Alternatives to Time-Wasting in Football

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David De Gea’s goalkeeping heroics in Manchester
United’s recent 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur were remarkable for many reasons.
Perhaps not since Jan Tomaszewski has Wembley Stadium witnessed a Sondico-shaped forcefield
of such invincibility. In fact, his instinctive reactions to a series
of helpfully aimed Spurs shots ranked third on the all-time Premier League list for most
saves in a single game. But the Spaniard’s performance was also noteworthy for the amount
of time he wasted. It’s been reported that De Gea’s goal-kicks
amounted to almost 5% of the match, which saw a total of 10 restarts from the away side
taking an average of 26 seconds per clearance. While the club’s enduring “Attack, Attack,
Attack” philosophy has clearly still to recover from Jose Mourinho’s ideological
hack, this serves to illustrate a broader issue at the centre of football, which the
sport’s authorities are now seeking to address. In November, The International FA Board (IFAB)
confirmed plans to discuss a range of measures intended to combat time-wasting. Founded upon
the organisation’s 2017 PLAY FAIR! initiative, the news came shortly after a Premier League
match between Cardiff and Burnley, which saw the ball in play for 42 minutes and two seconds. Officially confirmed as the shortest amount
of actual playing time in the English top flight since December 2013, when supporters
enjoyed 40 minutes and 50 seconds of Stoke City against Aston Villa, fans spent eight
mins waiting for Cardiff’s Sean Morrison to work his way through 20 throw-ins. For some time, pressure has been growing on
the international football community to reconsider traditional timekeeping measures, a fact highlighted
on the biggest stage at last summer’s World Cup tournament. The game’s showpiece event
featured the dazzling spectacle of Neymar rolling around the grass for approximately
15 mins. The competition actually provided an even
more acute illustration of the damaging and defining impact such behaviour can have on
the sport. In July, FiveThirtyEight, a website that uses data to analyse happenings in global
news and sport, crunched the numbers on Russia’s footballing fiesta. Founded by famed statistician Nate Silver,
who successfully predicted the outcomes in 49 of the 50 states at the 2008 US Presidential
election, they targeted two key themes: amount of time wasted by each team at the tournament
and the accuracy of stoppage time added by referees at every match. Their findings were simultaneously alarming
and depressingly predictable. In the first example, isolating five basic activities that
allow players to control game pace – throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks, free kicks and substitutions
– a total of 4,529 points of data sourced from 48 group stage games revealed: “Teams
that are leading take about 34% longer to complete these activities than teams that
are trailing.” In the second example, FiveThirtyEight used
a stopwatch and a team of timekeepers to track all 3194 stoppages during the first 32 games
played at the World Cup. Their findings confirmed that the current system is “wildly inaccurate”,
a fact graphically underlined by the Group B game between Iran and Morocco. “Each side used all three substitutes; there
was only one booking; no goals were scored. In a group with Spain and Portugal, both teams
presumably were eager to steal a crucial three points and break the 0-0 tie. When the game
reached the 90-minute mark, the fourth official raised the electronic board to indicate six
minutes of added time. It should have read 14 minutes,” they explained. In a bid to address the issue, The IFAB have
proposed a range of ideas “to reduce time-wasting and ’speed up’ the game”. These measures
include: Stricter calculation of additional time and Goalkeeper holding the ball. Here
referees will be directed to stop the clock whenever incidents such as a goal, penalty,
injury or substitution take place and enforce the six seconds rule when goalkeepers are
in possession. Other strategies listed as part of PLAY FAIR!
include: Self-passing at a free kick, corner kick and goal kick. This idea, which would
allow a fouled player to continue playing directly after a foul, was part of the original
1863 Laws of the Game. Further options include: Moving ball at goal kick and Goal kick position.
These would rethink the existing parameters of the sport at the point of a goalkeeper
restarting play. Elsewhere, more dramatic policy changes have
also been outlined, for example: Effective playing time (EPT). This centres on stopping
the clock whenever the ball is out of play and could result in a match consisting of
two periods of 30 minutes rather than 45. “Such a radical change would not only mean
that there would be less point in players wasting time but would also mean that in a
competition every club would play exactly the same amount of EPT,” explained The IFAB.
Another option is: Stadium clocks. This would provide a direct and accurate visualisation
for fans to the referee’s official match calculations. However, in an interview with Tifo, The IFAB
explained that their immediate priority at the upcoming AGM in Aberdeen would centre
on “simple and immediate measures”, namely the potentially mandatory introduction of
one specific strategy: Substitutions. This commands substituted players to leave the
field of play by the nearest boundary rather than at the halfway line and has already been
successfully trialled globally. Elsewhere, the organisation, which includes
four British football associations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and
FIFA, remain focussed on the landmark recent introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR)
and seeking to build greater education about the laws of the game to the sport’s global
audience. The IFAB told Tifo: “Our goal has always
been and will continue to be the development of the Laws of the Game and how the game is
played, based on ‘what football wants’. But we also want to ensure the image of the
game can improved by focusing any relevant amendments on the behaviour and fairness on
the field of play.”

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