Making Industrial soccer happy: 'What does football expect?'

The new Laws of the Game were distributed in April by the International Football Association Board, which claims it made the changes so the laws are more appropriate for the modern game for all levels.

This version of the Laws of the Game contains the most radical changes since its first inception in 1863. The 2016-2017 version is 206 pages long compared to 2015-2016 edition which had 144 pages. There are 95 Law changes in total. These changes affected all existing 17 Laws except Law 3.

For example, it changed the concept of awarding penalty kick; now a penalty kick can be awarded for a team official -- for the layman a coach -- who runs onto the field and kicks the ball as it is about to go into the coach’s team goal.

If the reader is curious they can go through the 95 changes. The names of the Laws have been changed. The language is simplified, but it is still pretty archaic for a 12 year old kid who is an entry level referee. The 17 Laws and 206 pages are the letter of the Laws of the Game that you have to learn whether you are 12 or 42 old when you start refereeing.

Although simpler than other Laws of other Games, it is still a major challenge to learn the letter of the Laws of the Game. The referee unfortunately does not have the chance to look at the letter of the Laws of the Game during a game. I have observed at all levels, referees forgetting one detail of the letter of the Laws of the Game and causing major headaches for the organizers of the competitions. Recently, I saw a referee who had been refereeing for eight years call a penalty kick for a “pass to the goalkeeper.” Luckily an assistant referee jumped in to remind that the game has to be restarted with an indirect free kick.

As the referees advance, then they have learn and understand the spirit of the game. The new Laws of the Game refer to the spirit of the game. In order to understand the spirit of each Law, you have to understand why it was inscribed and the history behind it. One expects that a referee, refereeing advanced adult games or pro games understand the spirit of the Laws of the Game. This will take him or her at least three or four years after mastering the letter of the Laws of the Game.

For example, letter of the Law 12 says “if a goalkeeper controls the ball with the hands for more than six seconds before releasing it an indirect free kick will be awarded.” If a goalkeeper whose team is behind 3-0 keeps the ball in her hands for 10 seconds and the referee awards an indirect free kick against the team of the goalkeeper, then it is evident that the referee knows the letter of the Law but not the spirit. The spirit of this Law has distilled through time to penalize time-wasting. Clearly a losing team’s goalkeeper will not waste time. At this stage, the referees should evolve from the enforcer of the Laws of the Game. to a game manager who understands the spirit of the Laws of the Game also.

One more evolution is expected from the elite referee after that point: That is the application of the unwritten Law 18 -- “common sense” -- when the circumstances warrant it. The common sense should be used very sparingly and diligently by the elite referee who mastered the spirit and letter of the Laws of the Game. That was all that was expected of an elite referee who was also a “game manager” applying common sense and the letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game fairly and with due diligence.

Those three concepts -- letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game and common sense -- opened the doors to the top soccer games in the world for the “game manager” referees. Until a few years ago…

During the 2014 World Cup, Massimo Busacca -- the head of refereeing for FIFA -- asked the referees to answer the question “What does football expect?” when making critical decisions. For example, they were asked to delay showing yellow cards. That was not in the letter or the spirit of the Laws of the Game and neither was that a common-sense decision. That was “what industrial football expected.” This approach confused the referees. At least I know that for the UEFA referees that was not in line with instruction they got in UEFA. The result was a poorly officiated tournament.

After 2014, I started hearing more and more of “what does football expect.” Actually you can find the phrase “this is what football wants…” in the new Laws of the Game. Then I remembered that some years ago while watching an NFL playoff game on TV, one of commentators said that referees are asked not to throw their flags easily for infractions, so that teams, not the referees, decide the outcome of the game. That was what is happening in “industrial” soccer now. The referees were asked in Brazil 2014 to make critical decisions like yellow/red cards and penalty kicks in such a way that neither side will contest it. In summary, they did not want any controversy in critical decisions so that results will be decided by teams and not by the refereeing crew.

UEFA tried for a while to rebalance the confused referees, but nowadays I hear the words “what does football expect” in UEFA refereeing circles more and more.

The flood gates of the “industrial soccer” for refereeing have opened. The goal line technology, audio visual assistant referees and the concept of “what does football expect” in refereeing decisions are all there in soccer to make “industrial soccer” happy. Will it make the romantic lovers of this beautiful game happy? That I do not know.

Ahmet Guvener is the former Secretary General and Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives in Austin, Texas.     
7 comments about "Making Industrial soccer happy: 'What does football expect?'".
  1. R2 Dad, August 19, 2016 at 12:37 a.m.

    Very curious how this will play out in the professional leagues, but the change to DOGSO from red to yellow is, I think, more substantial of a change at both professional and youth levels.

  2. Mark Landefeld, August 19, 2016 at 2:09 a.m.

    The game would not exist without goalscoring. Interpretations that reduce goalscoring and their opportunities hurt the game, regardless of how much the call may or may not be disputed. The game is for the players, but the PROFESSIONAL PLAYERS (the problem area) do NOT own the game.

  3. ForTheLoveOfPele Gallagher, August 19, 2016 at 9:10 a.m.

    I've always loved the theory, especially in "big" games, "referees are asked not to call fouls (penalties, flags...) to easily, so that teams, not the referees, decide the outcome of the game". In actuality, not calling the foul / penalty is making a decision and the decision is to let the offender stop the player playing the game within the rules. Is that within the spirit of the rules?

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, August 22, 2016 at 9:49 a.m.

    The laws/interpretations discussed in this article aren't specific to the US. But I guess that won't stop you from blasting America as usual.

  5. Ramon Creager, August 19, 2016 at 11:55 a.m.

    "Will it make the romantic lovers of this beautiful game happy? That I do not know."

    Having refereed for years I can say that if I tried to answer that 4th question during a match I'd have made a mess of it. No doubt that is what happened in the '14 World Cup. When they say "let the players decide the game" they really mean "even if they use extra-legal means." Is this right? I think that this is self-evidently no, especially when extra-legal means are used to stymie very skilled players using excessively physical play. I think the takeaway should be this: It is a fool who thinks a referee will not affect a game by not making a call. Even no-calls, improperly (not) made, affect a game. The sooner this notion is given the boot, the better.

  6. ForTheLoveOfPele Gallagher, August 19, 2016 at 3:02 p.m.

    I've refereed for years, traveled all over for games, and have had conversations with officials in other sports. It's amazing how similar the directives can be. "Remember who the star players are"; "Remember who the fans came to see"; "If so and so wins it would be good for the league". All subtle messages and when the stuff hits the fans, the league is no where to be found to support the referee. Kind of amazing that, for the vast majority of games, the quantity of fouls / penalties end up being fairly equal. And if they aren't, fans and teams complain that the game has been called one sided because they've grown to accept that's the way it is. But it's when a foul / penalty is called; who it's called on; where it's called. The orchestration that goes on during a game is subtle and often unnoticed. But just like not calling a foul / penalty doesn't completely decide the outcome, it sure does have an impact

  7. Richard Brown, August 20, 2016 at 9:28 a.m.

    how do we get more goals? Are rule changes going to produce goal scorers.

    This is how some German clubs did it.

    The striker is a very specific position in our football. Once you see who has a specific appitude for the striker position then they become part of the striker part of the practice which comes after the team practice. It is not for everyine on the team.

    Have to face the real fact that not everyone can be a real scorer. It is for the starters and those that can possibly come of the bench at striker and are capable of being dangerous finishers.

    So during that part of the practice you also need set up players and backs and a keeper. It lasts about 20 minutes at the end of most practices.

    Practically everything that can happen in a game concerning the striker is practiced. Moving to his left and moving to his right trying to score off a pass and off the dribble with either foot and with his head.

    Even a part where he must two touch so he can score only on his second touch and not the first. There is nothing that builds player confidence then having to 2 touch in the area while a defender is on you. So you are holding the defender off and then shoot.

    We all teach the players to two touch at higher levels but once they get into the offensive third that goes out the window and all they do is one touch.

    Plus going against one and then two players beating them and still being able to beat the keeper. It is risky for the striker but it really helps the player. I got that from the Russions that coach here.

    Strikers would rather do this then practice with the team, but they have to practice with the team first.

    There is also some specific finishing like moving to right to left and finish with the left foot. Then the same and air the ball with inside spin on the ball to give the ball eyes and just make it inside the far post after the bounce.

    Defender on your shoulder on the near post push the ball further outside to get seperation and then shoot upper near post. You can do the same on the keeper. he thinks he has the near post covered but do that he finds he doesn;t, but by then it is too late you scored.

    Repition is boring until you score and win games then it become fun.

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