At the end of another long week of FIFA committee meetings (27-31 October), Friday was football day. Some of the game’s most eminent past and present coaches and players jetted into Zurich from the far corners of the globe for the Technical Committee and Football Committee meetings where the most pressing topics of the day such as the offside law, TV evidence and the silver goal were debated in a serious yet amicable fashion within the home of FIFA.
Football Committee: the TV debate
The first half was controlled by the Technical Committee, chaired by former French great Michel Platini with Amadou Diakite of Mali adding his expert knowledge as deputy chairman. Lined up next to them were some of the finest coaches and greatest football tacticians around. Argentina’s 1986 FIFA World Cup™-winning coach Carlos Bilardo had come from Buenos Aires, Francisco Maturana, finding a gap before the next round of Conmebol Germany 2006 qualifiers, had made the trip from Bogota, Nigeria’s coach at the previous finals, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, had travelled from Lagos and so on...
Rarely before had one room been filled with so many of the beautiful game’s great thinkers and although the agenda page had space to breathe, few committee members were not short of air more than three-and-half hours later when its captain called time.
he committee heard a positive account of the artificial pitch at Helsinki’s Töölö stadium used in ten matches (including the Final) of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Finland 2003, from F-MARC Chairman Professor Jiri Dvorak on the latest medical matters affecting the game but longest and loudest from UEFA’s technical director Andy Roxburgh.
Rule 11: offside interpreted
The former Scotland coach set the ball rolling to a healthy debate on the offside law and its interpretation with an eye-opening presentation and selection of video clips from recent Champions League and European matches. In each, a controversial goal had been scored and Roxburgh, with a somewhat mischievous grin, asked his fellow members to call goal or no goal. The room’s distinguished gentlemen stirred as the lights were lowered and the projection emitted.
Never allowing an opportunity to escape his sense of fun, Platini took up the role of the commentator of the soundless images, showing off his vast knowledge of the game by perfectly and passionately describing the action. The images fell largely into two categories: a player in an offside position interfering with the goalkeeper’s line of vision, and a player in a passive offside position (not interfering with play) only becoming active (able to rejoin the game) once the first pass had been completed.
Laws of the Game: more detailed interpretation of Law 11: Offside
The busiest man in the room, however, was FIFA’s technician, who was repeatedly called back to play the tape just “one more time”. Roxburgh had already proved how difficult a job referees had and, perhaps more importantly, how difficult understanding Rule 11 was for players and coaches before he summoned FIFA’s Head of Refereeing Jose Maria Garcia-Aranda to the front to give his verdict (largely agreeing with his colleague’s original decision) and to explain the sometimes misunderstood rule.
ollowing the presentation, members offered a number of suggestions to simplify the rule. Some called for all players to be viewed as active within the six-yard box, while others believed this should be extended to include the whole penalty box.
In his opening address, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter said attacking football was something that needed to be promoted more. Pointing to the lack of new tactical ideas at Korea/Japan 2002, he called on the football technicians to find ways to make the game more entertaining and to see more goals scored.
“I was told I was a romantic by some club bosses,” he said. “But on this question, I’m happy to be the last romantic in football.”
Fair Play and game’s end
As the first half of football day came to a close, other topics were debated: the increasing incidence of players blocking the path of goalkeepers at corners, and situations when a ball is sportingly put out of play because a player is injured: evidence was shown that teams are taking advantage by kicking the ball, rugby style, towards the corner flag and pushing up.
Finally, the burning question of how to end a knockout match was discussed, with general agreement that a single solution - either extra-time and penalties, golden goal or silver goal - should be universally adopted worldwide. It was decided that each national association should debate the point and come up with their preferred solution, which would be presented to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) meeting in February 2004.
With the meeting having already eaten well into lunch time, there was to be no more extra-time as captain Platini finally called it a day, leaving the members with much food for thought before the next meeting in March 2004.