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Creating A Beautiful Game

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by Floyd Maxwell

Soccer: Creating A Beautiful Game

"The Beautiful Game" is a great game for the lower classes.

When all you need to play a sport is a ball...that doesn't even have to be a ball... then you can count on the poorest of people playing it everywhere.

Not surprisingly, soccer is big business in some parts of the world. Achieving this status somewhat by default -- it was competing against cricket, after all -- the future of soccer will ultimately be determined more by its merits alone.

Soccer is a game of contradictions

Outside of North America, soccer is top dog. Inside North America, soccer is about on a par with the PBA (i.e. 10-pin bowling).

American football is worth about $100 billion. The Professional Bowlers Association was purchased, in its entirety, by 3 former Microsoft executives in the year 2000.

Still, every four years, soccer makes the sports section front pages. Millions find themselves watching soccer matches, getting excited and then? Fizzle.

The Beautiful Also-Ran

Soccer perpetually promises, then disappoints.

Nationalistic to the point of childishness, the World Cup doesn't help.

So why does soccer always fail to catch on in North America?

The Unchanging Game

I wonder if there is a game that has changed less over the years than soccer.

Even the equipment is hundreds of years old.

Cleats? Over 400 years old.

Soccer ball? 150 years old.

Net? Cuju had nets 1,800 years old.

The problems

Problem #1. Soccer is boring.

Problem #2. Soccer is unfair.

Problem #3. Soccer is poorly presented to fans.

At least it has shaving cream

In 2014, soccer is finally showing signs of change.

Players faking injuries are required to leave the field, at least until the next whistle.

Penalty kicks now have the kick point, and the 10-yard-gap, defined with temporary foam.

But still no beauty.

When Messi shines, the game will shine

In July, 2014, "538 dot com" featured an article on Lionel Messi.

In it, Benjamin Morris scientifically compared Messi with his peers -- everyone who currently plays in the Premier league.

Messi came out on top.

So far on top that the writer called him "impossible".

Yet at the World Cup, Messi had just one goal prior to this year.

Looking out for Number Ten

Gretzky had Dave Semenko. A hockey "goon", Dave's job began when somebody hit Gretzky too hard. As a fan, I'm glad Dave was on the team.

Messi has nothing and no one.

Opponents can foul Messi all day long. After colliding, jostling, shoving and kicking him, the judges of soccer will graciously award Mr. Messi that priceless invention of soccer: the "free kick".

What about other sports?

In baseball, when you commit a foul -- like running outside the base path, for example -- you are out. Talk back to an official and you are out of the game itself. Fouling does not benefit you in any way.

In football, when you commit a foul -- like jumping offside or holding onto a player when you are not allowed to -- your side loses yards, or a down. If the other team had the ball, your foul means they can take the penalty yards, or redo the down -- their pick. Fouling does not benefit you in any way.

In hockey, when you commit a foul -- like grabbing the other guy, or pushing him into the boards, or hitting him with your stick -- you get a two minute penalty. During that time, your team is playing one player short. Your side has four players, while the other side has five. Fouling does not benefit you in any way.

In tennis, you commit a foul -- like smashing your raquet in frustration -- you get a warning. Do it again and you lose a point. Do it a third time, and your match is over. Fouling does not benefit you in any way.

Then there is the "beautiful" game...

Ouch, that's an expensive free kick

In soccer, if you kick your opponent in the shins, but he still has the ball, then absolutely nothing happens. Provided it was an "accident".

If it is deemed to have been done on purpose, you receive the largest foul of any sport -- the red card.

This kicks you right out of the game. Like other sports.

But it also leaves your team one man short for the rest of the match. Unlike any other sport.

Squeezing the referee into a corner

Is there a worse sports job than soccer referee?

I don't think so.

There have been numerous cases of soccer referees being attacked by fans, and even killed.

Forward, or die

It would not be the end of the world for soccer to disappear.

New sports, from Ultimate Frisbee to snowmobile "freestyle", are appearing all the time. Life would go on.

Those wanting soccer to be part of Earth's future had better embrace the "C" word, and the sooner the better.

Change is a beautiful thing

Let's start with a "clean sheet", and re-write the game of soccer.

#1. Stop the clock

Reason: Every other sport stops the clock.

Benefits: (a) fans get a break, (b) fans get to see a replay of that last great play, (c) non-play is identified as such, (d) the "stoppage time" lunacy is done away with entirely, (e) announcers get a break so that they regain the energy needed to be interesting.

#2. Change the offside rule

Reason: Soccer currently awards non-play

Benefits: (a) more chances for the offense to score, (b) less emphasis on passive defense, (c) less emphasis on the referees.

#3. Add more rungs to the "foul" ladder

Reason: The soccer penalty ladder is missing rungs

Benefits: (a) cheaters lose, (b) fans get to watch more and better soccer, (c) truly great soccer players shine.

#4. Stiffen the penalty for diving

Reason: Many of soccer's "star players" should be in Hollywood

Benefits: (a) fans get to watch more soccer, (b) cheaters do not gain from cheating, (c) players staying on the turf are more likely to be truly injured and so will be cared for accordingly.

#5. Increase the number of possible substitutions

Reason: Soccer limits substitutions, for no known reason

Benefits: (a) fans get to watch players playing at their best, (b) genuinely injured, and especially concussed, players can be immediately removed from the game (c) without injuries hurting their team's chances of winning, (d) soccer ability becomes more important than the size of a player's lungs.

#6. Change to sudden death overtime

Reason: Determining who wins a game with penalty kicks, at the World Cup level, tarnishes the game

Benefits: (a) fans get to see their hero win the game, (b) the game ends with a dynamic soccer play, rather than a static "set piece" that is perhaps the most one-side "set piece" in the history of sports.


1 - The soccer clock is shameful

While watching the World Cup this year, I realized that soccer needs to stop the clock.

I want to be able to take a break while a game is on.

Announcers do too.

Players have found a solution -- faking an injury. If this was "professional" wrestling, such stoppages might be a good thing. To a 12-year-old.

It destroys the watchability of the game, of course, but it turns out the damage (and corruption) goes much deeper than you might think.

Basically, there is no relationship between stoppages in a soccer game, and the amount of stoppage time added at the end of each half. [More]

The average game has more than 30 minutes of stoppages, but awards less than 10 minutes of stoppage time. How could soccer mess this up so badly?

So get rid of this problem entirely -- take the clock away from the on-field referees. Clearly they can't be trusted.

The clock stops when the ball is not in play. Period.

2 - Why are offsides so counter-productive?

(a) Why do offsides affect half the field of play?

In football, they affect the scrimmage line only. And only before the play begins!

In hockey, offsides are confined to a blue line. Cross that line after the puck and you are golden.

Yet in soccer, the offside region is up to half the length of the field. A 50 yard wide line? Really? What are they trying to prevent with this? Exciting play?

(b) Why can offsides happen in the middle of a corner kick?

In football, offsides can not occur once the ball is in play.

In hockey, offsides can not occur once play is inside the blue line -- a substantial area (actually two of them, each) comprising about one-third of the total ice surface.

In soccer, an offside can occur immediately after a penalty kick. When one player on the offensive team passes the ball to another player on the offensive team. I would love to hear the official reason for this...

(c) Why can't a soccer offside be like a hockey offside?

(i) That would mean there is a offside line about one-third of the field away from the goal. The ball has to cross this line first. Once crossed safely, the line no longer exists. Unless the ball comes outside the line again.

(ii) The soccer goalie's crease would become like a hockey crease -- No Man's Land for offensive players. Or, like in basketball, attackers could only be "in the paint" for x seconds at a time. And it would be decreased to a yard or two deep. Outside of that area offsides would not be possible.

3 - Ditch the foul penalty system

Soccer currently has (a) advantage, (b) free kick, (c) yellow card and (d) red card penalties.

It is a pathetic, cheaters prosper, system. Just like in basketball. Why does this situation persist?

At least bring it up to rugby's level. In other words, add a penalty time out system. You foul someone at a low level, you are sent to the penalty box and your team plays one man short.

A real penalty with real drawbacks leads to less thuggery.

While you are at it, get rid of the yellow/red cards entirely. For more serious fouls, add a second level of time out -- like hockey does. Level one is for a minute or two, and ends if a goal is scored. Level two is for five minutes, and does not end if a goal is scored.

Level three means the offending player is kicked out of the game but teams play at full strength. If a level three foul warrants it, an additional time out penalty (and/or penalty kick) can be served first.

These changes are so obvious there is little more that needs to be said about them.

4 - Dive your way to the showers

Soccer players rolling around on the pitch is not why I watch soccer. I doubt it is why any fan watches soccer. So why does it persist?

Let's attack the business of diving on several fronts.

(a) if you fall to the ground, the play is automatically reviewed by off-the-field officials. If they find you faked your fall, you serve a 2-minute penalty timeout. Fake a dive again, or dive flagrantly, and you get a 5-minute "major" timeout. Third dive sends you to the showers.

(b) the clock stops during falls/dives.

(c) assess financial fines and even game suspensions at any time (including long after the game has ended) for flagrant diving.

(d) to be fair, introduce timeouts -- like every other sport. Three timeouts per half seems reasonable. The coach decides when they are called.

5 - Embrace substitutions

Soccer's 3-substitute limit is one of the most bizarre constraints in any professional sport.

How did it ever get started, let alone persist all these years?

Sports are all about the fan. Having played many sports when I was exhausted, I know that I don't want to watch exhausted players.

Exhaustion leads to mistakes, injuries...and draws. Boring.

The modern concern surrounding concussions should be reason enough to remove this limit.

It says a lot about soccer -- and none of it good -- that soccer hasn't upped the 3-substitute limit, or removed it entirely.

6 - Sudden death reigns supreme

Soccer used to have a golden goal. Scored in overtime, it was the absolute game winner. Can you believe they got rid of this?

Bring back the Golden Goal.

Keep the two 15 minute halves of extra time. Call it overtime like everyone else does. And stop the clock when the ball is not in play, just like everybody else does.

If the game still ends in a tie, resolve it with penalty kicks.


Hail to the chief!

Soccer is not the king of sports these days. But it could be.

Luckily the sport does have an emperor -- Lionel Messi.

Dubbed "The Flea", Messi has elevated the game to an unparalleled extent, despite its massive flaws.

No wonder Benjamin Morris declares that:

Lionel Messi is impossible.  Itís not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it.  Itís not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals.  Itís not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones.  Itís not possible to lead the worldís forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others.  And itís certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.  But Messi does all of this and more.
- Source

Surprisingly, many Argentinians do not think that Messi is even the greatest Argentinian to have ever played the game. Once again, Ben has a great read on this.

Beauty for all to behold

Over the past few years there have been numerous stories of soccer hooligans. Doesn't it seem reasonable that if the game were made more fair and interesting, that the fans would be less annoyed? Either that or just beef up the security staff, I suppose.

One sport not yet mentioned is, like rugby, another kindred sport to soccer: Cricket. Cricket might be a perfectly designed game. The only major change to the game has been to limit most games to 40 "overs" -- i.e. 240 "pitches" per side -- to set a limit on how long a game can be played.

While we wait for soccer to get its act together, let's enjoy Messi the Maestro. Here are three of the greatest soccer highlight compilations I have ever watched:

Top 50 Lionel Messi goals

Lionel Messi - The King of Dribbling

Lionel Messi - The King of Dribbling 2



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