Football: Governors who are a law unto themselves: Today's meeting of football's rule-makers could have momentous implications for the sport's future: Ken Jones on the areas that the International Board should really be addressing

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The Independent Online
SOME years ago, when in London to address a conference of coaches, Helmut Schoen expressed a fear that great improvements in athleticism eventually would put the professional game beyond the scope of all but the most accomplished footballers.

Typically, Schoen, commanding great respect as the manager of West Germany, was applying his imagination and thoroughness to problems he felt sure would arise in the future. For example, it troubled him that muddle-headed educators would be encouraged to apply theories more appropriate to the running track than the football field.

In Schoen's mind the responsibility for ensuring that the game would be safe from a Rollerball mentality rested with the law-makers. 'I think the time has come to look closely at the laws, and how they could be amended to encourage quality,' he said. 'If we are not careful the growing emphasis on fitness and speed will bring problems that future generations of footballers will find impossible to overcome.'

If decisions taken since then are anything to go by, the words of a wise man fell upon deaf ears.

Far from implementing proposals that would apply a brake to the frenzy that is most conspicuous in the Premier League, those responsible for the laws have merely gone along with the foolhardy notion that football would be best played by decathletes.

Nothing has been done to counter the irritating practice of so compressing the game into midfield that frequently in British football 20 players are found jostling for space in and around the centre circle.

Last year the International Board, of which historically the four British associations are represented along with four other members of Fifa, the game's governing body, made it an offence for the goalkeeper to field the ball with his hands if it is kicked back to him. To my mind this was a ridiculous amendment that has achieved nothing unless it is felt that gross errors of judgement improve the spectacle.

Meeting in Hertfordshire today, and doubtless anxious to maintain the independence that allows for separate British participation in the World Cup and European Championship, the four home associations on the Board will probably go along with an experiment that substitutes kick-ins for throw-ins.

Better, surely, to address the problem of strategy that limits space. This could be achieved by restricting goalkeepers to their penalty area, thus making it more difficult for them to cover for a defence that has quickly pushed up to the half-way line. It would also be encouraging if the board devoted some of its valuable time to the thorny issue of dissent, imposing an automatic penalty of 10 yards as applies in both codes of rugby.

The cure could be extended, but the suspicion is that the International Board, in self-serving pre-occupation, is merely there to ratify whatever changes are put before it.

Presumably for an American audience, and television advertisers next year in the World Cup, it was recently proposed the game should be of four quarters instead of two halves. A shameful suggestion, it was foiled by vigorous protest. What we are entitled to assume is that when it comes to re-shaping the laws along sensible lines, the authorities are not at their best.

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