Where would football be without the age-old tradition of the cup competition? A time when your team’s diabolical league form is soothed, by an unlikely run to the semi-finals. A time when the fans can justify outrageous claims to glory and dream big, after stuffing the league high-flyers. But more often than not, it’s an exhibition of excruciating moral injustice, as those who have nabbed the sacred away-goal, produce an exhibition of anti-football- often against superior footballing teams. So what happens if we scrapped the away-goal?
When championing an alteration to the rules of the beautiful game, it is always important to realize just exactly why nobody ever tries to tamper with them. The offside rule has been mucked about with several times over the last 20 years. In fact, it’s been altered to such an extent, that the new 50p coin explaining the law, has apparently got it wrong. Clearly, change is not always good.
Funnily enough, efforts have already been and gone in an attempt to eradicate those perennial tournament bus parkers. Who can possibly forget the Golden Goal rule at an international tournament? A rule that produced some of football’s most scintillating moments, like Delfi Geli’s own-goal that sealed Liverpool’s 2001 UEFA Cup win. Who can forget that? For those who may not be particularly familiar with early noughties tournament football, the concept of the Golden Goal had the opposite effect on free flowing, attacking football. With the stakes so high, teams became terrified of conceding, which usually produced a really quite sterile 30minutes of extra-time. Unless you’re David Trezeguet, Golden Goal was a failure.
But such ideas usually work in circles and it would appear we’ve worked our way back round, to the point where footballing bureaucrats are tired of defensive teams, usually the underdogs in a cup tie, having any success in cup tournaments. Indeed, one fixture in particular seemed to twist the knickers of football’s sneering upper class more than any other. The slaying of Barcelona by Robbie DiMatteo’s merry men last month went down like a lead balloon with many in Europe. In fact, they’re raising of the Champions League trophy after a penalty-shoot out win against a superior Bayern Munich side, drew some very depressing headlines indeed. It would appear the Blue side of London upset a fair few people on their route to Champions League glory.
Unfortunately, those who batter and belittle the rest of us who don’t play tike-taka football or rely on two of Europe’s best wingers, are also idealists, living in a parallel footballing universe. Scrapping the away goals rule would never change the way a team like Chelsea played en route to lifting the cup. Why would they? Against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, they simply came across too teams who were better at playing football. Why on earth are they going to try and beat them at their own game? They’re response wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing, but football isn’t just about lots of pretty passes and playing between the lines. Football is about winning trophies and glory- Chelsea played within the rules of the game and came out victorious.
Memories are notoriously short in football, although when it comes to the bashing of Chelsea, people seem to be under the illusion that the beautiful game has always been dominated by the beautiful football. It hasn’t. Cup football at the highest level, like the UEFA Champions League, will never be any different. In modern times, when have teams ever traditionally gone hell for leather in the crunch stages, which for the sake of argument, is the last-16 upwards? The two-legged cup-tie today, is a long-drawn out, tactical game of mastermind. Not a game of FIFA or YouTube montage of Lionel Messi clips. Get back to reality.
And that is the problem. The great games, the great teams, often have a habit of skewing reality. The 6-5 aggregate Real Madrid victory over Manchester United in a Champions League quarter-final sits as prominently as the images of Lionel Messi knocking five past Bayer Leverkusen. And both the Ronaldo team of 2003 and the Messi led bunch of today, had/have-conquered Europe already a few times between them- the argument that beautiful football never wins is absolute rubbish.
But the point it, changing the away goals rule is another flash in the pan idea, devised by those who can’t relate into the concepts of reality. Nothing would change but the rules on paper. Before the advent of away goals, a play-off would often be played on a neutral ground, if teams couldn’t be separated after two legs. Like the Golden Goal, it wouldn’t change the tactical make up of games. Just add another 90 minutes on to it.
Tournaments such as the UEFA Champions League will always produce some of the very best spectacles that football has to offer, be it with the away goals rule, or without. But perhaps we need to stop over-analyzing and dissecting every single aspect. As a game of clichés, maybe we should refresh this one for the billionth time. The best team will win the league, but it won’t always win the cup. And that is the joy of it. Barcelona already have enough going for them- there’s something slightly macabre about changing the rules to try and help the best get better.
What do you think about scrapping the away-goals rule? Eureka moment or waste of time? Get involved in the discussion on Twitter, follow @samuel_antrobus