Football

The Debate: Forget VAR, sin bins are what football needs

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Mike Dean

Image credit: Getty Images

ByBen Snowball
06/04/2020 at 20:33 | Updated 06/04/2020 at 20:42
@BenSnowball

Welcome to the Debate. Each week, four journalists argue a set topic from Monday to Thursday before having their views picked apart in a vodcast/podcast on Friday. Our next topic: which one rule should be changed in football? Ben Snowball with the case for sin bins…

Tactical fouls ruin the game. A swift counter-attack can be halted deliberately by a player without any interest in winning the ball. A yellow card is brandished, a free-kick from 35 yards is usually wasted and it remains 11 v 11.

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Some will argue that it’s part of the game, that players effectively have two lives each time they step onto the pitch and are therefore entitled to scissor someone down. But does it make for a better spectacle? And more importantly, does any yellow card offence?

The current ‘punishment’ is to hand a player a final warning. Sometimes it does cost teams when a cautioned player commits another infringement and is sent off, or acts differently because they are, to utilise one of football’s finer clichés, walking a tightrope.

But more often than not, a yellow card only adds to an individually tally – collect too many and it results in a suspension at a later date. And that’s another problem with the current rules.

The roll-over suspension makes no sense. You could collect five yellow cards against Liverpool, Burnley, Newcastle, Tottenham and Watford, and then serve your one-game suspension against Arsenal. The reward should be for the five teams mentioned first, not whichever team wins the suspension lottery.

Yellow card suspension rules in the Premier League

Number of yellow cardsBefore gameweekBan duration
519One match
1032Two matches
1538Three matches

The solution? A 10-minute sin bin for almost all yellow card offences. It’s proved popular in other sports, notably both rugby codes and ice hockey, so why not trial it in football?

Temporary dismissals are already being piloted at all levels of grassroots football for dissent, illustrated in the below Choose Your Own Adventure-style video:

It’s a great initiative to help combat abuse of referees. Now is a good time to apply it to more offences.

Would someone risk scything down a promising attack if they knew their team would face 10 minutes with 10 men? Would a defender take ages over a late throw-in if they could be penalised? Would a winger theatrically throw themselves to the floor, fixing a pleading gaze in the direction of the referee, if they knew they could be punished for diving? Even if there are just two minutes left in injury time, it would still make a player think twice before time-wasting or making a professional foul.

It won’t be a perfect system and there would need to be clear guidelines over what constitutes time-wasting and how many fouls are classified as ‘persistent’. Plus there would need to be at least two exceptions:

  • 1. Goalkeepers. Although entertaining, lumping an outfield player in goal for 10 minutes is not fair
  • 2. Celebrations. There is no need to rip the fun out of football by punishing exuberant celebrations

But for the rest? Bad fouls, simulation, dissent... a catalogue of problems that blight the game could be tackled. Sure, referees may not feel empowered to give every decision, but it would ultimately make football a more exciting game to watch. We could bask in fewer stoppages, more attacks and 'powerplays' of 11 v 10 – or occasionally 10 v 10 or 11 v 9.

It’s why football needs to trial 10-minute sin bins at all levels. Over to you, International Football Association Board…

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