Is there finally something that Football can learn from Rugby?

Football match

We’ve heard it many times before - football should take note of what is going on in other sports and learn from them.

Why, you might ask, would the world’s most popular sport need to change? On the whole, you’d probably be right. When it comes to Marketing, Popularity, Media Coverage, Glitz and Glamour, there are no other sports that can command the global appeal of Football. But would it not be a bit too single minded and ignorant to totally rule it out?

Take Rugby as an example. Both sports born from the same game before splitting into Rugby Football and Association Football, and although both are very different today, surely parallels can still be drawn from each to improve the other.

As mentioned earlier, whilst there is very little we would want to change about the beautiful game, if you had to sit down an pick out what is wrong with our game, its probably fair to suggest that towards the top 3 of anyone’s list would be the high wages paid to players, the lack of respect shown to match officials, and players feigning injury.

I’m sure you’ll agree – wages are probably too high. However, to go down a Rugby Union style salary cap? Not for me. I for one love seeing some of the very best ply their trade in England. So unless it was to be a world wide cap, it would only follow the course in Rugby, which has seen the vast majority of top stars head abroad.

The lack of respect shown to match officials is indeed appalling on most parts. Anyone who watches Rugby can only look on in a mix of awe, admiration and embarrassment at the difference between the two sports in the way the referee is addressed in Rugby, and the way in which even the most debateable decision is accepted.

The reason being simple – in Rugby, territory is everything. Back chat to a referee will see you marched back ten yards. Do you recall football experimenting with this rule? It arrived to a mass fanfare in 2001……and disappeared without a trace quietly in 2005 on account of the fact that the rule, well, didn’t really have any effect.

So on to the final of those three footballing annoyances, and the one thing I feel football can look to its sporting cousin for guidance on.

Play acting. They say that the difference between the two sports is that a footballer spends 90 minutes trying to convince everyone he’s been hurt when he’s not, and a Rugby player spends his match pretending not to be injured when he is.

Picture the scene – and its one we’ll have all groaned at in the past – the opposition are on the attack. In trying to make a tackle, one of your players catches one of theirs late, sending him crashing to the floor. There he resides, rolling, groaning and throwing his arms up in the air. Your team win back possession, begin a counter attack only for the referee to blow his whistle on account of the player prone on the floor, and in such agony….until that is the referees whistle has blown, he’s had his bit of attention and suddenly is no longer screaming and writhing around, but picking himself up in a miraculous show of recovery. Yep, it’s bloody annoying. But does Rugby have a solution?

You see, by the very nature of Rugby seeing two 18 stone slabs of solid muscle smashing into each other, serious head and neck injuries are always a distinct possibility – as seen in Saturdays first test between the British and Irish Lions vs. Australia in which 3 Australians were carried off in neck braces. So, to ensure that players receive the best treatment possible, the medical teams are allowed to enter the field of play at any time to tend to their injured players.

And for me, this is something football has to adopt – for if a physio can come on during open play, there would be no need to play act. No need to waste time or disrupt the oppositions flow. If a player wants to roll on the floor awaiting unnecessary medical attention, well that’s up to him. The only one’s he’ll be disadvantaging will be his own team.

We should forget, that not only would this appease the cynical aspects of the game, but also help those who genuinely need it. My heart still sinks a little at the memory of Michael Owen crawling towards the touchline after rupturing his ACL during England’s World Cup campaign of 2006 while play carried on. If Football was to look at introducing Rugby’s methodology, sights such as that would be a thing of the past.

So while it is fair to say that there are many other sports that could look and learn from Football we must acknowledge that if minor things from other sports can be used to improve our already great game, and cut loose some of the gamesmanship that can cast its reputation into disrepute, then we as a sport must be strong enough to take it on board – even if it does mean copying the egg chasers!

What do you think? Does football need to change or should it carry on as it is - flaws or not...

image: © paddymccann

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