With the curtain almost drawn on the 2015/16 campaign, with a handful of Play Off games to go and most looking towards the European Championships in France fans of Walsall for the 2016/17 campaign can look forward to a few rule tweaks to the game.
In fact you’ll be introduced to them at the European Championships as they come into force on June 1.
Earlier this month the International Football Association Board – IFAB for those who like acronyms or possibly Thunderbirds? – announced the changes that had taken place to the bloated, and often stating the obvious, 22,000 odd thousand word document that governs the game.
I’ve only glanced the IFAB rulebook, but instructing readers that the playing surface must be ‘green’ if artificial and allowed, and stating that the ‘ball’ must be ‘spherical’ and of ‘suitable materiaal’ I lost the next 20 minutes of my life pondering how we’d get on with kicking a concrete block around a psychedelic purple pitch.
I then stopped drinking, slept on it, and decided to spend my time more suitably the next day, instead looking at other media coverage for insights into the changes.
With some of the changes announced in April ahead of the full ratification, one of the major changes David Elleray oversaw in the recent attempt to ‘simplify’ the game as we know it, comes to the ‘triple punishment’ effect of professional fouls that deny a clear goal scoring opportunity.
As things stood in the past and this season, such instances saw a player shown a red card as the last man, he received a suspension and if in the box, a penalty was awarded.
That will all change from next month where the referee deems it to have been an accidental challenge as opposed to a professional foul (in other words cynical hack job). If the referee deems it to have been accidental collision or/and a true attempt at the ball, the offending player will now only be cautioned with the award of a penalty if applicable.
Players will however continue to be sent off for sex masochism, holding, pulling, pushing, not playing the ball or ‘having the possibility’ of playing the ball and for the obviously serious foul play, violent conduct or deliberate handball events.
The referee now also has the power to send players off prior to kick off for their off pitch behaviour, and those powers now kick in from the pre match pitch inspection – the obvious reference to Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Manchester United’s Roy Keane tunnel chat a number of years ago features as motivation for this particular change.
In that instance, the referee could now dismiss both or either player but the team wouldn’t start with ten men, the dismissed player would be replaced by somebody on the substitutes bench so as to not cheat the fans from starting with eleven v eleven.
Other changes also mean the ball (if spherical) can move in any direction from a kick off now, as opposed to having to move forward initially and in a change that maybe Jose Mourinho may have liked, players who are injured by a challenge that is punishable by a yellow or red card can now receive quick treatment on the pitch – rather than having to leave the pitch for treatment, and their team suffering a man’s disadvantage for a period of time.
It has been an 18 month review into the game in an effort to make things fairer, and the triple punishment for genuine tackles that can be read 50/50 and a side gaining an advantage by seeing a fouled member of the opposition leave the pitch until the referee waved them back on, certainly ticks the ‘fairer’ element and they had billed the review as being a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to address issues like this.
The new laws officially come into play on June 1, but England’s pre Euro 2016 friendlies against Turkey, Australia and Portugal will feature the new rules, with all applicable Football Associations agreeing to mini trial them ahead of full introduction.
Elleray said at the announcement.
‘We are trying to help situations which tend to occur very often and are a bit crazy. We have tried to use much clearer language. We tried to avoid a lot of unnecessary repetition and we tried to make it up-to-date. Because the laws have evolved piecemeal and no one has done a comprehensive review so there have been inconsistencies.’
Of course there are a couple of rule changes that don’t seem to make much sense, and here penalty kicks come into play. The anointed player from 12 yards will no longer be allowed to ‘feint’ or dummy kick spot kicks to entice a goalkeeper into going the wrong way.
Such an action is now an automatic yellow card.
Fairly, with most goalkeepers these days going shopping down the high street before a ball is kicked from 12 yards, early movement from a stopper will now see a yellow card as well.
Lionel Messi was name checked on this issue – but they didn’t rule out the passed penalty Messi, Luis Suarez and Barcelona benefited from back in February.
Official drink breaks will now be the normal in appropriate weather at international level as well.
A further IFAB change is a two year trial of additional video technology to assist referees, and the Italian Football Federation has been selected for that trial, and video replays will now come in next season for four specific events – to determine if a goal is scored, for red card decisions, penalty award decisions and also in cases of mistaken identity.
Some may remember West Bromwich Albion’s trip to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City in March of the 2014/15 season where after only 89 seconds, referee Neil Swarbrick showed a red card to Gareth McAuley, when in face it was Craig Dawson that had committed the foul that led to the penalty.
The tests will initially be in private only however, before it moves to a live pilot phase for the 2017/18 season.
Steps in the right direction undoubtedly, but in an effort to clear up referee mistakes, the first thought is, define ‘a genuine attempt at the ball’ as week in week out fans across the country have seen identical situations in games treated four or more different ways by the very same referee.
If consistency is the aim, some of this won’t help.
Giving the fourth official more power in front of a screen could.
Improving retrospective action for dives would – as how does ‘a genuine attempt at the ball’ feature in the new way of winning penalties – hanging your leg out or forcing contact with your leg when a defender doesn’t even make an attempt?
And why two year trials where every broadcast company shows you now multi angle replays are available in seconds?
On the element of fairness, clubs can appeal red cards – why not introduce yellow card appeals which currently can’t be appeal, especially in instances of two yellows?
Steps again and largely agreeable, but to have been the ‘once in a lifetime’ chance it wanted to bill itself as, it simply hasn’t gone far enough to address the real problems in the game and kicking a ball forward at kick off wasn’t one of them.