Thursday, October 8, 2015

Talking Football

Fixing soccer at the knockout stage... 

One of great disappointments of modern ‘cup’ soccer tournaments is the need to resort to a penalty shootout to get a result, after the match (and extra time) results in a draw.

And the frequency of this resort being called into play is increasing, as the average number of goals being scored in top level football matches is decreasing.

Several solutions have been proposed to address the problem, including both:
 - a ‘golden goal’ concept – ‘next goal wins’ back when you were a kid, and;
 - reducing by one the number of players on the field at set intervals, heightening the speed of play and the likelihood of a resulting goal, until a set interval concludes with one team in front.

However, I have a better solution – elegant and simple – that involves no new innovations, no changes beyond changing the order of events.

In a nutshell: have the penalty shootout BEFORE the game, and award a ‘half-goal’ to whichever team wins the shootout.

Then, when the game begins, a result at full-time is assured: since it’s not possible to score another half-goal, one team will be in front of the other by at least a half a goal at fulltime. To win the game, the team that lost the penalty shootout needs to finish in front, the team that won the penalty shootout needs to preserve (or improve) its half-goal advantage.

It’s that simple.

It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s a lot closer to perfect than the current system and the anti-climax it generates.

By reversing the order of the two components, the ‘mini-climax’ now serves as an introduction to the main narrative of the story, which in turn and unlike before is much more likely to lead to a climactic outcome, as every closely fought contest generates a result. Much more dramatic, more in tune with the mechanics of modern storytelling.


Some time has passed, and of course, anything to do with soccer draws a stronger response than most topics.

Responses fall into three categories:

1.       The positive, pretty much just positive about the idea, yeah, and like, waiting for some giant of the game to run with it

2.       The negative:
a.       “I like penalty shootouts.” Okay….
b.      Starting a half goal ahead means one team will be on the defensive from the outset, protecting a small but meaningful advantage. In response I’m inclined to say ‘so?’ And the other team will be just as much on the offensive! Couldn’t this mean that the level of tension in the game overall is higher, as there’s no zero sum game on offer. It might change tactics a little, but..

3.       The alternative, the ‘scoring corner’, was suggested to me today, sparking this rejoinder: Instead of a ‘half goal differential’ at the start, score a hundred points for each goal, and a single point for each corner earned. This would give the win to the team with the most goals, and in the case where the number of goals is equal, give the win to the team which forced its opponent back over its own goal line most often. Is that fair? Is it too complicated? Is it still soccer, given that it might seriously change the nature of the game any time the total scores are very close, as players would be aiming to deflect the ball off an opponent and over their goal line, to secure the single point that could determine victory, while defenders have to balance the cost of a corner versus that of a potential goal? Alternatively, might the same play-to-a-draw situation not be repeated in miniature, like a Mandelbrot set?

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