ROKER RAMBLE NEW
I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but trying to re-write the football rule book has become very 'in vogue' amongst Premier League managers over the last year or so.
Not so long ago, a Rory Delap inspired Arsene Wenger lobbied for a change in the laws to enable a player to be caught offside from a throw-in. In recent weeks Chelsea manager Andres Villas-Boas has seemingly set out to offend anyone who acknowledges and respects the history of lower league clubs by suggesting they give up their long-cemented places in the football league to make room for the top clubs' reserve teams. Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini just wants to tear up the laws of the game in their entirety and start again, I think.
Well, I thought I'd have a stab at it myself. Here are the 5 changes to the football rule book I'd make right now if anyone was stupid enough to grant me anything resembling actual influence.
Loan players (season long) should be eligible against parent club
Due to Steve Bruce's fetish for loanees, this is a rule Sunderland have found themselves falling foul of in recent years. But that isn't why I bring it up.
Last week when Manchester City faced off with Tottenham at the Etihad in what was a game of real consequence at the top of the table, City were able to directly influence their opposition's team selection due to this rule. Emanuel Adebayor was forced to watch powerlessly from the stands as Mancini's men registered a crucial victory.
Now, I understand the arguments that are in favour of the current rule. Enforcing the rule removes any question of split loyalties for the player on the day. But surely when one club has any kind of influence over the team selection of another it raises far greater questions of the sporting and professional integrity of the competition? Manchester City have been able to ensure that when Spurs play them they are considerably weaker than when the North London club face City's other rivals.
Some may say that there should be a drawback or two from loaning rather than putting your money where your mouth is and buying the player outright. For me, though, when a club is paying an expensive loan fee to take a player for a full season, they should get access to him for a full season without condition. After all, if the parent club rated the player that highly they wouldn't have loaned him out in the first place.
Help define the 'inactive' offside rule
Last weekend's FA Cup clash at the Stadium of Light saw one of the more high-profile incidents involving this rule.
I think it was pretty clear that Wickham was not interfering with play. Was he interfering with another player? I suspect not. But a simple offside decision shouldn't contain that level of on-the-spot interpretation and the rule has become diluted to the point of insanity.
Personally I'd make the 6-yard box an 'inactive-free zone'. Given the importance of that area on the field in determining results, I just don't see how you can possibly be in there and not considered active. It is the business end of football. It wouldn't put an end to the debatable decisions, but it would provide a little island of certainty amidst a sea of contention.
Cards shown to card-wavers
I can't be alone in finding this developing trait to be one of the most loathsome of modern football. If we get through a game without seeing this happen nowadays it is a genuine surprise. We can't even blame this one on those pesky foreigners.
So the solution is simple. Give them exactly what they ask for. If they gesture that they want a card to be shown, then show THEM a card for their sheer impudence.
Refereeing inconsistencies will always be part and parcel of football. The human element ensures that. We can surely eliminate as much of it as possible, though. It is a clear motion directed specifically at the referee so it is a rule that can be easily identified and punished.
We are used to silly little bureaucratic bookings in football by now. Taking off your shirt when celebrating, kicking the ball away after the award of a free kick, that kind of stuff. At least adding this one to the list would seek to stamp out something genuinely unpalatable.
No more red cards for 'denying a goalscoring opportunity' in the penalty area
This rule irks me more than most. We all know the scenario. An attacker goes through one on one with the goalkeeper in the box and is brought down. The commentator and a few million Twitter users start talking about 'last man' as if it actually means something of any relevance, the referee points to the spot, brandishes a red card, and a perfectly good game of football is ruined.
I can understand the need to punish highly cynical fouls outside the box that prevent an attacking player from a clear run on goal. It is, of course, important that a deterrent is attached to such fouls. But when the challenge is in the box and a penalty is awarded, how can a defender possibly be denying a goalscoring opportunity? The last time I checked, a penalty kick was a very good opportunity to score a goal so the attacking team have been denied nothing.
In fact, I would go as far as saying that the rule as it is today actually encourages playing for a foul. Stay on your feet and play the game and get a clear sight of goal out of it, or go to ground, get awarded an equally clear site of goal AND earn your team a numerical advantage for the rest of the game? Not difficult to see why so many players choose the latter.
Surely a penalty and yellow card is sufficient in these cases and finds the right balance between protecting the spectacle and punishing foul play.
No non-standard issue long term protective equipment
Yes Petr Cech, I am looking at you.
The Chelsea goalkeeper has been slowly morphing in Darth Vader for years now. It has actually been 5 years since the initial albeit very nasty depressed fracture of the skull. It feels so much longer.
OK, so he was unfortunate to find himself on the end of a bad challenge at the Majedski Stadium all those years ago. But where does it all end? Set enough precedents and before we know it we'll have squads kitted out like those you find in American sports. Anything to reduce an insurance premium on a multi-million pound sportsman.
I don't want to sound heartless, but the bottom line is this: If you are not capable of playing football without body armour (shin-pads not included) 5 years after an impact injury then it is probably time to accept that it is time to retire.