Gunner Thoughts

Completing the league shouldn’t cost the integrity of the game

Lots of solutions have been proposed, but each highlights a different priority. Whatever the solution, it shouldn’t alter the game itself.

The world is in an unsettled place. People are cooped up, routines are feeling like ruts, and solutions to problems aren’t being suggested – at least not quick enough. It’s a story that doesn’t differ much when it comes to football and it’s beginning to leave people anxious to find a solution to wrapping up the season. The question that should be asked is, “at what cost?”

As of today, Sky reported that Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) chief executive Gordon Taylor has raised the possibility that halves may be shorter than 45 minutes as discussions continue about the Premier League’s return.

Add it to the list of options, preferably toward the bottom, and it can be considered. But before one can be selected the league will have to openly rank their priorities in justifying their decision.

List of goals:

  1. Concludes season
  2. Player Safety
  3. Maintain Integrity of the game
  4. Fairness to clubs
  5. Timely Fashion

Many have come to the acceptance that a final solution will likely be unable to meet all of these requirements and will result in more than one club feeling as though they have drawn the short end of the stick. However, each proposed solution will clearly display where the league’s priorities lie and, more and more, seem to move player safety and the game’s integrity further down the list to prioritize having everything complete in a timely fashion.

Solutions seem to be aimed at having this issue dealt with as soon as possible and some of these solutions now involve altering the game, risking players, or are just a bit “morally gray” – as modern football seems to demand of supporters.

Gordon Taylor told BBC Radio, “They’re not stupid, they will put safety first”, but that hardly seems achievable if they intend to restart the season close to in line with the Bundesliga’s return date of May 15th

For that matter, who’s safety is being put first? In order to restart and monitor player’s health there is talks of needing thousands of tests when we live in a world where the general public may not even have access to the tests they actually need. Clearly the message sent would be that these athlete’s safety ranks above the general population’s. This hardly feels appropriate when it comes to solving the issues of a game. As for the idea of reducing the actual time of each half, we see a clear intent to rush through games and reach a conclusion in which teams have played their games, but at the cost of the game itself.

Football is accustomed to rule changes and alterations, there are a handful each year. After all, it was only 1992 when the back-pass rule was introduced, and goalies could no longer use their hands to pick up a pass from teammates. Something, I myself, often forget existed until I see a clip of a goalie scooping up a pass and firing it to the wings to start a counter.

These changes happen, but in the attempt to find a solution, altering the integrity of the game itself hardly seems like the right, fair, or smart option – even in a pinch. Reducing the time of each half will alter the tactics that teams will use, substitution strategy, player fatigue, and actually lends itself to benefitting less technical teams.

Suddenly, teams that settle into low block tactics may only need to remain diligent for 60-80 minutes, giving teams on the ball less opportunity to pull them out of shape and fatigue them. Teams that opt for possession will find themselves needing to be more direct with their play than usual altering their success, and seeing as there is statistically a sharp increase in the percentage of goals scored in the final 15 minutes of a game due to mental and physical fatigue – a solution like this would put quotes or an asterisk by the word fair.

This solution is far from being selected but sheds light on the direction in which ideas are moving. Personally, I find it angling toward forcing an outcome rather than finding the right one over time. It prioritizes having an answer now and eliminates the chance for a natural outcome to reveal itself in the future when everything is truly safe, and clubs and supporters can benefit. While it would alleviate the FA’s headaches to have these games over and done with, they should be reminded that their duties lie in balancing fairness and game’s identity with tending to the league’s longevity. I don’t envy them as the issue is one that is complex but placing a rushed timeline on making a decision seems like a poor priority.

I want sports back just as much as the rest of us, but if it can’t be done safely, without taking away tests from thousands that need it, or without altering the fabric of the game we love to simply reach a conclusion – it is no solution at all.

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