Despite the European Super League proposals being loathsome, they did contain one valid argument : football needs to change and innovate if it is to continue to prosper. Even if you’re the biggest sport in the world, standing still isn’t an option. Not if you want millions of the ever more demanding younger generations to become ‘legacy fans’.
With this in mind, here are our top 5 recommendations for improving football.
- Matches need to be more entertaining and, in particular, there need to be more goals.
This is the most important recommendation. Put bluntly – and in language that corporates can understand – if the product ain’t right then, eventually, you won’t have any ‘customers’ (aka fans). And, yes, there are still plenty of entertaining matches and the players are faster and more skilful than ever. But defences are much fitter and defensive structures are much better organised. Meaning there is a lot of dull play and not enough goals or goal mouth action.
One solution is to make it easier to score and below we suggest two ways to do this : bigger goals (controversial we know but please read the arguments) and a simplification / tweak to the offside rule.
- The competitive outcome needs to be more uncertain i.e. more clubs need to be able win major trophies
One of the beauties of football is that the outcomes of individual matches are never certain – upsets are always possible. However the outcomes of many competitions, particularly leagues such as the Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and La Liga, is becoming increasingly predictable. Even the Champions League has only had 4 winners in the past 9 years – and they were all teams which had previously won it on numerous occasions (Real Madrid (13 wins in total), Liverpool (6), Bayern Munich (6) and Barcelona (5))
It is simply not possible to keep growing a sport where the pool of potential winners is so small and where the winners are, in the case of some competitions, effectively known in advance.
Achieving greater uncertainty will be difficult as it will presumably mean redistributing income and/or imposing a salary cap. But it is vital – both to everyone’s enjoyment of the competitions in question and to future growth.
- Club finances need to be run on a sustainable basis
One of the key drivers behind the ESL was the fact that the so called big clubs have run up massive losses over the years and are many are now heavily in debt. And this despite their revenues having increased enormously in recent years.
In some cases debts have been incurred as result of building new stadiums or the way in which a club has been bought. But for many it’s the case that they simply pay their players – and the players’ agents – an unsustainable amount.
How can this be addressed – especially given that above we argue for revenues to be split more equally between participating cubs? We’d recommend the authorities look at :
- A salary cap (likely to be one of the most effective tools in increasing the number of clubs with a chance to win trophies)
- Banning the use of debt – secured against the club’s future revenue – to fund take-overs. (If you want to buy a club, go ahead. But use your own money.)
- Banning payments to agents. (If players want to use agents then they can pay them out of their own earnings – like they do in almost every other branch of the entertainment industry.)
- Don’t rely on Financial Fair Play regulations – they simply entrenched the pre-existing hierarchy.
- Make the Goals Bigger
We know this is a controversial one – but we think it’s one of the simplest ways to increase the numbers of goals scored. Something that we believe is both necessary and highly desirable given that World Cup scoring has decreased from a high of 5.4 goals per game in 1954 to 2.6 goals per game in 2018. (In the English 1st Division / Premiership, 4.63 goals per game were scored in 1889-90, 3.95 goals/game in 1930-31 and 2.72 goals/game in 2019-20. The low of 2.36 goals/ game was in 1970-71.)
But isn’t this just artificially tampering with the rules to make the game more exciting? Not really when you think about. The current size of the goal was standardised a long time ago when goal-keepers were, on average, significantly smaller. Increasing the size of the goal would simply take us back to the original goalie – goal frame ratio.
You’d need to experiment to identify the optimal size but we think widening the goals by the width of the current goalposts and heightening the goals by the width of the current cross bar might be a good place to start. (In other words, shots that now hit the bar / goal posts would be goals.)
- Simplify and tweak the offside law
Even with the introduction of VAR there is endless controversy about offside decisions. Basing offside decisions purely on the position of players’ feet would greatly simplify and improve the law. No longer would there be any argument about whether a knee or head was offside as they simply wouldn’t count.
In fact, we’d even like to go further and suggest that an attacker would only be offside if their feet were fully in front of the defender’s feet. Any overlap would mean the attacker was onside.
These may sound like technicalities but we believe they would significantly assist attacking play and increase the number of goals scored.