Two better match conclusion methods to the Penalty Shoot-Out
The Champions League final between Man Utd and Chelsea was a solid match high on tempo if not sparkling in true quality. Its conclusion also, for me at least, again raised the issue of the suitabilty of deciding games by the method of the selection of five players from each side to take penalties. Its an issue that strikes every team: in recent years alone, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham, West Ham - to name just a few - have been involved in major games that were decided by this method. Even today, a match that could represent the only chance for Bristol City and Hull City to reach the Premier League, could be decided by the inherent fickle fortune of the penalty shoot out.
Focusing briefly on Wednesday, Man Utd dominated the first half against a frozen Chelsea team and should have been at least two goals up before Chelsea - with a rare attack in the Man Utd half of the pitch - benefited from some fortunate ricochets for the Lampard equaliser in injury time. The second half saw Chelsea drive Man Utd back and the game was a played at a high tempo which made for good watching. The game predictably went into extra time as the solidity and the balance of the two teams meant no real chances were created.
It looked quite clear that both sides - probably more so Chelsea - were looking to the finish line of the penalty shoot out rather than taking the riskier option of winning outright before the 120th minute, and so it was that Man Utd went to take the trophy on the penalty shoot-out method thanks to Edwin van der Saar's save from Niclas Anelka's nervous penalty.
So the biggest club competition in Europe was decided by penalties. Just like the biggest international cup competition, the World Cup final in 2006. For me this method of deciding matches - particularly huge matches - is a poor method of deciding matches. This is because I think that to win a match on penalties just means that you were luckier with the taking of penalties - rather than proving yourself to be the better team on the pitch by winning in open play, eleven against eleven.
As I see it there are two preferable alternatives to the current penalty shoot-out method.
My preferred method is to introduce the golden goal into extra-time and simply to play on until a goal is scored. Why this is not the present solution I don't know - the only drawback I think that can be argued against it is that matches can potentially run on and on. But for me if that is the case, so be it. Anyway, looking at other sports, I think battles that run on and on can make for epic, sporting occasions - look at McEnroe v Borg in the Wimbledon final tie-break of 1980, for an example. It is also clear to me that with the removal of the option of penalties the incentive to attack and score will be far greater, so that in practice matches aren't likely to last long into the night as I guess some may fear.
For me, the golden goal method is better than penalties because it keep the essence of football in tact until its conclusion - eleven against eleven taking it to each other on the pitch until a winner is scored.
The other method is a concession to those who - for whatever reason - want penalties to remain as the method of deciding matches. For me one of the worst things about the current method is that five players who has played 120 minutes of football are ruled out of having an impact (unless the score is tied after five penalties each) on whether his side ultimately wins or loses, and are simply left to hope that fortune is supporting five of their teammates in the taking of penalties. A better solution for those who want penalties to remain is that all ten outfield players on the pitch should have to take a penalty, and the winner is decided simply by what team scores more.
This way every individual is still involved in the conclusion of the match and the winning or losing of a match retains a stronger sense of collective involvement - which is the essence of football.
I think it would be great for football if UEFA/FIFA seriously looked at the current 'five takers from each side' penalty shoot-out method. I can understand how it was seen in 1970 as a preferable method of the drawing of lots - but surely it is now time with more and more high profile games seemingly decided by this method that a review took place of alternative and more satisfactory methods of deciding tied cup games.