Michael Pavitt

The Netherlands are famed for their total football tactical theory, which first came to global prominence at the 1974 FIFA World Cup, when the nation reached their first final. Their philosophy that any outfield player could take over the role of any other player in a team was revolutionary and was key to the development of the game.

Having created the idea of total football, it must come as a great disappointment to the Dutch this week that one of their legends has proposed the complete opposite.

A series of drastic proposals were mooted by Marco van Basten in an effort to revolutionise the world’s most popular sport. Among the most controversial were the removal of the offside rule, the scrapping of extra-time and the introduction of ice hockey style penalty shoot-outs.

Suggestions for sin bins and orange cards as punishments have previously been mooted, but matches being changed to four quarters is a new idea. And a bad one.

His proposals have come as a result of the former striker’s position as the FIFA technical director. My first response to these ideas is who has actually asked for this proposed revolution? As far as I am aware, there has been no great appetite for change from managers, players or fans. If anyone can direct me to a photo of a team staging a sit-in on the pitch due to matches taking place over two halves, rather than four quarters, then I will happily accept being proven wrong.

It would appear as though the ideas of the former FIFA World Player of the Year are simply that. Ideas. The Dutchman surely cannot expect many, if any, of these suggestions to be taken up in the future. Agreement would be required by the International Football Association Board, football’s law-making body. It comprises of four FIFA voting members, with the other half coming from British Football Associations.

You would hope, if these proposals were placed in front of these representatives, the vast majority would be quickly dismissed. However, nothing would surprise me from decision makers in the game.

It seems strange that before the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, football’s governing body were vehemently opposed to the mere idea of trials for goal-line technology. The change in stance only came after those who opposed the idea (looking at you Mr Blatter), were left squirming in their plush seats when Frank Lampard’s shot for England against Germany crossed the line and was not given.

Marco van Basten has suggested a series of radical changes to football ©Getty Images
Marco van Basten has suggested a series of radical changes to football ©Getty Images

Fast forward seven years and the FIFA technical director appears to be proposing another sport entirely.

"We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way," Van Basten claimed to the Associated Press.

"We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process."

I personally fail to see how changing a penalty shoot-out so players have to embark on time-limited runs from the half-way line before shooting is any more of a spectacle. This may have been suggested as the Dutch have a rather poor record from 12 yards.

As an Englishman, who has seen his nation crash out on many occasions on penalties, I would still like them to remain in place. What better test of a player’s nerve and skill than to be placed in front of the goalkeeper, with an expectant crowd and audience at home watching. The idea of a centre back dribbling from the centre circle to probably miss the target does not have the same appeal.

The former Ajax and AC Milan forward’s idea for the offside rule to be scrapped in its entirety is even more absurd. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger called it correctly when he highlighted that it is part and parcel of the battle between attack and defence.

"Offside is what makes the team good together," the Frenchman said earlier this week. "It is an intelligent rule as well, it is important to keep that in the game. Overall football improves, people say it is too tight and compact but football has always been like that, defence creates a problem for the attack and the attack finds a solution."

Rennes manager Christian Gourcuff was stronger in his criticism, with a few expletives uttered before his claim that "we would return to the time of village versus village, and at that time it ended with players being killed". 

Fundamentally, the game remains fine. It is still the most popular sport in the world and is growing in new markets. For instance, funds are being poured into developing the game in China, albeit it through paying excessive fees and wages to lure certain players away from Europe.

FIFA were hesitant to introduce goal-line technology seven years ago, but Marco van Basten is now suggesting a radical overhaul of the game ©Getty Images
FIFA were hesitant to introduce goal-line technology seven years ago, but Marco van Basten is now suggesting a radical overhaul of the game ©Getty Images

Tweaks are certainly needed, with football lagging behind other sports in its use of technology. There would not have been the same outrage yesterday if a video replay had been used to show that Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling had in fact been fouled and deserved a penalty against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League’s high profile match of the weekend.

Thankfully, video replays are being trialled, with the FIFA World Club Cup the first to use them last month. Germany has also reportedly approved their use in next season’s Bundesliga.

Ultimately, the issues of fairness and removing some of the dark arts of the game are the key hopes for fans. Stamping out diving and preventing players from surrounding referees would be warmly applauded.

Thankfully, Mr Van Basten has suggested that only captains can speak to referees, while the proposal of stopping the clock when the ball is out of play can also be welcomed.

As with proposals like this, the best ideas have actually been largely ignored due to the ridiculous ones. The development of the sport in general would be aided by youth football seeing players compete in eight-a-side matches. That would enable players to experience a variety of different positions, with this idea coming more out of the total football school of thought.

If he can find a way to achieve this, fans would certainly be in favour. Borrowing bits from handball and ice hockey, however, would not be welcomed.