It's a well known fact that time slows down to a tortuous crawl when your team is one goal ahead and there are two minutes left on the clock. It's therefore normal human behavior to exhort your wide players to take the ball and dribble it to the corner flag. Despite having paid a fair few dollars for a ticket, you also won't mind when they shape up to take a throw-in and then think better of it, tossing the ball instead to a colleague to chisel a few more seconds off the watch.
Neither will you complain when your goalkeeper needs half a minute to ensure that the divot in the grass is of the absolute requisite height and consistency to permit them to take a quality goal kick, shortly before a crucial adjustment of the socks. This after they strolled behind the goal to retrieve the ball from the ball boy furthest away from play, having mysteriously overlooked one right under their nose. Whoops.
It's almost 15 years since Venezuelan referee Manuel Andarcia sent off Colombia's goalkeeper Robinson Zapata for time-wasting during a Copa America group game against the US. Zapata's team was defending a 1-0 lead in what was a dead-rubber for third place, both teams having already been eliminated. Andarcia showed the shot-stopper first a yellow, then later a yellow-red card for dithering on restarts, in the 87th minute. The goalkeeper then wasted a further two minutes by protesting before leaving the field.
I wasn't yet a qualified referee, but I remember applauding the official for implementing the game's rules. Time-wasting is an irritating, unsporting and obnoxious blight on soccer, yet it is tolerated at all levels of the game to the point where it's become the absolute norm. Commentaries at the time expressed criticism of Andarcia for being over-zealous. One yellow card for time-wasting — OK. But two? How dare he be consistent when Zapata was treating the match official and the game as a whole with such contempt!
It seems that Andarcia did not referee another game at the Copa America, nor at any other international tournament. Maybe there were good reasons for that connected with this abilities. Still, it seems a strange coincidence that he would be pulled from the tournament right after he set a precedent that the soccer establishment deemed a step too radical. I don't recall seeing a referee double-card a time-waster since, more's the shame.
And so, a decade and a half later, the majority of players continue to get away with this gamesmanship, in much the same way that referees ignore the obligatory dissent that greets a large portion of their calls. Yet just by applying the actual rules we could eradicate dissent and time-wasting with immediate effect. "A player is cautioned if guilty of: delaying the restart of play," states the first line beneath the sub-heading 'Cautionable offences' in Law 12. The very first line. It's impossible to miss, it's right above "dissent by word or action." And I can tell you exactly what happens when you caution a player for delaying the restart of play — the players moan at you for being petty and too stringent by sticking to the letter of the law. A yellow card, just for innocently kicking the ball away a couple of feet to stop an opponent taking a quick free kick? Come on, ref!
And yet, there it is, in Law 12: "A player is cautioned if guilty of: delaying the restart of play."
Maybe the problem is that the rule doesn't go far enough. I suggest this addendum: "For every caution issued for delaying the restart of play, the referee will add two minutes of time to the game." Not only is the player punished, a team in arrears will benefit from the unsporting conduct which is, in any language, simply cheating to win. For good measure, let's add: "Any player penalized for time-wasting in the last 15 minutes of the game shall be dismissed from the field of play."
What about the tedious, game-numbing practice of running the ball toward the corner flag to run down the clock? There's been talk of a delineated no-go zone in the corners of the field, effective during the final minutes of the game, but that requires too much paint and legislation. We all know what players are up to when they head for the corners rather than the penalty area, and it's nothing to do with scoring goals. So add a line to the rules that says: "If a player or players are deemed to be deliberately running down the clock in an unsporting manner while the ball is open play (by dribbling toward the corner flag and shielding the ball there, for example), an indirect free-kick will be awarded, and the player will be cautioned."
As things stand, time-wasting works. Players go mostly unpunished (or are cautioned when it's way too late in the game), and the amount of added time rarely corresponds to the amount of time lost to shenanigans. Soccer's tense final minutes are often deprived of goalmouth action because the ball is stuck in the corner zones and there's no way out. It's indefensible, yet so simple to remedy. Which in FIFA circles means, of course: nothing will be done.