Welcome to the Future of Football
“Football has to change and adapt. We have to analyse why young people, 16-to-24-year-olds, 40% of them aren’t interested in football.”
As Real Madrid president Florentino Perez was quoted saying this in response to the Super League outbreak, there was a divided opinion amongst fans about it.
It didn’t go well with the idea of creating a new league exclusively for the giant clubs purely based on financial incentives. Thus, the Super League died a painful death even before it could be debated upon.
There is one thing though which the authorities of the beautiful game have learnt from this fiasco. Football needs change.
For decades now, the rise and popularity of the NBA has been associated with its shorter duration games. Not only does this take up smaller slots on the huge sports channels, but they also feed the Generation NeXT’s quick-satisfaction syndrome. A euphoria in just a few minutes.
And then there’s the age old sport of football, catering to the same rules in 2021 which the game possessed in 1921 albeit with some minor modifications every thirty years or so. The ultimate federation of football, FIFA, knew it had a huge responsibility to bring in some change. And there’s where the story of the future of the game began.
It didn’t happen at the big stage though. The Euros was too big an event to try and test out new rules, especially when the emotions of all fans towards their nations’ results are concerned.
The Future of Football Cup, which is being played currently across multiple venues in Europe, has been the testing ground of FIFA for the new rules that could grace the game eventually. The Cup has seen the academies of some Dutch, German & Belgian clubs like AZ Alkmaar, PSV Eindhoven, RB Leipzig and Club Brugge participate in a totally new environment and format.
Without much ado, let’s get underway. In today’s piece, we shall be discussing all the new rules that FIFA is testing at the Future of Football Cup, which could be implemented as soon as 2022, after the next World Cup on the Qatari soil. Get ready to be shocked!
30-minute halves, reverse timing and play-stop intervals
The biggest change that the tournament is witnessing is the proposed shorter duration of game-time. The game will be split into two halves of 30 minutes, changing from the earlier two phases of 45 minutes each. Moreover, the clock governing the game time would also tick in a reverse mode, starting from 30 minutes — counting down to nil.
Another huge change which changes the tactical aspect of the teams’ setup is the stoppage rule. The game-clock stops every time there is a stop in the passage of play, whether by a foul or outside or a goal-kick. Amazing! The tournament witnessed zero time-wasting due to this, which was appreciated by all teams and players like.
It also brought on more energetic transitions in the game, as the players had less time on pitch and with time-wasting nearly impossible, all the youth players went for every ball with the same drive as they did in the first minute to the last.
One of the controversial rule changes which might not see the light of the day in professional games at global level is the idea of unlimited substitutions during the sixty minutes of footballing action.
This was clearly FIFA’s takeaway from basketball, as the NBA allows rolling substitutions with no restrictions.
This rule also has its pros and cons. While, it will allow more players to play in a single game and players could be brought on after treating them for injuries, this also means that the gargantuan clubs like Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona could actually change the game altogether due to the unreal squad depth.
In an era where money keeps the game alive, teams that can field two elite sides through their camps of 25 players, this unlimited rolling substitutions could literally change the game amazingly.
Another rule adopted from the NBA and NFL inspiration — Sin Bins are basically suspensions for a stipulated time period if a player gets a warning amidst the game. In Football, it means that a yellow card would result into a five minute sit-out for the booked player. This will reduce the team to a temporary 10 or fewer men for the time-being on the pitch.
This was one of the most successful experiments in the Future of Football Cup as the players were very cautious in their fouls and there were very less in-game suspensions resulting in less injuries overall. It also led to an added advantage to the opposition as the absence of even one player destabilizes the entire team and they are very susceptible to concede.
One of the changes I personally loved watching in the tournament.
Kick-ins and the new set-pieces
Arsenal’s legendary ex-manager Arsene Wenger has criticised the concept of throw-ins for a really long time. Since his appointment into the advisory committee of European Football, Wenger has really pushed motions to remove Throw-ins from the game.
FIFA also tested the rule of kick-ins instead of throw-ins in the tournament recently, and it was also a very good viewing. The kicking-in team could retain possession better against the old ways of throw-ins where the team taking the throws used to lose possession on 3 of the 5 occasions.
Another change was the new optional set-pieces which were active, but hardly used by the teams. This may have been due to the mental block of the age-old set-piece methods.
According to the new rules, players can dribble in from corners or free-kicks instead of compulsorily passing in the ball to a team-mate. This increases the continuity of the game and gives additional advantage to the foul-winning team as they don’t have to pass the ball to their man-marked players.
Coincidentally, all these new rules resulted in some really favourable results and numbers from the games. The first two games itself saw 15 goals in totality, despite the reduced game time and unfamiliar rules. Moreover, the games were livelier to watch as there was no time-wasting due to obvious reasons. Less injuries were also a very much welcome by-product.
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Well, the changes remain a direct and absolute hit to the fundamentals of the game. This could not only hamper the team performances and results for some years upon implementation but could also reduce revenues for the teams as the broadcast time would be cut by almost 40%. Nevertheless, as we started the article with, football needs change. We could just be witnessing the next big chapter of the world’s biggest sport unfolding in front of our eyes after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.