The sad - and sadly predictable - death of a Task Force

By Paul Gardner

The demise of the FIFA Task Force Football 2014 is as sad as it was inevitable.

There is always, about these “improve-the-game” task forces, committees, study groups, whatever, that FIFA and other soccer governing bodies occasionally roll out, a makeshift air right from the start. You have to wonder, immediately, how much thought has gone into the selection of the members. Even more so you have to be suspicious that soccer politics loom large in such appointments.

You can be sure that the groups will be fairly large, so that as many nationalities -- or at least regions -- as possible are represented. The now-dead Task Force 2014 had 22 members. Fourteen of them, or 63%, were from Europe. I do not see how that overwhelming European presence can be justified -- certainly not on soccer grounds -- but it is the usual state of affairs on FIFA committees.

I can see no reason to object to any of the European members -- they included former players Frank Beckenbauer, Bobby Charlton and Fernando Hierro, former referees Massimo Busacca and Peter Mikkelsen. Indeed, it is only when one ponders the absentees that things don’t look so happy. Alongside the European phalanx -- South America numbered only three members -- ex-referee Carlos Alarcon of Paraguay, plus ex-players Pele and Cafu. And from Argentina, World Cup winners in 1978 and 1986, consistent suppliers of the world’s top players? No one.

The inequalities are disturbing, but not enough to rule out the possibility that good things could have resulted from this group, which FIFA president Sepp Blatter charged with addressing “every facet of the game,” its aim being to “improve the attractiveness of soccer.”

But the makeshift aspect evidently took over. At the very first meeting, chairman Franz Beckenbauer was a no show. The USA’s Sunil Gulati took over those duties. Pele didn’t attend any meetings during the group’s three years existence.

There is an oddity here. Pele, one of the greatest of players, has made a habit lately of making almost frivolous statements about the sport and how it should be played. While Beckenbauer, right up there with Pele as a player, had little to offer to the Task Force. In the end a suggestion of Beckenbauer’s will probably go down as the group’s parting recommendation -- and a pretty lame suggestion it was: That teams should line up at the end of a game and shake hands.

Somehow these suddenly appointed committees (this one was created in response to what was seen as a rather lack-luster 2010 World Cup) do not carry conviction, do not excite enthusiasm, neither among the media nor, it seems among their own members.

It was greatly disappointing to hear Beckenbauer kick things off by talking about goal line technology and additional referees -- both topics that had already undergone extensive study. There are other aspects of soccer that need to be looked at. In particular, considering the group’s specified aim of increasing the attractiveness of the game, there is the crucial matter of goalscoring.

To my mind that should have been the No. 1 concern. But trying to increase goalscoring -- or, to put it more practically, trying to slacken the grip that defensive play has on the sport -- is not a narrowly focused, one-issue problem, like GLT. It is a more complicated matter that involves every aspect of the game -- coaches, players, referees, the rules -- it is, in short an absolutely fundamental issue. It goes to the very core of what sort of game we want soccer to be.

Yet this is precisely the sort of almost philosophical issue that the sport seems afraid of dealing with. One possible reason why the Task Force was not taken too seriously is because its activities could be seen as merely duplicating those of another already-existing FIFA group -- the FIFA Football Committee. This has as its duty to “deal with general issues of soccer, but primarily with its structure ...” An ambiguous statement, which might mean merely administrative matters. But I think not.

The composition of the committee follows the standard FIFA formula for European dominance (its chairman is Michel Platini of France, and 8 of its 24 other members are Europeans), but over half its members are ex-players or coaches, strongly suggesting that matters on the field are the prime concern.

But even this group -- which is a standing committee (one which includes both Beckenbauer and Pele as “special advisors”) -- has failed to come up with anything particularly helpful. Platini’s pet notion of extra officials has not met with widespread acceptance and anyway would seem to be on the point of being erased by the acceptance of GLT.

But neither the dissolution of the Task Force nor the torpor of the Football Committee should spell the end of attempts to effect needed and meaningful changes in soccer. A new type of committee is needed, one that will be taken seriously, one with real authority, a smaller committee with members carefully chosen as soccer people who can think and act wisely on the future of the game. It must be a full-time committee, with competent supporting staff. I believe that such a committee should replace the anachronism known as the International Football Association Board, with its ludicrous guaranteed membership for Northern Ireland and Wales, and its leisurely twice-a-year meetings.

34 comments about "The sad - and sadly predictable - death of a Task Force".
  1. Kent James, November 2, 2012 at 9:31 a.m.

    The best way to increase goalscoring would be to increase the size of the goals. I would suggest a foot higher and a yard wider, though I think it would be worth experimenting. Goals should not be easy, but for the most part, 3-2, or 5-3 games are better than 1-0. Bigger goals would prevent defenses from "packing it in" as they do now, because players could shoot from outside with much greater likelihood of success. In addition to long distance goals being aesthetically pleasing, it would force defenses to defend farther up the field, which would open up space for players like Messi to work those short-passing sequence goals. Philosophically, bigger goals are justified because modern keepers are much bigger and much more agile than were keepers when the goal size was set. Changing the goal size would also not require close monitoring of player behavior (as changes in refereeing or the rules would require), so they would have a more consistent impact (there could be no backsliding, e.g.). How many times have you said to yourself "this game needs a goal to open it up." I'd like to see that happen a bit more often.

  2. Jogo Bonito, November 2, 2012 at 9:51 a.m.

    I would like to see only a few changes. 1) goal-line technology in pro leagues 2) a change of philosophy with linesmen regarding offside calls - every close call should go to the attacking team. In nearly every case the video reply can make the argument that some part of the body was in-line with the last defender. Only 100% obvious offside calls would be made. You will see the game change and room on the field will open up again. 3) Referees will be encouraged to give early yellow cards for mindless sliding tackles where the defender gets leg and not ball. I think is supposed to be the case now, but I still refs shy to caution for some reason.

  3. beautiful game, November 2, 2012 at 10:48 a.m.

    KJ, obviously u neglect to look at a few of issues which result in goals: solid soccer IQ, ability to handle pressure, and efficacy. If these qualities are not present, the goals can be two feet higher and two yards wider with the same results; u also neglect to mention that the modern-era ball is more dynamic and a nightmare to keepers, which in effect, evens out the size & agility factors....Jogo Bonito has a better argument; i would suggest that the off-side rule be changed to "total body advantage" instead of any part of the body. Off=sides would only be flagged when there is clear daylight between the attacker and the last two defenders.

  4. David Mont, November 2, 2012 at 10:54 a.m.

    I don't believe there is any need to change any rules. We need goal-line technology, possibly even replays, but most of all what is needed is enforcement of existing rules. An example: how much shirt pulling and grabbing goes on in the box, especially during corner kicks and free kicks around the area? How often does it get called and how many potential goals have been prevented because an attacking player was held? How often penalties are not called because of ostensibly unintentional handballs? Most of those are of course 100% intentional -- players are smart enough to realize that if they can spread their arms, then they can claim that the ball just hit the arm.

  5. Mike Toth, November 2, 2012 at 10:59 a.m.

    Well done. Paul Gardner is right on the ball once again. Scoring goals is obviously the main aim and objective of the game but increasing the size of the goal is not the answer, it would simply diminish the attractiveness. Doing away with offside inside the penalty area should produce desired results without monkeying with the basic attractiveness…

  6. David Mont, November 2, 2012 at 11 a.m.

    And another thing is sending off. If that was enforced according to the letter of the law, we would have multiple send-offs in each game. Do we want that? Of course, no, but if the threat was real, the game would've opened up considerably.

  7. Lou vulovich, November 2, 2012 at 2:10 p.m.

    Paul great job. The real problem is the refereeing at soccer at every level, tactical fouls are never punished physical play borderline dirty, is always overlooked by referees. Skilled players are always at a disadvantage as referees will always make calls not according to the rules but at the referees discretion always giving the advantage to the physical player defender. This style ensures the continued success of western European teams who control the soccer world. The problem is not the goal size or the offside rule, it is simple give the advantage to the offensive player, not the players committing foul after foul, German, Dutch, British, with this style of physical soccer, skilled creative players are not needed. What dominates soccer is tactics. See Mourinho, Mancini and the fact that so many Italian coaches are coaching at high International levels. Emphasis is not on beautiful soccer but negative result oriented soccer and the refereeing plays a great role in this crap soccer. See MLS, a country that cannot afford to play ugly hires a English referee to ensure wining in america stays ugly.

  8. Kent James, November 2, 2012 at 4:11 p.m.

    I w Nowozeniuk, I'm not neglecting the things that go into scoring goals, I'm just tired of watching games that include incredibly skilled players (Spain, Barcelona especially) turn into lopsided affairs (possession-wise) that are nail-biting (will they get a goal before time runs out?) but boring (how many times can the ball be passed without making penetration?) affairs. I'm a defender, so I appreciate good defense (and it does win championships), but it's not as entertaining. Your point about the ball is well-taken, but the fact that scores remain lower than they were historically would suggest that a livelier ball is not enough. I'm all for space between players before they're considered off-side (for ease in calling offside in addition to adding a few goals), and I'm certainly in favor of eliminating shirt-pulling, thuggery, etc. But changing how ref's call the game, though always worth pushing, won't be enough. And I'm not suggesting that the goals be made so large that they come easily (which would cheapen the quality of the goal). But I think a goal scored opens up a game more than anything a referee or coach could do (even if we could get coaches and refs to alter their behavior), and I think making the goals slightly larger would add a few goals. I don't think that a goal a foot higher (though I'd be okay trying 6") or 18" wider on each side would suddenly diminish the overall quality of the goals being scored. It may not work, but I think it would be worth a try.

  9. Ramon Creager, November 2, 2012 at 4:13 p.m.

    I think tinkering with goal size and offside rulings doesn't address the fundamental issue. If the goal is made bigger, that might result in more goals, but it might also result in a proliferation of ugly goals. Where is the appeal? Also, making the goal higher will cause problems at the youth levels and amateur levels, and even lower professional levels, where keepers aren't giants and goals do come. So, maybe make goals larger for pros? But making the goals larger for pros makes their game fundamentally different from everyone else's game. I think this is undesirable. One of the appeals is that we all play the same game. As for the offside changes proposed here, defenses will adapt. If it is harder to catch an attacker offside, then we will see the return of the sweeper and a less fluid style. Yuck. I agree with Lou vulovich. Play has been allowed to get too dirty. It has become the "new normal", to the point where I often doubt myself on whether a foul was really a foul. Any number of plays that routinely go unpunished could easily be sanctioned under Law 12, especially these nasty sliding challenges where defenders leave their feet.

  10. Ramon Creager, November 2, 2012 at 4:27 p.m.

    There are a few things I'd like to see addressed. Time wasting. Get on with goal kicks, throw-ins, free-kicks. Players who play the ball into the corner with the clear goal of wasting time should be sanctioned for unsporting conduct. This is about the ugliest, most unsporting and provocative act there is. On subs, if the player being removed is on the other side of the field, have him/her step off the field where s/he is. There are only 3 subs allowed at the professional level, and ARs on both touch lines. Not so hard to keep track of that you must require players to come off at midfield. As for changing refereeing, this *can* be done. Rugby Union has done it. No one argues with the ref in Rugby Union games. I like their idea of the sin-bin as well. Finally, 2 yellows = red but you may be subbed if your team has subs remaining. This would encourage refs to sanction foul play more than they do now. (Serious foul play still is a straight red and no replacement.)

  11. Charles O'Cain, November 2, 2012 at 7:55 p.m.

    Football (soccer to Mr Gardner) remains the most popular team sport in the world, and is doing quite well without any worldwide clamor for any of the changes proposed. So that a "task force" hasn't proposed anything of significance is no surprise. If Mr Gardner is desperate for more goals, there's always the NBA. If intrusive "technology" is desired, the NFL is your model. Leave it alone!

  12. David Mont, November 2, 2012 at 11:20 p.m.

    Charles, is "World Soccer" Mr. Gardner's publication?

  13. Lou vulovich, November 3, 2012 at 2:01 a.m.

    Yes Charles, and England ruled the world, General Motors ruled the auto industry. You must drink a lot or sleep through most matches today. You are correct though, credit to the NBA and the NFL when their game looses excitement or appeal they quickly adapt. FIFA like the old regimes wait and wait and wait. Your point is well taken though Charles wait until it is too late.

  14. Charles O'Cain, November 3, 2012 at 1:23 p.m.

    David and Lou: The focus of this column is undoubtably Mr Gardner's anti-British/anti-Northern European agenda, so I agree I'm uncertain why he is retained by a publication supposedly devoted to American Soccer. American exceptionalism and it's proponents have not been invited to "save" world football, nor are they needed. The world audience for what the world calls football dwarfs the combined audiences for the NFL and NBA , and I don't see that changing EVER! If you can no longer maintain interest, then it is YOUR drinking and sleeping habits I must question.

  15. David Mont, November 3, 2012 at 2:09 p.m.

    As someone who reads a fair amount of European publications (not just English language), I must say that there is significant clamoring for goal-line technology and instant replays outside of the US. And, by the way, given that the Italians don't call the game futbol but calcio, does that disqualify them from being part of the "world"?

  16. Charles O'Cain, November 3, 2012 at 10:36 p.m.

    Yes, David. And being multilingual, you must realize that calico means to kick with the foot. My point is that to anyone outside the USA and possibly Canada, the term "football" conjures up images of a game played with a round ball by feet, not something egg-shaped played primarily with the hands. Our social and political isolation from the world leads (as Mr Darwin might have predicted) to the evolution of some bizarre forms. I don't think the rest of the world is obligated to follow us down our evolutionary blind alley, and I don't think they will.

  17. Lou vulovich, November 4, 2012 at 4:16 a.m.

    Charles: The focus is on poor football, ugly football as Mr Gardner points out. There is no intention on simply bashing British or Northern European Football, it is a simple fact, all of these countries play poor football and it is not from a lack of talent it is from a coaching philosophy, the same one that dominates the US and Canada. Please look at the results the last 20 years or so. I also don't think you know the poor attendance in football games in some of these countries, they have simply bin rescued by television rights. You seem to take the fact that Paul points out how ugly this football is very personally. Be a little more objective, and look at the quality of football in the 2010WC and 2012 EURO'S. Perhaps you are really a Rugby Fan that dabbles in football. I did like your response.

  18. David Mont, November 4, 2012 at 7:26 a.m.

    Charles, as the fan of football you are undoubtedly aware that the word "football" has nothing to do with the act of kicking a ball regardless of what images are being conjured up in minds of people outside North America.

  19. Charles O'Cain, November 4, 2012 at 10:11 p.m.

    Please explain how there is no connection between kicking and football. It will be a revelation to us all.

  20. David Mont, November 5, 2012 at 7:51 a.m.

    No, it will be a revelation to very few. Just think about it: the first written use of the word "football" dates back to the 14th or 15th century. The game football at the time was very much a game where the ball was moved by hand, not by kicking. Much more like rugby football or american football today, not at all like soccer. For example, the English writer William Hone, writing in 1825 or 1826, quotes the social commentator Sir Frederick Morton Eden, regarding a game — which Hone refers to as "Foot-Ball" — played in the parish of Scone, Perthshire:
    The game was this: he who at any time got the ball into his hands, run [sic] with it till overtaken by one of the opposite part; and then, if he could shake himself loose from those on the opposite side who seized him, he run on; if not, he threw the ball from him, unless it was wrested from him by the other party, but no person was allowed to kick it.

  21. Charles O'Cain, November 5, 2012 at 10:59 a.m.

    I'll leave the etymology to you (but I don't think you've got it right. Various forms of games played with a ball and the feet date at least to the early Greeks, if not earlier).The game we're talking about here is Association Football, and the game and term "football" would be recognized by the vast majority of the nearly 7 billion people currently alive, many of whom would have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the way to play it. There would be no confusion with whatever you're trying to describe above, and certainly not in Spain or Brazil. And it has everything to do with the feet and kicking the ball.

  22. David Mont, November 5, 2012 at 11:49 a.m.

    The game does, not the etymology of the word. Somehow calling it soccer (a 100% English term, by the way) represents a crime against humanity to you and disqualifies one from having any opinions about the game.

  23. Charles O'Cain, November 5, 2012 at 3:25 p.m.

    I value your opinion. Mine is different.

  24. 0 M, November 6, 2012 at 12:20 p.m.

    I would like to see a 2pt goal added if a shot is taken outside the box (no deflections). This adds drama and a team to come from behind. The other problem is 3 subs total. Why do teams take a full squad if only 15 players have the possibility of playing? I would add 4 subs but only 2 in the 1st and 2nd half. Also, unlimited subs at halftime. I like 2 yellows equal a red card but you may be subbed if allowed.

  25. Kent James, November 7, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.

    David and Charles, and interesting debate in which you both make good points, but you've gotten off-topic. The important point is not the name of the game, but what it looks like on the field, and the question is it still "the beautiful game"? I think players have become much faster and more highly skilled, but the quality of the game experience has not kept up with the improving quality of the players. I don't believe that soccer should be adapted to American interests; part of its appeal is its universality. And I'm certainly not advocating we need to push soccer to be like basketball or American football, where scoring is common. But I'd like to see score lines that were roughly increased by 1 goal for each team (so 3-2 would be common). I think the surest way to to that would be to increase the goals slightly. So that every shot that currently hits the "woodwork" goes in, for example. I don't think that would lead to a proliferation of ugly goals (since most of those that hit the woodwork are not particularly ugly). And I'm primarily suggesting this for the pros (or at least adults), because for kids, the goals are already big (relative to their size). And while it would be nice to have universal goal sizes for all age groups, youth soccer has already moved away from that (rightly), so changing the goals for the pros (or adults) would not be completely new. I would like to see it tried, even if only in some exhibition matches (though the length of the trial would need to be long enough for the players to adapt tactically, which I hope would involve more frequent shots from the 20-25 yd range).

  26. Andrzej Kowalski, November 8, 2012 at 7:11 p.m.

    Limit the are that goalkeeper can handle ball to a 5 yard box. Do not allow any defending players except goalkeeper inside 5 yard box.

  27. Andrzej Kowalski, November 8, 2012 at 7:18 p.m.

    Bring back dribbling to the game,dribbling is the most entertaining part of soccer. In order to accomplish this we need to protect player on the ball more.for every foul give free kick 15 yards closer to offending team.

  28. Andrzej Kowalski, November 8, 2012 at 7:34 p.m.

    The bigger gates will make goalkeeper even taller and will put in even bigger disadvantage teams from Asia.

  29. Andrzej Kowalski, November 8, 2012 at 7:40 p.m.

    We have to slow down the game, to fast game look automatic, every time a player gets the ball he should be obliged to make at least one dribble before he can pass the ball to another player. We do nor need soccer like hokey.

  30. Charles O'Cain, November 9, 2012 at 10:09 p.m.

    These are all individual preferences for unnecessary changes to a game which is already the world's most popular sport. One person likes 3-2 scoreline; another likes 4-5. I'm ok with 1-0, 2-0, and even 0-0. Let's move on to golf, and increase the size of the cup, or eliminate the traps (who likes defensive golf?). The challenge is to play within the rules, not to change them. I'm completely in favor of enforcing the laws of soccer, but completely against changing them for some personal preference for increased scoring. I'm ok with human error, both on the part of the players and the refs. And every nation doesn't need to play like Spain, or Italy, or Brazil, or England, Argentina, Japan, Cote d'Ivoire, or Bulgaria. At the club level, sometimes Barcelona will be captivating, but sometimes Celtic, PSV, Dortmund, Porto, Man United or even Chelsea (and maybe eventually a MLS club, but not yet). Move on to FIFA 2013 on XBOX if you can't abide the real sport.

  31. Kent James, November 10, 2012 at 12:50 a.m.

    Charles, remember that originally there were no penalty kicks, yellow or red cards. One should be careful about amending the rules, but the game should evolve to accommodate an evolving world. Even the best can improve...

  32. Charles O'Cain, November 10, 2012 at 7:50 p.m.

    I'm all for evolution, the basis of which is naturally-occurring mutations which prove to have selective advantage (many mutations do not convey this, and die out, again naturally). What I see here is a push for genetic engineering (think Monsanto); the long-term effects of this are not at all certain. Let soccer evolve.

  33. Kent James, November 16, 2012 at 8:59 a.m.

    For evolution to take place, you have to have mutations (some of which may not be pretty). Trying the mutations allows us to see how they work. FIFA needs to have a good way to experiment with changes (friendlies?).

  34. Patrick O'Reilly, January 5, 2013 at 11:44 p.m.

    Here is something positive that has struck me about all of Mr Gardner's articles: he provokes/stimulates a high level of commentary, analytical thinking, and responses, generally free of personal insults common to most other publications. Such a forum of articulate presentation by Gardner, in conjunction with enlightening and respectful exchanges by readers makes for enjoyable reading. My thanks to all of you. And what is my contribution? About mid-year I expect to submit suggestions for correcting glaring deficiencies in the game. It will give Paul and all his dedicated, informed readers a field day for a civil thrashing of my ideas. Let's have a GO at it and see what plays out. Mr Gardner, have you received any better compliments than this lately?
    Patrick O'Reilly, St Albans, West Virginia

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