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Nobody should be putting football in the corner

Timewasting tactic needs outlawing

icon cornerflag19 February ~ Of all football's dismal afflictions, is there anything worse than watching a player break free in the dying moments of a tight game, only to veer off towards the corner flag to waste time in a bout of ungainly wrestling while opponents take their frustration out on his ankles? Actually, yes. Many other things are much worse, including widespread match-fixing, giving the World Cup to Qatar and Stephen Ireland's house. But none of these has an easy and obvious solution, whereas the blight of corner-flag timewasting does.

That resolution does not need a change in the laws on timewasting (dealt with under the provision "delaying the restart of play") but instead simply to include the blatant refusal to keep the ball in open play under the definition of "unsporting conduct", which is already punishable by a free-kick and yellow card.

I can't see why anyone wouldn't want to eliminate the ugly pantomime that infuriates crowds and often causes tempers to fray on the field. I can see two objections to a new interpretation of the rules. First, it's too hard to define the offence because sometimes play becomes stuck in the corner in the normal course of events. Second, it's a bad idea to make rules that require the referee to judge the intention of the player – what is going on in their mind rather than what they do.

I don't think either is sustainable. We already have many laws that demand an interpretation of intent (though none that involve tackling, despite so many commentators' protestations). Whether a player has deliberately passed back to the goalkeeper, whether he or she has dived to win a free-kick, or stopped in their run-up to gain an unfair advantage while taking a penalty – all require a ruling on intent.

The same is true in other sports. In Australian rules, a code I've previously argued would repay study by football's lawmakers, players are not allowed to deliberately put the ball out of play. Naturally this leads to a certain amount of dispute at times over what constitutes "deliberate". But as with preventing the corner-flag farrago, the point of the law is not to eliminate all grey areas. It's to plant the seed of doubt into the mind of a player who wants to blatantly slow down the game.

This is where the first objection also falls down. Yes, there are times when a team defending a lead is happy to see the ball trapped at the other end of the field. But it's not hard to tell the difference between that and the times when a player has a clear opportunity to keep an attack going, yet chooses to run the ball to the corner.

Football's lawmakers have done a pretty good job of curbing the worst physical assaults in the past 20 years or so. Now it's time to get serious about the less dangerous but intensely irritating practices that interrupt the free flow of the game. Just don't get me started on kicking the ball out of play when someone goes down injured. Mike Ticher

Comment on 19-02-2013 11:36:54 by Janik #764192
There is another law that could easily be applied; obstruction. If you are not trying to play the ball, simply using your body to hold the opponent away from it is a foul.

The most effective game-killing I've seen came when Arsenal beat Southampton in the FA Cup Final around ten years ago. From 85 minutes onwards, they stopped trying to score and simply ended the flow of the game. How they worked it was to pass and pass and pass. They did go towards the corner flag a few times but then came straight back out again, as they were using all the space available to them to keep the passing going. Players certainly opted against attacking when they had clear opportunities to do so. I suppose the key difference between this and the corner flag merchants is that it takes ability to eat up time in this manner.
Comment on 19-02-2013 12:17:39 by Sanchez_82 #764206
Obstruction is not a law of football. the word 'obstruction' is not used anywhere in the written laws of the game.

This is similar to another article on here a couple of months ago. I'm failing to see why a team should be punished for retaining possesion of the ball, regardless of where on the pith they do this.

Personally I think the skill and strength to keep hold of the ball under a challenge from a couple of defenders in a tight area is an admirable quality. Conversely it should be every good defenders instinct to direct the attacker towards the corner and therefore away from the goal.
Comment on 19-02-2013 12:35:07 by MoeTheBarman #764218
I've certainly urged my team on to keep the ball in the corner when we needed to hang on so I can't agree with this article, sorry.
Comment on 19-02-2013 12:44:15 by Andróide Veludo #764226
It can feature a fair bit of skill and brinkmanship, yes, though I have to say such situations always irritate and bore the pants off me.

There is at least one extremely memorable result of a player ignoring such tactics: infamously, David Ginola's twenty-year bad blood with Gerard Houllier is pretty much a direct result of him not following this routine. With twenty-odd seconds left on the clock of France's last World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria in 1993, at 1-1 and with only a point needed to secure qualification, he got the ball right in the corner at the Bulgarian end – but he forgot to timewaste and shield the ball against the corner flag in the prototypical frustrating and annoying fashion. Instead he naively tried to play football and win the match, slinging a cross over for Eric Cantona in the centre, but which went too high for the latter to stand a chance of reaching. It was retrieved by the Bulgarian defence on the far side of the penalty area, swept downfield, and about sixteen seconds after leaving Ginola's boot Emil Kostadinov was ramming it off the underside of the French crossbar and into the net, to dump France out after they'd seemed certain to qualify for USA '94 after needing just one point from their final two qualifiers.

Bulgaria, of course, went on to write their own fairy story in the finals, knocking out Germany in their famous quarter-final encounter. To say Ginola was scapegoated by Houllier for France's failure, though, barely scratches the surface of a conflict that has never healed to this day by all accounts.
Comment on 19-02-2013 13:24:35 by santos_l_halper #764256
There are good arguments for and against. On the one hand, it's simply bloody annoying. And I get annoyed even when my own team does it. I can't remember what game it was exactly, but a lower-league side were drawing at home in the FA Cup with a Premier League side, and had a last-minute counter-attack. Rather than swing in a cross whilst in a promising position, the player took the ball into the corner, thus earning a lucrative replay for his club. I was infuriated.

But, on the other hand, as Sanchez82 points out, teams are entitled to control the flow and speed of the game to their own advantage, and it's up to the opposition to themselves wrestle control back, if they can, so that they can dictate the tempo instead.

The point is obviously whether or not teams can dictate the tempo by taking the ball into the corner, winning endless throw-ins, etc.

There's a philosopher called Krechmar who argues this. He distinguishes between E-games, which have no fixed time limit, and revolve around a fixed number of skillful encounters, and T-games, which have a time limit, such as football. He argues that T-games are flawed because they encourage those in a winning position to delay and thus spoil the game.

But another philosopher, Stephen Mumford, disagrees. He says that having time limitations enhance T-games, because losing teams have to be more urgent and adventurous, while the winning team tries to slow the game down.

The question, again, is where shielding the ball in the corner fits in here.
Comment on 19-02-2013 13:34:38 by Arthur Nibble #764263
Talking of corners, I hate the prevalent practice of players taking corners from outside the quadrant, sometimes as much as a ball's width outside it, and not being told to retake them.
Comment on 19-02-2013 13:43:04 by santos_l_halper #764268
Sergio Aguero was about to take a penalty against Leeds this weekend with the ball clearly in front of the penalty spot! He was told to re-place the ball.
Comment on 19-02-2013 13:55:31 by Coral #764278
Doesn't bother me and close this down and another method will be found. Also as has been said why is it unsporting? Giving the ball to Heskey in the corner and having him hold off players is a different way to Barcelona playing the ball around their defence, but why is one acceptable over the other? Do we make the move to stop Barca holding possession for so long as it is unsporting and not fair on the other team?
Comment on 19-02-2013 14:04:34 by Barnstoneworth #764282
I too remember that Arsenal v Southampton cup final. Saints had Fabrice Fernandes ready to come on as substitute and had to wait about five minutes for the ball to go out of play before they could get him on. Having said that, keeping possession of the ball by passing it around is different from keeping it in a corner. I think a player's intentions when they do this are perfectly clear.

However, there's nothing wrong with deliberately putting the ball out of play, since it is the opposing team that then takes possession of it. Imagine if goalkeepers were not allowed to tip shots around the post or over the bar.
Comment on 19-02-2013 14:12:06 by slackster #764292
I agree that this is one of those timewasting irritants - rather like the back and forth to the goalie who'd pick it up routine used to be. I wouldn't be at all sorry to see it stopped.
Comment on 19-02-2013 15:10:19 by geobra #764334
On December 22nd, with Atalanta drawing 1-1 with Udinese and barely an hour gone, I intimated to my mates that we might just as well go home because the teams had begun to play keep ball, or 'melina' as it's called in Italy. We didn't go home, but I was right. This is a regular occurrence in Italy when a draw suits both teams. It may well have happened twice more since in draws with Cagliari (1-1) and Catania (0-0) though it wasn't so obvious.

Trying to run down the clock by the corner flag is ugly and very irritating, but at least it means that one team is happy with the result but the other isn't. Two teams effectively ending the game with 30 minutes left is far worse. But what can you do (except walk out)? Nothing. And if at the end of the season both teams have achieved their objectives, it's soon forgotten.

As I said, I hate the practice the article is condemns, but perhaps what happened to Ginola explains why it happens. As I see it, the only way to stop it is for the referee to find a way to award a free kick to the team that wants the ball. In such confusion, it shouldn't be difficult.
Comment on 20-02-2013 01:03:43 by multipleman78 #764653
The last comment is actually what happens most of the time and is actually a good reason for teams not to try and time waste. If you watch these tactics you will find that the defenders can assault the player shielding the ball and the referee or linesman who is right there will give a free kick, goal kick or throw in to the defending team. The officials are uncomfortable with the tactic as it raises tempers and look to get out of it as quickly as possible.

I am sure we have all seen incidents where a player shielding the ball has been smashed in the back and got nothing, kicked the ball off a defender for a corner only to see a goal kick awarded and had fouls given against him simply for putting his foot on the ball and standing up to physical assault from behind.

I was at a Scotland game years ago v Belgium. Scotland led 2-0 at half time and were up against ten men. Belgium pulled a goal back but as the game entered injury time it looked like we would hold on for a big win. Kevin Gallagher i think was the player who tried to cross a ball instead of keeping it. The play raged to the other end and a young Daniel Van Buyten scored to save Belgium.

In that instance i wanted him to run the clock down but in general i dislike it as i feel that it does nothing for the team except give a foul to your opponents. The best way is the way mentioned above. Do what Arsenal did or have conviction in your ability and go score another goal.
Comment on 20-02-2013 10:14:57 by Efficient Baxter #764726
How much time does this practice actually waste anyway? 20-30 seconds of a 90m+ match. When it takes just seconds to boot it down to the other end of the pitch, I don't really count it as an irritant in football.
Mind you I have watched American Football. Running down the clock is not spectator friendly.
Comment on 20-02-2013 11:05:08 by Kryvbas Gripper Rih #764750
Leopards tethered to the corner flag once the game gets to 85 minutes. It's the only way.
Comment on 20-02-2013 13:11:17 by scmelville #764791
Well said Mike Ticher -- totally agree.
Comment on 22-02-2013 15:40:24 by Roy Parkes #765823
I like the comment in the original article that referees should not have to read players' minds and judge their intentions - just respond to their actions. Though we do have problems over 'intentional handball' and 'intentional foul'. I fear the march of technology will move in a few years from the goal line to mind-reading, gesture feedback, comparing body postures during voluntary and involuntary flight towards the turf with a pre-determined norm (adjusted for height above sea level and wind speed and direction), and smirk/guilt ratios (copyright RADA). All grist to the mill for adverts and product placement during the endless replays on Sky.
However, in the meantime, there is one player action which is always clear in filmed retrospection and is always wrong and should always be punished, also in retrospection. I refer to shirt-pulling. If the referee misses it during play but the camera catches it, then give a yellow card after the match. No ifs, no buts, no analysis. And just to forestall some possible objection, no, two retrospective yellows would not equal a retrospective red, and no, the yellow would not be awarded by the Sky commentator during the match but by the football authorities afterwards. I assume yellow cards are still totted up over the season and produce their own punishment?

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