Is the tide fi­nally turn­ing against de­fend­ers?

World Soccer - - The World -

I have com­plained be­fore about the prode­fence mind­set that dom­i­nates football think­ing; a neg­a­tive mind­set that ob­vi­ously works against cre­ative, at­tack­ing play.

Yet this de­struc­tive men­tal­ity is re­peat­edly de­fended with the mantra that football is “a con­tact sport”. Not long ago the Pro­fes­sional Game Match Of­fi­cials, rep­re­sent­ing the English Premier League’s ref­er­ees, felt it nec­es­sary to point out that “phys­i­cal con­tact is an ac­cept­able part of football”.

Ac­cept­able, yes – but only within very strict lim­its. Rule 12 sin­gles out seven ac­tions, all of which in­volve con­tact, and bans them if they are com­mit­ted in a reck­less – or even care­less – man­ner. With kick­ing, strik­ing and trip­ping, even the at­tempt to com­mit them is pun­ish­able. The rule­book also bans hold­ing or “im­ped­ing an op­po­nent with con­tact”.

It could not be clearer that football’s rules are in­tended to se­verely limit phys­i­cal con­tact. That is an ap­proach light years away from that of the “football is a con­tact sport” pro­po­nents. Rugby, grid­iron football, box­ing and wrestling are con­tact sports. They can­not be played two years late. Tele­vi­sion re­plays have ex­posed the ram­pant hold­ing, shirt-pulling and grap­pling that goes on in the build-up to corner kicks. Ref­er­ees fre­quently in­ter­vene be­fore the kick, fee­bly telling play­ers to be­have them­selves. Some­times play­ers are pun­ished. But when that hap­pens, the pro-de­fence bias kicks in.

We know, thanks to those TV re­plays, that ev­ery­one in the penalty area, at­tack­ers and de­fend­ers alike, are break­ing the rules. If the ref­eree calls a foul, it would surely be log­i­cal to ex­pect half of the de­ci­sions to go against the at­tack­ers, and the other half to be penalty kicks against the de­fend­ers. But it has al­ways go­ing to be a farce”.

We have been lis­ten­ing to this dooms­day ar­gu­ment for years, but Crouch him­self sees that his fears are il­log­i­cal when he spec­u­lates that the new pol­icy “will soon erad­i­cate it – you won’t have any hold­ing be­cause you don’t want to give a penalty away”.

The EPL’s new pol­icy is to be wel­comed. Not only be­cause it em­pha­sises the in­tegrity of the sport and its rules, but also be­cause it marks an im­por­tant re­treat from the long-stand­ing pro-de­fence bias of ref­er­ee­ing.

What is needed now is for FIFA and IFAB to clamp down glob­ally as the Premier League is do­ing in Eng­land.

Free-for-all...Burn­ley (in claret) and Chelsea play­ers get to grips with one an­other ahead of an in­com­ing cor­ner

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