Perhaps it is perception, but it feels as though football is making a conscious effort to change itself at its very core over the past decade or so, more so than at any other point in the modern era.
The latest example of that desire to shake things up is perhaps the biggest. IFAB, who create the laws of the game, have proposed trials for blue cards to represent sin-bins. It is unclear when and in which competitions it would be first rolled out, but the entire concept is controversial, and stands to threaten the very integrity of the game, even if it is trying to solve a problem which is growing within the game.
It isn’t just IFAB who are responsible for the constant stream of ideas that would have a cataclysmic impact on football as a whole. There have been so many different things to contend with in recent times, some good and even necessary, but many make mountains out of mole hills or, worse, are born purely out of opportunistic greed.
Introducing goal-line technology felt obvious and long awaited. There had been so many high-profile cases of marginal goals being given or not at the behest of the referee, and everything came to a head after Frank Lampard’s strike against Germany in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup. There had been a lot of push back from FIFA, and the debate raged on for years. But the lack of subjectivity over these incidents and the positive impact swift and accurate technology had on other sports meant that when it did arrive, it only improved the game and rarely, if ever, forced any arguments against it.
But for its failure in one Premier League game between Aston Villa and Sheffield United in 2020, there has been nothing untoward about it at all. The same can’t be said for the latest technology, video assistant referee (VAR) which has caused no end of debate and controversy. It is interesting to see the contrast between that and goal-line technology; both were demanded for years before they finally arrived. But the impact on the pace and spontaneity of the games, and regularity in which it is used to ‘re-referee’ matches in the eyes of some has led to a fairly sizeable consensus that it should be scrapped altogether.
Blue cards would likely have a similar impact on the flow of a match to VAR, albeit in different ways. The thought process behind the idea is sound enough, there are issues that seem to fall in between the thresholds of yellow and red cards, and players are willing to reflect the former if it can provide any sort of advantage, somewhat weakening the referee’s authority. The proposed solution would circle in on two specific pertinent examples: dissent and professional fouls. Commit these crimes and you spend 10 minutes on the side of the pitch, just like in rugby. With the former in particular a growing issue, undermining officials, there could be something said for sterner punishments, but there are a number of reasons why it just wouldn’t work.
Teams who are impacted would simply look to stifle the game and slow it down until their player returns. In rugby, part of the reason the sin bin is accepted is because the game is much more stop start than football. If the aim of the laws is to make the game more open and improve the spectacle, blue cards are not the way to do that.
But there is a wider issue too. Football is always under the microscope of potential change from different angles. If it isn’t a told change it is a competition change or expansion, the creation of a different tournament or new proposals to the distribution of wealth to help the rich stay rich.
Evolution is good when it results in progress. But changing football at its route will not make it better. Be it blue cards, more teams at a World Cup or the European Super League, can’t everyone just leave it alone for a while?