Here comes Jose Mourinho again. He’s had an idea that he says will "make the game much better."
Oh yeah? Before even going into details of Mourinho’s brainwave, you can ask yourself this question: When was the last time a coach came up with an idea that improved the game, made it more exciting or more worth watching?
With that thought in mind, here is what Mourinho wants: coaching timeouts. A coach should be allowed to call timeouts -- one each half -- so that he can have words with his players and re-arrange things tactically, or whatever it is that coaches do.
As supporting evidence, Mourinho notes that, during the recent World Cup game between the Netherlands and Mexico, the referee called a second-half water-break. This break, says Mourinho, enabled Louis van Gaal to “change the system” of his Dutch team and go on to win the game on two late goals.
Well, maybe it did. So the Dutch rather than the Mexicans advanced. That was an improvement? We got better soccer as a result of this fortuitous timeout? We did not. So Mourinho’s scheme is immediately exposed for what it is: Simply a plea to allow the coach more interference on the game, to give him yet more time to wield his influence.
I mean, how much time has the coach already spent with his team anyway? And are all his players so dumb that it has to be the coach who is the only one capable of changing things during the game?
So we’re talking about allowing the coach even more influence during the 90-minute playing time. Which is a questionable move, given that there is absolutely no evidence that the game has got any better since the rule-change (in 1993) that struck down the ban on coaching from the sideline. The most noticeable effect of that change has been the arrival of the technical area as an arena for wildly, insanely, gesticulating coaches.
A further huge criticism of Mourinho’s suggestion is that it is not new. It has been tried, comparatively recently. In 1995 FIFA announced that “For some time now coaches have been clammering (sic) for the chance to be able to exert more immediate influence on the course of the game.”
I liked the new word “clammer” and remarked at the time that it would serve splendidly as the collective noun for an assembly of coaches. The clammer got their way, and later that year, during the under-17 World Cup in Ecuador, the great timeout experiment took place. Two timeouts of 90-seconds allowed for each coach, who could use one per half.
The tryout was taken no further. It was a flop, bordering on a fiasco. In the 24 games of the first round, 96 timeouts were available. Only 33 were used. Coaches were more or less evenly divided between those who liked the idea, those who hated it, and others who sat on the fence.
I was at that tournament. The very first timeout, called by Ecuador, was greeted with a screeching wall of loud and prolonged whistling from the Ecuador fans. They did not appreciate the interruption of the game. My favorite timeout came in the USA-Japan game. Japan was leading 1-0 when their coach called a timeout -- maybe to tell the boys to go all out for a second goal (just kidding), or more likely to tell them how to stonewall and protect the 1-0 lead.
The game resumed and within one minute, the USA had scored the tying goal. Sure, the timeout was called by Japan, but the rulemakers had evidently not foreseen that the 90 seconds could also be used by opponents. The USA coach had a chance for a chat with his players that -- maybe -- produced the tying goal.
More seriously, there were obvious signs in several games that coaches were using the timeouts for time-wasting, or as a means of interrupting a period of dominance by their opponents.
And this was a youth tournament. One could surely expect that, at the pro level, timeouts would be more cynically used.
Let’s be clear: Whatever they say, coaches’ suggestions are rarely, if ever, about “making the game better.” They are about winning, or not losing, games. That’s all. Aims that do not recognize abstract notions like “better” soccer.
In fact, far from changes that allow more coaching influence, the rules should be used as much as possible to cut back the coaches’ influence during the game. A way of giving the game back to the players -- and there may well be the promise of better soccer in that thought.