Football has seen multiple rule changes. Ever since Scotland kicked a ball in anger vs England at the first-ever competitive football match on 30 November 1872 at West of Scotland Cricket Club’s ground at Hamilton Crescent in Partick, the terms of the game have begrudgingly revised itself in keeping with the times.
Twitter tells me that the International Football Association Board (football’s decision-making body that funnily enough could not settle on whether they were a board or an association) have made some rule changes this week.
Dear reader and fellow Liverpool fan, I’d like to propose a few too.
The Milner, Hendo, Gini trio and Coitus Interruptus
I like sentences to snap together with the satisfaction of a fridge door closing upon the retrieval of the last slice of leftover pizza. To that effect, I would like to see the number of players on each side to be brought down to nine from eleven.
Stay with me here.
The players of today are supreme athletes. Unlike in the 90s, beer bellies are frowned upon. Today, when the average midfielder can cover upwards of 14 kilometers in sprints in 90 minutes, it would be reasonable to suggest that football is ready for its next evolutionary leap.
Playing with 9 will open up space in the congested midfield. It will be the port of call to a new breed of pliant and hyper-intelligent footballer. There will be entire teams of Roberto Firminos. The passengers, the coat-tail riders, will meet the fate of the Dodo bird. Consider football as real-time theatre unraveling itself through improvised choreography. Players will not stand out like pointless commas, constricting the flow of the play’s passage. The game will be easier to follow. This is also conducive to entertaining, high scoring matches, and drawing in newer fans.
Nine is fresh and sexy. Eleven is well-meaning but obstinate. The devotion to 11 has caused ossification in football to the extent the sport is stepping on its toes. Like high-priests, the game’s lawmakers divined its importance from thin air sitting at an uptown tavern in 1800s London. With due respect, these were the same farsighted gentlemen, remember, who deemed professionalism in the sport as an impossibility.
Amelia Horgan of The Tribune noted in her editorial how social media-induced behaviour is conditioning this generation into having progressively lesser attention spans. The consequence of contemporary patterns of production and consumption are not merely limited to the individual’s psychology but is moving goalposts in global sports decision-making.
Responding to Darwinism, Cricket, noticeably, has famously offered shortened alternatives to the longer version of the game – the tequila shot version of the 20-20 format. Every autumn in Hong Kong, the sport has been truncated to six-overs a side and is called the Super Sixes. Also, the Hundred is the working title of a proposed professional 100-ball cricket league in England and Wales run by the ECB from 2020.
This is all to say that I’d welcome anything that keeps James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum from lining up in a 3-man-midfield away from home.
It happens to the best of us. Spend 27 years of your life being sure of something to only find out that the company you keep, the job you hold, is just not you. For instance, one bad day a farmer said “feck that hoe” (hoe is a gardening instrument) in his mid-thirties and assumed his destiny as the bloody unifier of Britain’s first-ever Democratic Republic. Or more lately, how a balding public school teacher decides to be a meth overlord (considering America’s public education budget cuts – $9.2 billion spending cut on education during Trump administration – it happens more often than you’d imagine). So, what’s stopping that happening in football? I am, of course, alluding to Liverpool’s defender and once-iffy-impala, Joel Matip.
I’d have it so that clubs be allowed to prescribe hypnotherapy to their players. World-renowned Dr. Steve Peters, Liverpool’s resident psychologist handing the number 10 jersey to Joel, telling the Cameroonian that he’s really Riquelme all along — see how many goals and assists he can rack up from midfield from now till the end of the season.
The combined goals from the Liverpool midfield so far this season is 6. It’s easy to fantasize Joel Roman Riquelme wearing a poncho, coming to the rescue.
Bit windy, innit?
‘It was a very, very difficult game for different reasons. A wild opponent… I know people don’t like it when I say that, but the wind came from all directions. It’s not exactly what we wanted.’ Jurgen Klopp, post-match presser, 0-0 vs Everton, Goodison Park, 3rd Feb, 2019.
Here’s what you do: Take a traffic cone and place it in the center circle. One trained sea-gulls will then duly perch on it. With a string, tie the ankle of the seagull to the top of the cone. Give it an hour in the elements.
If the match referee comes back to see the traffic cone has been blown away with the seagull, then maybe consider postponing the match. If you wouldn’t drive to work in those weather conditions, makes little sense that a football match should be allowed to proceed in those working conditions. I am also a big believer in winter breaks, as you would imagine.
If an errant gust of wind or sleet is responsible for the trajectory of the ball to bend from in to out and cause a title challenge of seven months to falter, it’s hardly fair. It is, after all, a game of fine margins anyway.
Can We Give Virgil Van Dijk A Cape, Please?
I was at a cafe the other day, working on a comic book, threshing out character motives and drive. It was at that point I overheard a conversation.
“Can I bring kids into a world so cruel?” the boyfriend asked the girlfriend.
Almost automatically, I said to myself, “In a world that has Virgil Van Dijk? Yes, yes, you can.”
At the time I was peering over Mark Waid’s transcriptions on the motivations of Superman, the last son of Krypton, and the connection made sense. It read:
“ It’s fair to presume that, despite his extraterrestrial origins, Kal-El feels the same basic need for community that is shared by all the human beings around him; if not, he most likely wouldn’t bother being Clark Kent at all and would just as soon soar off to explore the greater solar system and galaxies beyond than work a nine-to-five in Metropolis.
“It wasn’t until I came across a specific passage on the Internet by an author named Marianne Williamson that everything crystallized for me: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
“We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I’d have the rules change to adorn Van Dijk and certain other players (Leo Messi etc.) with capes. In this context Van Dijk’s strengths are almost as imperiously realised as Superman’s. And he plays like he knows it. He moves like the eye of the storm, walks on air, creating a soundless vacuum and time which weren’t there moments ago. The bigger the storm around him, the calmer he is.
He is a footballing extraterrestrial who is gracing us not only because it makes him belong, but also because it helps fulfill his personal prophecy.
If the S was a symbol of hope in Krypton, Van Dijk embodies the hope of Liverpool’s title aspirations. Give him a cape like Superman has, so children watching football can recognise and aspire to grow up with otherworldly excellence. Give him a cape because all his team-mates will tell you he deserves it because he’s an aspiration and not merely an inspiration.
“Mankind is not good at four things”, said poet Antonio Machado, “That that they are no good at sea: Rudder, anchor, oars, and at the perennial fear of going down.”
Chris Sutton says it’s ridiculous to think that Liverpool are bottling this season’s title challenge with nine games still to go. Sutton says that it’s not the players but the fans who are bottling it.
And that is above all why Van Dijk, the defender, needs a cape – to tell us Liverpool fans to calm down. He has got this.