Blue cards would be issued for dissent and tactical fouls. PHOTO: Izhar Khan DESIGN: Lachlan Avil

Blue cards would be issued for dissent and tactical fouls. PHOTO: Izhar Khan DESIGN: Lachlan Avil

The adage goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’; well parts of football are broken, and the game shouldn’t smother any attempts to fix it before they get off the ground.

Reports that the International Football Association Board (IFAB – who govern the rules of the game) will trial blue cards in professional leagues, have been met with widespread outrage from fans.

Professional fouls and dissent – the two issues targeted by the proposed change – are problems that need addressing. Blue cards may not be the solution, but they also could be.

The global footballing environment is a traditional one, full of supporters who have already been burned by the poor implementation of VAR technology in recent years, so initial backlash to new ideas is understandable.

But change isn’t always bad.

Football was once played without offsides or substitutes, red and yellow cards weren’t used as visual representations of cautions and dismissals until the 1970 World Cup, and the back pass was only outlawed in 1992.

All changes, that with the benefit of time, most can agree were beneficial to the game. So maybe we ought to give blue cards a chance.

Listen to our conversation about blue cards and the latest week of A-League action on the A-Leagues of Our Own podcast.

Referee dissent must be addressed

James Johnson, CEO of Football Australia was forced to issue a statement on Tuesday, after a series of incidents in the A-Leagues in recent weeks.

Tolgay Arslan was referred straight to the FA’s disciplinary and ethics committee, having allegedly abused the referee after Melbourne City’s 4-2 loss to Perth Glory.

Marko Rudan was issued with a show cause notice when he openly criticised match officials after the Wanderers’ loss to the Bulls.

Western Sydney chairman Paul Lederer is also under investigation by FA after allegedly harassing officials as they left the field from the Wanderers’ draw with the Jets.

Johnson says that recent events are indicative of a broader challenge within the football community.

“Annually, we lose 40 percent of our registered match officials, which translates to around 4,200 individuals leaving their roles at all levels of the game,” he said.

“The environment is unsustainable and contradicts everything we stand for.

“We must all work together – across all levels of the game – to improve the culture surrounding football. This includes fostering respect and understanding for the vital role match officials play in our sport.

Participation numbers among officials are an existential threat to the game.

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Sin bins are already working

Many may be surprised to discover that sin bins have already existed in English football for seven years.

Over two seasons from 2017 to 2019, the FA implemented a sin bin trial (given exclusively for dissent) across 31 participating leagues of grassroots football, the results of which are clear and obvious.

25 of the 31 leagues showed an overall reduction in dissent whilst there was a 38 percent total reduction in dissent across all the leagues.

When asked if they wanted to continue with sin bins after the trial concluded; 72 percent of players, 77 percent of managers/coaches and 84 percent of referees, said yes.

The trial was such a clear success that the FA implemented sin bins across all of grassroots football in England from the 2019/20 season, continuing still to this day.

Whilst there are still plenty of questions as to how these rules would affect the professional level of the game, there is enough evidence to give it a try, and that is the argument.

Another side of the coin

Among the perfectly valid criticism of blue cards is that for the period a team is down to 10 players, coaches will instruct their side to park the bus behind the ball and ride out the storm.

This is the most popular complaint, even the one given by Tottenham boss, Ange Postecoglou.

He’s correct, of course. One can only imagine the nonsense a José Mourinho side would get up to whilst trying to run down those 10 minutes in a 0-0 first half.

But that won’t always be the case, there’s another side to that coin that needs more consideration, which is where the conversation around blue cards for tactical fouls lends more credence.

How often in matches are promising and exciting counterattacks cut down by cynical challenges where the only objective is to break down the play?

One of the most famous examples is Giorgio Chiellini’s blatant horse collar on Bukayo Saka in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium.

At 1-1 in a Euro final, Chiellini was more than happy to concede the yellow card than allow England an opportunity in transition.

A fast and entertaining counterattack, going at the goal with speed and flair, that’s what we’re supposed to be encouraging, right?

Instead, Saka was cut down and the crowd was robbed of entertainment; perhaps with the threat of a blue card, Chiellini would think twice.

It’s the same reason why defenders tuck their arms behind their back in the penalty box, the threat of a sin bin will force players to change their behaviour and we will see more exciting and transitional football.

Give it a chance

Football will always be resistant to change, and that’s okay. The simplicity of kicking the round thing in the goal, is arguably the reason why it is the most popular sport on the planet.

But with a changing world, new challenges present themselves: more tactical fouls tarnish the entertainment value of the game and community official numbers threaten the future of the sport.

Blue cards shouldn’t be viewed as an extra complication, but rather an extra tool that allows referees to manage games in more appropriate ways.

Where the gap in severity between a yellow and red is large, a blue sits somewhere in between, a middle ground.

There is already evidence that they work, so they should be allowed room to breathe in a professional environment.

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