A few weeks ago I was reading ESPN the magazine and there was a feature about rules they’d like changed in sport and they picked up on penalty shootouts. They said it was an unfair way to end a game as it was not a proper representation of what had happened during the match. Many people agree and want penalty shootouts abolished (including England fans come World Cup time). Recently, Bayern Munich manager Louis Van Gaal has called for the abolition of the penalty shootout.
Van Gaal proposed playing ‘gladiatorial’ extra-time instead. "If extra-time is required following a draw, it should consist of two 15-minute periods with each team losing a man every five minutes. After 95 minutes ten would play against ten, after 100 minutes nine on nine. From the 115th minute it would only be six on six”
"Then only the best team would secure the win – and not just a single player through a penalty.”
If there is still no result after 120 minutes, a golden goal would decide the game.
He’s not alone in proposing some changes. Many people have their own ideas on how a game should be ended. There’s a website which lists some alternatives, some are ridiculous but it’s worth a look.
Most people seem to have settled on playing ‘sudden death’ extra-time as the best alternative. Playing extra-time until someone scores seems sensible enough but you have to remember players are usually tired out by then. Many periods of extra-time are basically just two teams trotting about waiting fir a shootout, too exhausted to play the exciting, attacking football people want to see. Remember the 2006 FA Cup final? Extra-time was basically two teams walking, shuffling and limping about with players badly suffering with cramp. Liverpool’s Djibril Cisse’s had a terrible case of cramp and could hardly move, with all of Liverpool’s substitutes used in the pursuit of an equaliser in normal time, Cisse had to play on with bandaging on the back of his thigh that caused John Motson to declare that he’d “never seen cramp treated with a strap-on before!” Rather than being the exciting spectacle some people think, many extra-time’s are really boring.
Imagine Van Gaal’s vision of extra-time coming to fruition. I’ve no idea how he thinks 6 men per team are going to be able to cover the same amount of ground as 11 men without requiring oxygen. Also he may have forgotten that a tem needs a minimum of 7 players to be able to play according to the rules. I think that’s one of those ideas that sound good until you stop and think about it.
Golden Goal was supposed to be the answer to dull extra-times. That was when the first team that scored won, like NFL or Hockey. Problem was, instead of promoting attacking play like it was suppose to, what actually happened was nobody wanted to take any chances at all as the consequences of conceding a goal were so great. So what you got was 30 minutes of nobody doing anything attacking at all (Rafa Benitez calls this the ‘good old days’!).
Silver goal was then tried. That was when if a team was leading after the first extra-time period, they won the match. That fizzled out too as once again nobody wanted to take any chances by going forward and potentially leaving yourselves exposed to a break.
I love penalty shootouts. I think they are an exciting, entertaining way to end a game. It’s maybe a bit of a lottery but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I’d say it’s far better and more dignified for a team to lose on penalties than to lose by an exhausted player making a mistake. It’s probably the only way a team can lose and keep their heads held high. It's a way of giving a match a result without anyone really losing.
I reject the idea that it’s unfair on players who don’t normally take penalties. Every player is capable of taking a penalty. If a player is incapable of kicking a ball 12 yards they don’t belong on a pitch.
I also like the symmetry a penalty shootout brings to a match. For 120 minutes two teams have been unable to separate themselves physically. Shootouts are a way of testing the mental strength of a player. Shootouts require both skill and nerve.
One of the criticisms of shootouts is that they encourage some teams to play for them from the start. Red Star Belgrade did this in the 1991 European Cup Final. Here in England, some lower league teams do this in the FA Cup, which sometimes produce the upsets that everyone loves.
Well so what? Teams play negatively all the time. It’s a perfectly legitimate tactic. I don’t like to see it but there’s nothing wrong with it. If a team thinks that their best chance of winning is by penalties, then good luck to them, but they have to remember there’s a pretty good chance they will lose. Switzerland went out of the last World Cup to Ukraine in a shootout after the most boring display by two football teams I’ve ever seen. Both teams showed no ambition and played for penalties from the start. Some people say that its unfair Switzerland went out without conceding a goal in the whole tournament, I say it’s their own fault for playing for not trying to win.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that he doesn’t want another World Cup final decided on penalties so we may see a change in the rules soon. I for one will be very sorry to see the end of penalties.
Do you have any better ideas than the shootout? I'd love to read them.