Here we go again. Just when you thought a period of welcome stasis might have descended on the world of football rules and regulations, we look set for yet more flux. On Tuesday, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) agreed to test a raft of new measures in the game. These include sin bins – a potential 10-minute detention for bad behaviour – and a new rule stipulating that only the captain is allowed to remonstrate with the referee. Trials could be held (including in the Premier League) as early as next season.
IFAB has identified unsportsmanlike behaviour by players, including dissent, as ‘the cancer that [might] kill football’. They are particularly concerned about the ‘professional foul’: that little trip, shirt pull or shove that puts an attacker off just as a decent chance to take the ball looks likely to present itself, but which is lightly punished as it doesn’t meet the criteria for a red card.
Every football fan is likely to have a few ‘professional fouls’ that cruelly disadvantaged their team burned into their memory. For those with long memories it is Arsenal’s ‘clodhopping’ defender Willie Young’s cynical hack on West Ham’s 17-year-old Paul Allen in the 1980 FA cup final that will forever be the classic example of the genre. Young got a yellow card. Allen picked up his medal in tears.
Young’s villainy led to a change in the rules (players could be sent off for preventing an obvious goal scoring opportunity) but the problem hardly went away. A fresher example, and one apparently cited at Tuesday’s meeting, is Giorgio Chiellini’s shirt pull on Bukayo Saka in the 2020 Euro championship final. The move prevented the Arsenal player from advancing on goal, but only earned Chiellini a yellow.