Forbidding goalkeepers to catch the ball would not only result in more exciting football matches with many more goals, but also virtually do away with draws. Professor of Sport Logistics Gerard Sierksma of the University of Groningen has worked it out statistically. The economist suggests this as a simpler way to prevent boring draws than the proposal by FIFA boss Sepp Blatter. Shortly before the EURO 2004 championships, Blatter launched the idea to end draws with penalties, even in ordinary league matches. Of the 31 matches played at EURO 2004, no fewer than 10 ended in a draw.
‘Of course penalties at the end are very exciting’, says Sierksma. ‘But could the thrilling series after the 0-0 draw between the Netherlands and Sweden balance out the 120 boring football minutes that preceded it?’ Forbidding goalies to handle the ball would change all that, according to the professor: ‘The keeper would still be allowed to punch or hit away the ball within the penalty box. Catching the ball, however, would be treated as an ordinary handball foul.’
Sierksma’s computer calculations of matches in both the Dutch and Spanish leagues show that abolishing the goalie’s right to catch the ball would lead to at least fifty percent more goals. That increase would also make draws much rarer. Sierksma explains: ‘On average, a goalie stops an opponent’s attack by catching the ball about 13 times in a match. With the help of statistics formulas (a linear increase in the number of goals leads to an exponential decrease in the number of draws) we have calculated that an increase of fifty percent in goals means that draws disappear virtually completely.’
Forbidding the goalie to catch the ball would also ensure that corners in particular would be much more dangerous. Sierksma: ‘The average number per game is currently 9, with a rather wide spread of plus or minus 4, incidentally. Forbidding the catch would increase that number to a minimum of 14 per game. This is because about a quarter of all corner kicks are caught by the goalie, bearing in mind the fact that a goalie catches an average of 13 balls per game.’
EURO 2004 was an even clearer and more extreme example of this. ‘There was an attack about every minute and a half’, says the professor, ‘and the number of catches was well over 20 per game. The relative ineffectiveness of all those attacks is shown clearly in the diagram below: only 7 of the 31 games ended in 4 or more goals, and no fewer than 24 games had 3 or less goals. It’s no wonder that nearly a third ended in a draw.’
EURO 2004 had an average of 2.48 goals per game, whereas the average number of goals in most European leagues is nearly 3. Sierksma: ‘The picture becomes even clearer if we leave out the three "high" scoring EURO 2004 matches. They were Croatia-England (2-4), Sweden-Bulgaria (5-0) and the Netherlands-Czech Republic (2-3), together accounting for 16 of the 77 goals. When these three are excluded, the average per game was only 2.18 goals. EURO 2004 was thus characterized by lots of attacks with pitifully little effect.’
Banning catching would not make the rules of the game any more complicated, according to Sierksma. ‘On the contrary’, he says, ‘The goalie pass back rule could be dumped, as well as the six-second rule when the goalie is going to punt the ball. Because the number of goals would increase significantly after banning the illogical catching rule, football would be a much more attractive sport to watch, and the goalless draws so reviled by Blatter would be a thing of the past.’
For more information: Prof. Gerard Sierksma, tel. 0031 (50) 363 38 05 or 0031 6 22 69 54 40, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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