to perform their skills at the optimum level must definitely be the motto and any roadblocks in achieving these milestones have to make way.
TheHardTackle looks back at some of the significant rule changes over the century that have shaped football into becoming a well oiled machine.
Evolution Of The Back Pass Rule
About two decades back, defending a lead was considerably easier than it is now. It’s fair to say the evolution of the back pass rule has played its part and how. It has certainly added to the spectacle that modern day football is and made the beautiful game enthralling till the proverbial final whistle and that is how it should be.
During the late eighties, with time running out, a team could sit back and defend their slender one goal cushion by repeatedly playing the ball back to the goalkeeper, who in turn could gobble it up in his arms, bounce it up repeatedly thereby wasting precious seconds and in turn depriving the spectators of some end of the game drama.
FIFA finally woke up to the call and a change was introduced in 1992. A significant move that would redefine the game was made and in the modern day, the back pass rule to football is what Higgs Boson is to mass – epochal. Now the rule clearly states -
“The goalkeeper may not handle the ball if it has been deliberately kicked to him by a team-mate. If the goalkeeper does handle the ball in those circumstances, then an indirect free-kick is awarded to the attacking team, to be taken from the place where the ‘keeper handled the ball.”
The word to be noted is “deliberately”, and here is where the governing body played a real master stroke and got the balance just right. The defenders are still allowed to head the ball back to their keeper and also it’s perfectly okay for the keeper to pick up the ball if it merely deflects off a team-mate’s boot during play.
The only bit which remains up for dispute is how does one decide if the player intentionally played it back to the keeper or not. But surely referees, however incompetent they are made out be, get most of the calls right and in case of any doubt, usually give the benefit to the defending team.
The change has definitely worked wonders and negative football has taken a beating. Goalkeepers now require a certain level of skill to play the ball out of tight situations, failing to do so can result in some comedy gold with opposition attackers breathing down their neck waiting to pounce on any slightest bit of hesitation. Modern day goalkeepers need to be excellent shot stoppers like earlier times but must also have two good feet. The likes of Barcelona often build attacks from the back and Victor Valdes is often the architect. Ergo, the back pass rule has enriched the game many folds; although one wonders what took FIFA so long?
Straight Red Card For Professional Fouls
Professional fouls have always been part of the game; however, the punishment in the earlier days was nowhere near as harsh as it is nowadays. Only a free-kick was awarded whatever the impact of the foul may be, while the cards were reserved for serious and rash tackles. As time passed, stakes grew higher than ever and more and more unsporting and professional fouls were to be seen on the pitch.
One of the most infamous of such incidents was seen in the 1980 FA Cup final when Arsenal’s Willie Young committed a deliberate foul on West Ham’s Paul Allen who had a clear run on goal. The referee – going by the rules of the game – awarded only a free-kick to West Ham causing a huge rage amongst fans and neutrals with a sense of injustice towards West Ham prevailing in every one’s heart.
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It took FIFA 10 years and several such unjust incidents to finally wake up to the dark side of the game as they instructed the referees before the 1990 World Cup to send a player off for a professional foul – be it for a tackling offence or for handling the ball that denied the opposition a clear goal-scoring opportunity. The decision was officially made as a law in 1997 which stated that a player can be sent off for
- Denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (Player other than the goal-keeper)
- Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal is an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
Despite the rule change, professional fouls still exist in the game, as shown by Luis Suarez against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup. However, the quantity of such misdemeanours has certainly reduced as players, more often than not, tend to avoid such fouls. This has opened another debate as to whether some professional fouls may be exempted especially when the offence is conducted inside the box for which a penalty has also been awarded. For this the law has to become more flexible, like the back pass rule, and the referees should be allowed to use their presence of mind depending on the situation.
Nonetheless, the change in law certainly has more merits than demerits and was a welcome change for the game.
Offside Rule Change – ‘Active Play’
The offside rule is certainly the most debatable rule in the game of football, and perhaps the most important when it comes to helping the pundits earn their money in post-match shows on world wide networks. The rule will always have a grey area to it and the latest amendment in the law – incorporated in 2005 – made it more debatable than ever as the governing body introduced the ‘active play’ clause in it.
The clause was introduced before the start of 2003/04 season and incorporated as a law in 2005, whereby FIFA clarified when a player is to be regarded as being ‘actively involved in the play’.
The law states that
“A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team-mates, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:
- interfering with play or
- interfering with an opponent or
- gaining an advantage by being in that position
The rule change has most definitely helped in promoting attacking football, which it was designed to do, but has also attracted criticism from time to time. Players such as Ruud van Nistelrooy have exploited the law to a certain extent and made the defenders task much tougher and in certain cases impossible. Also, the referees often neglect the third point stated in the law as attackers are often found gaining an unfair advantage over the opposition defenders by having a head start over them by being in an ‘inactive’ offside position.
While the rule change makes a lot of sense, as it would be stupid to disallow a goal just because a player is lying injured near the corner flag far away from the play, the referees need to use much more common sense and be strict towards players who try to exploit the rule or gain an unfair advantage.