Judging by the comments on the football rule-tinkering discussion, there is a surprising amount of interest on this blog in the issue. Who knew? One reader pointed out that FIFA does allow for some variation, allowing club games to be played on fields with different dimensions than in high-level play. So it may be that changing the dimensions in professional games, where the costs of changing goals could be more easily absorbed, wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Given that I’m a temperamental conservative, I think that changing the size of the goal might be a reform that could be seen as “changing to keep everything the same.” Given that the size of players has gone up, it makes sense to change the goal to keep the proportions between the size of the keeper and the goal constant. So, sign me up. Another reader, rightly in my view, sniffed that those who suggested scrapping the offside rule don’t really understand how fundamental it is to the game. I agree.
The other point here is that the decline in scoring may be a cyclical, rather than a secular phenomenon. That is, it may be that teams have figured out how to make it very hard to score, at least when teams are at rough parity. But it may be that this is a temporary phenomenon, and that over time there will be compensating innovations that will eat away at this defensive advantage. For example, the great, sainted Klinsmann started training the German team in a very different way, trying to improve their fitness and speed. Perhaps a few teams will start to put a much greater emphasis on speed as a way to compensate for the defensive strategy of squads like Italy. In fact, I think this would be a logical approach for countries like the US that lack a dominant national style of play, but that have substantial resources available for training. I was very impressed, for example, with the team speed of Ghana, and think they might have gone further with better coaching, and had Essien not been disqualified for the game against Brazil. I wonder if there’s a chance that Klinsmann, who has an obvious preference for living in Los Angeles, might take over the US squad from Arena for 2010.
The mistake that reformers often make is to assume that existing trends will only be continued in the future. But there are often counter-forces in competitive environments that can cause trends to stabilize or reverse. Is this such a case?