The Away Goals Rule Is Outdated And Should Be Scrapped
Written by @TommoNewton2
First it was Chelsea, now Arsenal. This season, both have fallen victim to a scourge of the modern game: the away goal rule. First introduced in 1965 to replace the rather amateur coin-tossing method of deciding a winner, the away goal has gone well passed its sell-by date and continues to blight clubs across Europe. It’s counterproductive and throws up so many anomalies that it’s not worth continuing.
The rationale behind it suggests it was set up to entice teams away from holding back in the away leg, to try and encourage teams to attack in opposition territory, but it’s had the opposite effect on teams. Anyone who’s watched European football in the last 10 years will know that the first leg of the knockout ties are: boring, defensive and generally lacking in entertainment. That’s because the home team don’t want to concede a goal, and that’s not just coming from me, after an elite coaches forum last year, Sir Alex Ferguson had this to say on the matter:
‘’ From a personal point of view, when I was playing at home, I used to say to myself, don’t lose a goal’’
So the away goal causes exactly what it set out not to do, stifle good football and force teams to think about not conceding at home, rather than actually trying to score goals. It leads to a nervy first leg where the home side don’t want to commit men forward, and the away side are more than content to sit back, absorb the pressure and take a draw, rather than trying to win the game, a dull first leg is usually a by-product of the away goal rule.
The rule throws up so many anomalies that make you question its existence, like last night when Arsenal bowed out of the Champions League thanks to the rule.. The Gunners kept a clean sheet away from home, Monaco didn’t, yet Arsenal still went out. Despite the fact that both sides scored 3 goals over two games. What makes scoring more away goals better than keeping a clean sheet at your opponent’s home ground? I can’t see any reasonable explanation for it. Monaco won by 2 goals away from home, as did Arsenal, yet the North Londoners were punished for it. The rule completely changes the dynamics of a two-legged tie, and like Sir Alex said, changes the way two sides set up for both games.
As previously mentioned, the rule was introduced in the 60’s to offer a fairer tie breaker than the toss of a coin. In those days, it was the fairest way. Now we have extra time and penalties, which are a much fairer and relevant way of settling ties. Both the beautiful game and the world in general are unrecognisably different to what they were back in those days, and the away goal was a much harder feat, that’s because European away days were very, very different back then. Pitches were varied in size and quality which would completely alter a team’s play. Whereas now the standards of pitch are so advanced that playing on the surface away from home isn’t too dissimilar from playing at home. An away day was a lot more uncomfortable, playing in a completely unknown place, were travel was a lot harder and crowds more hostile.
That’s not just my gut feeling, the stats back it up. Writing for ‘The Guardian’ in 2013, Jonathon Wilson calculated that back in 1965, just 16% of European away games resulted in a win, in the modern day that figure stand at just over 30%. It’s a fact that away days are becoming easier, and with that, the away goal rule becoming more absurd. The increasing free movement of players across borders has also had a part to play in reducing the challenge of an away day. Three of Arsenal’s squad last night hail from France, and overall, 5 of them have played in the league at some point during their careers. That’s such a big contrast from the days when a full squad of 11 British players would go abroad to a place where most of them had never even seen, yet alone visited. The stats back it up, playing abroad is easier and the away goal rule is becoming less relevant.
The rule also brings up the issue of extra time in the second leg. If two teams are level after 180 minutes, the side who were drawn at home in the first leg have a huge advantage over their hosts in the second. PSG had 120 minutes to score their second away goal, Chelsea only had 90. Due to the fact that they came out of the hat second, Chelsea were sent packing. Is that right? a team going out of a competition due to the luck (or bad luck) of the draw?
Even if the away goal rule isn’t completely overturned, surely the relevant bodies can see that extra time should be like pressing a reset button, whoever scores the most goals in extra time should go through, and if the teams aren’t separated by that, then penalties should await.
At the end of the day, two-legged affairs should be like any normal game. Whoever scores the most goals wins the tie, that’s the way football works in any other situation, so why not in Europe?
I’d like to see changes implemented, but I’m not holding my breath.