Football is a game for entertainment. The Champions League is one of the most watch football tournaments in the world and for the most part stays true to that, but is the away goal rule reducing the excitement?
By Tom Wilde – @TWilde91
This week has seen every football fan’s attention turn the way of European competition, with the return of Champions League football in the form of the first knockout round. Four first-leg ties were played out, all of which were greatly entertaining games. One thing each game had in common though is that, at least on paper, the away team in each game went home with an advantage.
Jose Mourinho was quick to refute that Manchester United had any sort of advantage last night after Sir Alex Ferguson’s side left Madrid with a 1-1 draw and an away goal. Both managers in fact agreed that the tie was still 50/50 going into the second leg. But United’s away goal means that statistically they do hold a slight advantage over Madrid. Borrusia Dortmund left Shakhtar with a mountain to climb after bagging two away goals, while big spending PSG also got two away goals in Mestalla. These away goals could prove to be crucial when it comes to deciding which way these ties swing.
But is the away goals rule necessary any more?
I feel that it is an outdated rule in this day and age and should be scrapped in favour of a ‘most goals win’ approach. The away goals rule was introduced by UEFA in 1965, in order to favour bigger clubs that would travel to unknown parts of Europe and be met with pitches of terrible quality and teams that would mostly be interested in kicking lumps out of their more famous counterparts.
It is worth thinking about just how different the game was 50 years ago. Take one of this weeks ties as an example. German side Borussia Dortmund travelled to Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk. Today, anyone with a reasonable knowledge of football is well aware of what Shakhtar are capable of. Being aware of a good number of their players is also no surprise, such is the level of continental knowledge that fans possess nowadays. Players like: Srna, Adriano, Douglas Costa and Taison are now common knowledge.
The reason these players are now well-known among football fans is because of developments in technology. Games like Football Manager and FIFA make any player accessible. Most 10 year olds will have signed Luis Adriano for their Manchester city team in Football Manager. Illegal streaming means you can watch almost any game you want to online. A quick google search and you can watch as many videos as you like of these players, their shoe size, what they had for breakfast yesterday and so on. So much football knowledge is at your finger tips.
50 years ago this would have been impossible, teams would travel – quite literally sometime – into the unknown in European Competition. This put the bigger sides at a huge disadvantage, and they would quite regularly lose the first leg away before winning comfortably at home. In fact, Real Madrid used to be well-known for the way they would overturn first leg deficits in Europe.
In today’s world though, clubs never travel to the unknown, with television and the internet a club knows exactly what it is in for when on the road. This eliminates that unknown, and one of the reasons for the away goal rule. The rule has made a goalless draw at home a good result for a team, Jose Mourinho will attest to this, as it is something he tells his players. Couple this with some teams’ fear of conceding a dreaded away goal and it can lead to cagey defensive performances in the knockout rounds.
Away goals 50 years ago were a genuinely hard thing to come by. Hard tackling teams coupled with poor pitches and a lack of knowledge about the opposition made an away goal an actual achievement that could be considered worth more. In today’s world though an away goal in Europe is really no different to scoring an away goal in your domestic league. For it to count as double seems rather unfair.
In three weeks time we’ll see the return legs of the games played over the last two days. In those games, a goalless draw for Dortmund and Man United would see the away goals rule come into play and see them through safely, without having outscored their opponents. Is that really fair?
While fans of these teams would take this in order to see their team progress, it doesn’t make for an exciting second leg. If the away goals rule were to be scrapped, and the teams with the most goals went through, then it would see two evenly contested games, with both teams actively going after a win, rather than trying to nick an away goal and defend it.
Whether you agree or not, it is certainly time to revise the rule, a lot has changed since 1965 in the world of football and the away goal rule can now be considered to be outdated.
Teams will and have used tactics to ensure they do not concede at home, creating a less entertaining, defensive performance. Should the away goal rule be changed to allow European football to be more entertaining? Tweet us your thoughts @talkingbaws or comment below.