Football is the world’s most popular sport. Yet, it is certainly not perfect. In order to stay fresh and continue to grow, football needs to be constantly revamping itself. Every year, we expect talented young players to break through the ranks and become stars, big money transfers to shake up domestic leagues, and underdog teams to surprise by challenging for silverware.
But with all of the changes that occur within football each year, one aspect of the beautiful game remains perpetually stagnant- the rules. Despite football’s apparent apathy towards rule changes, here are two suggestions which I believe would help football move forward and also bring it in line with the world’s other major professional sports.
First, the time has come to remove the three substitute rule and to allow teams to utilize all seven of their substitutes. Second, teams should be forced to ensure that at least four of the eighteen matchday squad members are 21 years of age or less. With these two changes, football can become safer, smarter, and savvier as it promotes health, wellness, and youth football while also maintaining the aspects which make it the greatest game on the planet.
Let us first consider football’s long-held three substitutes rule. This rule undoubtedly has its advantages. Firstly, it requires managers to be cunning and strategic. They must understand how the game is going and be able to use their substitutes to their advantage but must also ensure that they do not use up all of the their substitutes too early in the match, or risk having their side play with 10 men should a player become injured. Furthermore, the rule limits stoppages within the game and ensures that the flow of the match remains intact.
However, football is not about manager’s strategies or game time stoppages; it is about the players. Eliminating the three substitutes rule and allowing managers to use all seven of their substitutes would give more players the opportunity to play on a weekly basis and demonstrate their skills to other clubs.
Furthermore, this rule change would ensure that a team is not forced to play a man down simply because a player gets injured after his team has used all of its substitutions. Player safety should always be the sport’s number one priority, and by forcing teams to decide between playing a man down and having an injured player carry on, teams are putting results above the health of their players. Basketball, Rugby, Cricket, and Hockey all allow substitutions for injury no matter how many have been made previously, and this should undoubtedly also be the case in football. Finally, allowing seven substitutions instead of three would allow managers to experiment even more with team tactics, lineups, and player combinations, making the game more exciting and less predictable for fans and opponents alike.
The second rule change I would make would be that at least four of a team’s eighteen matchday players must be 21 years of age or below. This rule is crucial as it would force clubs to invest in youth rather than simply buying ready-made talent from other clubs. Today, non-affluent clubs often sell their promising young players in order to compile enough money to plug gaps in their current squad. These clubs then spend what resources they have on players who can help their team now, forgoing future success for current survival.
This practice of buying proven talent at the expense of a club’s youth system has led many clubs to overextend themselves in the transfer market, often leading clubs into periods of financial turmoil where they cannot pay the debts they owe. By forcing clubs to include at least four 21 and under players in their matchday squad, clubs would not sell their best young players to get a quick influx of cash but would instead hold on to them, a process which would help both the young player’s development and the club itself. Every club should aspire to have a youth academy like FC Barcelona’s La Masia, and football should focus on promoting clubs with strong youth systems over those who simply spend big on established stars.
With these two changes, football could become safer for players and also increase opportunities for young players coming through the ranks. These changes would be good for football and would indicate to the world that the sport truly is moving into the 21st century.
The problem is that it seems unlikely that these proposals, or any real rule changes for that matter, will be considered in the toxic football climate we finds ourselves in. With FIFA in the midst of scandal and footballing unwilling to embrace change, football fans look to be stuck with the current rules for the time being.
PHOTO 1 / Andrew Lane
PHOTO 2 / Judy Lowe
PHOTO 3 / Charles Smith