Posted on 21 January 2013.
Every so often FIFA and other regulating bodies take a look at various rules and decide to change them. Usually these rule changes are an attempt to make the sport of soccer more entertaining. Think back to the 1925 rule changes regarding offside infractions or the 1992 implementation of the ‘backpass’ rule which limits the type of passes that a goal keeper can pick up with their hands. I am all for increasing the entertainment value of the sport but I also think rules should be used to make sure all teams are on a relatively even playing field where possible. The transfer rules and the amount of games any one player can play against an opposing team needs to be changed.
Take this past weekend where Manchester United traveled to White Hart Lane to take on an in-form Tottenham side. Tottenham added to their squad in the summer by picking up Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele from Fulham. While Dempsey was not being played as punishment for trying to force through a transfer at Fulham, Dembele actually started for Fulham in their 2-3 defeat against Manchester United on August 25, 2012. On August, 29, 2012, Dembele was transferred from Fulham to Tottenham and actually picked up an assist in Tottenham’s away win against United in late September. Fast forward to 2013 and he has started against United for the third time in the same season. Dembele cannot be held at fault but this is where the rules should change. If each team can only play every other team twice in a season then the same should be said for each player.
Another example is an equally imposing Demba Ba. Demba Ba was recently transferred from Newcastle to Chelsea in a mildly controversial transaction. While playing for Newcastle Demba Ba started in their woeful 0-3 defeat against Southampton. Southampton were surely thinking that at least one of their two required matches against Newcastle and Ba had gone in their favor. Instead they have the potential to face the menacing striker for a third time in late March.
Now some would argue that it is not the player’s fault for playing well for two different teams in the course of the same season and I actually agree. However, it is the league’s responsibility to ensure that teams at opposite ends of the table have a fair playing schedule. Southampton gets the tough task of facing the power, pace, and precision of Demba Ba three times in one season while Chelsea’s defense can take pleasure in knowing they only had to play one of the league’s best strikers once this season.
There are two ways to make the playing schedule fair for all 20 teams. One option is to change the date the transfer window closes in the summer. Currently the transfer window closes at the end of August which also happens to be the month that the new season kicks off each year. Pushing the transfer window deadline up to July 31st, would be a step in the right direction but it could cause trouble for matches that are postponed or rescheduled. The best way to implement this new rule is to do just that- make a new rule. There should be a limit to the amount of appearances any one player can have against a single team within the same season. In the case of Dembele, Tottenham can get full use of their star midfielder in all of their league games but they would not be able to field him in both matches against Manchester United (or Norwich) as he has already played against those teams for a different team. Tottenham would have to choose which game he would play in. The other game he would need to be unavailable for selection. This rule change would make the schedule a step closer to being fair for all 20 teams involved.