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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How to Ruin Soccer: Support the Kick-In

Here's a little game for soccer followers to play in those idle moments (like work, serious discussions with your partner, etc.) between matches: if you wanted to ruin the game as we know it, what one rule change would you introduce?


Well, apart from banning players using their feet, I can think of nothing more guaranteed to sabotage soccer than the change that is actually being tried in several European leagues this season. It consists of giving players the right, when the ball goes out of play, to choose a throw-in or a kick-in. It sounds innocuous, but this simple tinkering (backed, if you can believe it, and of course you can, by FIFA) will have a disastrous effect on the speed, flow and nature of play.


For the benefit of those who do not support a team in the Hungarian First Division, Belgian second or a part-timers league in England called the Diadora, here is what happens. When the ball goes out of play, a player can either throw it back in conventionally or elect to kick it back in.


Now there are, so I am assured, on average about 85 throw-ins per game. Since players in the three leagues concerned are opting for the kick in nine cases out of 10, we are, in effect, seeing the addition of some 60 or so free kicks a match, which adds 10-12 minutes per half.


Would that mere hold-ups were the only consequence of this lunacy. But there are two impacts on play which are far more serious. The first is that the reward for the opposition putting the ball over the line is too great. For the attacking side, the kick-in is better even than a free kick because you cannot be offside from it, and it is also preferable to a corner, since the angle will often be more dangerous -- all this for tapping the ball against an opponent so it goes over the sideline. In these circumstances, disputes over whose foot the ball touched last could assume the vehemence of penalty decision arguments.


For the defending side, in place of a throw-in, which invariably leaves the ball in its half and so still under pressure, it now has a kick, which enables its players to hoof the ball well into the other half.


This tactic leads to the second serious effect, namely that the kick-in encourages the unattractive, uninventive long-ball game as surely as if there were financial incentives on offer. Since a player cannot be offside from the kick-in, it is small wonder that the favored kick-in strategy is a wild, hopeful boot upfield. Says Graham Roberts, who played for Tottenham and Rangers but now turns out for Slough in the Diadora League: "Kick-ins have taken the enjoyment out of my football. We played Grays recently and from a kick-in 20 yards inside their half they blasted the ball over our bar."


The beauty of the throw-in (seen at its best when done by Newcastle's Steve Watson, who somersaulted before releasing the ball) is that it is quick and, as a punishment for putting the ball over the line, matches the crime. There is good reason why it has lasted 112 years (before that, one-handed throws were allowed).


If FIFA must fool around with it, I suggest it go right back to the very earliest days of the game. Then, the throw went to the side which was first to touch the ball after it had gone out of play. Now think of the entertainment value in that idea.