Monday, June 26, 2017

Penalty Shootouts – There Is An Alternative

In the aftermath of another big game being decided in a penalty shootout, I think it is about time to introduce an alternative involving more skills and less chance. Despite its appeal for drama and excitement, and regardless of the experience and skills of the players, a penalty shootout is merely a series of random shots in the dark by actors forced to take a stab at threading the needle after 120 minutes of exhaustion.

Penalty shootouts were introduced on the big football scene around 1970. Before this, games where a winner was required could lead to a replay of the game, or even a coin toss. Although replays are still occurring in some competitions, such as the FA Cup, they are not feasible considering the tight schedule of modern football. Although clubs would most certainly welcome the idea of filling the stadium an extra time every now and then, it would not be feasible with the large number of international games taking place.

The attempts by FIFA to introduce the sudden death in extra time, naming them “golden goal” and “silver goal”, failed miserably. Although the intentions were to encourage attacking football and rewarding goals scored during regular play, the result was that teams more than ever before became overly cautious, fearful of allowing a goal rather than enforcing one, knowing that at least a few minutes away they would have roughly a 50% chance from the eleven meter spot.

Although I certainly agree that a match needs to be decided on its designated date, I think that a penalty shootout is not the answer. I will be the first to admit that a shootout holds a high level of excitement, whether you have any connection to any of the teams or not. When your team wins on penalties, it is the sweetest of wins. When your team loses on penalties, you still know that the team fought well and went down with their boots on. Some would also argue that a penalty shootout is the goalkeeper’s chance to stand in the spotlight. A goalkeeper blocking the last penalty shot becomes an instant hero. In the same second that the Manchester United goalkeeper van der Saar blocked the shot from the Chelsea shooter Nicolas Anelka in the Champions League final, a hero was made and a scapegoat was appointed. Letting penalty kicks decide a game is nothing less than forcefully causing a player to make a mistake, one that have broken many fine players and haunted them for the rest of their careers.

My solution is to let the game being decided on the field, with a goal – a sudden death, but with a modification. After 90 minutes in a game that needs to appoint a winner, each team removes one player each at progressive intervals. For instance, with five minute intervals both teams take one player of their own choice off the field, so that after 95 minutes the teams play ten against ten, after 100 minutes they play nine against nine, and so on. With the increasingly open spaces, eventually there would be a goal. Today games are played 120 minutes in order to try to enforce a goal. With this system, after 120 minutes the teams would be playing five against five, i.e. one goalkeeper and four field players. It would be extremely surprising, even unlikely, that this would not have resulted in a goal.

Football being one of the most conservative sports of all, it will be difficult to change the concept of the penalty shootout as a solution when a game needs a winner. The unwritten rule for changing a rule of the game is that it must be changeable for everyone, regardless of level and location. I think that this sudden death method would be a very realistic substitute. I cannot imagine any game where an official, possibly the referee him/herself, would not be able to keep track of five minute intervals and the number of players on the field.

I do realize that this would change the game as we know it. For the better I say. Today less-skilled teams can defend themselves to a penalty shootout, as their only hope to win. Instead of even trying to play attractive and attacking football, their tactics is to play on the result and do what they can to prevent the opponent from playing. With this sudden death system, that would no longer be an option. Coaches would have to re-invent their way of thinking beyond 90 minutes. Maybe they would encourage technical players with the ability to challenge in a one on one situation. Maybe they would bring on players with great stamina. Others might consider tall players the solution. Either way, it would be a different game, but with one crucial difference; the idea of the game to score more goals than the opponent would regain its status.

Although watching the genuine happiness of a player that has just put the winning penalty in the net, or the goalkeeper that has just blocked the last shot is a true joy, I would rather see it being played out on the field. Would you not rather see David Beckham hit a perfect cross to the striker up front to score the winning header than to see him shoot the penalty shot over the crossbar? Would you not rather see Cristiano Ronaldo in an amazing dribble campaign than to see him choke on the penalty spot? Would you not rather see Lionel Messi in a spectacular breakaway than to see him hit it from eleven meters? Would you rather not see John Terry head the ball in the far corner of the goal than to see him slip on the spot and hit the ball in the post? Would you rather not see Edwin van der Saar make a brilliant save from a Ronaldinho free kick and start a counterattack than to block a lame shot from a player under severe pressure? I certainly would.

Christian Celind for SoccerNews.com

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Christian Celind


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24 Comments on "Penalty Shootouts – There Is An Alternative"

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Patrick
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Patrick
I was sceptical at first, but the more I play out theoretic scenarios in my head, the more and more I like this idea. I can picture it: Henry, Messi, Eto’o, and Ronaldinho vs. Raul, Robben, Van Nistelrooy, and Ramos, or whoever you would like to see. It certainly would involve more skills than the lottery we call penalties. Just picture your favorite player on an amazing run, outclassing his fiercest rivals and slipping the ball into the net. Much better than spot kicks. Unfortunately I think not many people will get behind this idea, least of all Blatter and… Read more »
ricardo
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ricardo
okay…have you ever played soccer in your life….what kind of an idea is that…to take out players every five minute….that is the dumbest idea in the world…the game is fine the way it is….shooting a penalty kick after 120 minutes takes skill…that is why they do shootouts….to see who still has skill after 120 minutes….and instant replay is a joke…this game is for human and not for a machine to decide its faith, the game is perfect the way it is. when i read your article and the idea of taking players off is lame…i cant believe you actually said… Read more »
Van Basten
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Van Basten

I think the idea is def. worth considering since the whole idea is to make ET more exciting. Sure, penalties are exciting as hell too, but until you get to that stage during ET, it’s a lame duck performance imo.

I would say give it a try at a local competition level first to see what the response would be.

Ahmed Bilal
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It’s a great idea and something that I’ve been suggesting for a long time as well. My version is a bit different though. No sudden death. After 90 minutes, we start a series of 10-minute sessions at the start of which one player is taken off for each team. Whoever is winning at the end of a session is declared the winner. This allows teams to stick to their natural game (instead of quickly being reduced in numbers) and still opens up space for teams to attack and score goals. It’s grueling though, and because of this I’d also allow… Read more »
Christian Celnd
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Christian Celnd

Thanks all for the creative feedback. Maybe except for “Ricardo” who thinks the game is perfect as it is. Since the rest of us know that this is not true, let’s disregard his comments. I like the idea of fresh legs being allowed after 90 minutes, good idea. I also think it should be tested on a local level at first. I think I’ve read that Sepp Blatter is not a big fan of games being decided on penalties, so with creative ideas like these, maybe the game will develop for the better in a near future.

Ahmed Bilal
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I would not trust Sepp Blatter near a football, let alone the game itself.

John
Guest
Admirable, but things to think about… We need to think outside the square here, which again you have, but having played at a relatively high level in the old Australian National League and being a certified fitness instructor, it is counter productive on the whole. 1. There is a certain excitement around the penalty shoot out. It takes immense skill and concentration from both an outfield player and goalkeeping perspective. Apart from this, there is a certain, dramatic essence to the penalty shoot-out, that gives the game a triumphant and tragic ethos…it also looks great on a headline, so media… Read more »
Christian Celind
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Christian Celind
Hi John, Thanks for your feedback. I always welcome constructive and informed criticism like yours. However, I don’t agree with it for the following reasons: – The excitement around the penalty shoot out is unarguably extremely high, and have a certain entertainment value. However, it’s designed so as to single out one player and make him/her the scapegoat for a club or a country. This is a huge mental burden for the players, and can linger on for the rest of their lives. Off the top of my head I can name a few elite players who refuse to take… Read more »
mike
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mike
Quite frankly, it’s an absurd idea. Football is a simple game played with simple rules. To introduce a system where the rules change and become more complex at the end of the game than in the previous 90 minutes minutes is unworkable. You seem to overlook the fact that ‘luck’ plays a major role in deciding the outcome of various fixtures over the course of a season or a tournament : The ref had a bad game, half the team was out through injury etc. How ironic then that the one time luck is not involved is during the penalty… Read more »
ethan power
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ethan power

like the idea but its a little absurd, 4 on 4 with a keeper come on on that huge field! like i said like the idea but maybe could use more thought

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