When he was recently asked about how the game of football could be improved, Arsene Wenger suggested that throw-ins should be done away with and that kick-ins should be brought in. While certainly innovative, does this idea have any merits?
The logic behind Wenger’s suggestion is that in no other situation are outfield players allowed to handle the ball. In his eyes, it would make more sense to restart play with the ball on the ground. He also put forward the point that because the ability to launch a long-throw in the style of Rory Delap was such an unusual skill, it was almost an unfair advantage. This argument is fairly porous as you can hardly punish a player for being unusual; Peter Crouch is unusually tall, Theo Walcott is unusually quick, these attributes give them an advantage and that is the nature of sport.
However the idea that outfield players shouldn’t be handling the ball is an interesting one. The concept of kick-ins was discussed in 1996 by group of football experts called Task Force 2000. Johan Cruyff along with the majority of the group was against the idea of a kick-in on the grounds that it would cause a decline in the quality of play. They were right; if kick-ins were brought in, then each time the ball goes out of play would be an opportunity to load the penalty area and pump the ball in. Teams could have a whole strategy based around simply winning kick-ins anywhere on the pitch. While this may encourage defenders to be more skilful and measured with their clearances, the end result would not be an attractive one. The game would be increasingly similar to rugby or American football where gaining territory is of paramount importance.
It is likely that Wenger did not consider this when he put forward his idea given that the idea of launching the ball into the box is alien to his sensibilities. He would envisage something completely different and if kick-ins were brought in with the proviso that they had to be passed to a teammate within 10 yards, then the system could work. This could lead to a more fluid game certainly than the one that long kick-ins would create. However there is nothing drastically wrong with the current system of throw-ins. It is not as if long-throws are a recent invention; most teams do not have a Rory Delap and so there is no real problem.
Wenger’s idea of kick-ins is not a bad one; with the right regulations it could work, but frankly there are other aspects of the game that require major surgery; throw-ins work perfectly well and there is no need to change them.