Cornered in the search for goals

Recently in his (often amusing) South of the Border South Melbourne FC blog, Paul Mavroudis asked this question – and he probably wasn’t the first:

shortcorner

Research on both the pro and amateur game suggests that the worth of a corner isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Personally, I think the research has some weaknesses – there are some fairly easy ways to quantify the success of the short and long corner and they haven’t really been attempted here. But this isn’t the New Statsman blog, so I’ll close Excel just for the moment and press on.)

I’m with Paul. As is evident to any of us who has seen a high ball played into a penalty area at a local park, or even in the highest semi-pro league Victoria can offer: what’s true in the pro’s isn’t always true for the rest of us (this is even clearer to those who, ahem, used to be goalkeepers and went through phases when we’d rather have had our No. 1 jersey ironed whilst wearing it than face a corner). When I played in ageing fat blokes league, we had a left-footed corner-taker who could, seemingly at will, whip a corner into the six-yard box, right on top of the keeper’s head. It was a nightmare for goalkeepers in our league, up to and including a couple going directly into the net; in the pro’s I imagine he’d be thanked for the catching practice.

In any case, the current corners verdict seems a shame. A corner is the result of some enterprising attacking play, and / or some poor defensive play. Given the low ratio of goals to corners (one article linked to above sets the value of a corner at around 0.022 goals – or about 1 goal every 10 games), it actually seems an inadequate reward – you could understand why a numerate team would be happy to concede corners when they perceive a threat, or conversely choose not to try an about-to-be-blocked shot / cross, if a corner seemed the likely outcome.

Therefore, the award of a corner currently provides an incentive for defenders and goalkeepers to put the ball out of play, and for attackers not to shoot or cross. I’m not totally insensitive to the pleasures of watching the subtler skills of the game, but this blog is all about what can be done to give athletes more opportunities to execute their skills, and spectators more opportunities to enjoy them. So I’ve been pondering a new corner regime.

The idea comes from watching All-Ireland Gaelic football and hurling championships over the last few months. In the circumstances where a corner would be awarded in football, the Gaelic games instead award possession a set distance out from goal (45 metres in football, 65 in hurling), in line with where the ball went out:

45

How to win a “corner”, Gaelic-style

So, some additional pitch markings are needed for this: a line across the field from touchline to touchline, parallel with the goal-line, say 23 yards out – five yards from the edge of the penalty area (I haven’t quite got this to scale, but give me a break – I’m using Paint and it took me 10 minutes just to work out how to draw a straight line).

pitch3

This proposal is that in some circumstances, rather than a traditional corner, a free kick is awarded on the red line, directly out from where the ball went out of play – so if the goalkepper tipped a ball over the bar, the restart will be in front of goal, and if the ball went out near the corner flag it would be near the touchline.

The question then becomes when to award a free on “the 23”, and what, if any additional advantages should be in place?

Firstly, there’s no evidence that these pseudo-corners would be any more use than a traditional corner. So, I’ll put three additional elements in place alongside the award of a “23”.

  • At the option of the attacking team, a traditional corner can be taken instead of a 23
  • A 23 is awarded in line with where the ball went over the touchline, but the attacking team can move the ball closer to the nearest touchline along the 23 yard line, or directly backwards towards the halfway line (or both)
  • At the point when a 23 is taken, no attacker can be ruled offside unless they’re inside the 6-yard box

(Still no evidence that these are better than having a corner. But I think they might be.)

When is a 23 awarded? There are a number of options – pick your favourite:

  • Always
  • Only when the ball last touches the goalkeeper before passing over the goal line
  • Only when the ball last touches any player on the defending team inside the penalty area
  • Only when the ball last touches the goalkeeper before passing over the goal line, or when a defender deliberately puts the ball out by foot (identical regime to the pass back to goalkeeper rule)

Any of these have the potential to be misdiagnosed by officials – but they all employ only decision points that already exist in the game: where did the ball go out of play, who touched the ball last, did action happen in the penalty area, did a defender play the ball by foot deliberately? They’re nothing new for officials to observe, just new occasions to observe them.

Obviously the primary change to the sport forced by any version of these rules is the need to practice something new – every team is going to be awarded, and have to defend against, a lot more set pieces from outside the penalty area, and permitting players close to goal means more pressure for defenders, and more goalkeeper-obstructing opportunities for attackers. The secondary impact is that teams whose styles suit the winning of corners (the data here suggest that this doesn’t mean “strong” teams per se, at least in professional leagues) will be favoured, and that the adopting of corner-winning strategies might be worth pursuing.

Are there other impacts which would undermine the fundamental nature of the game? As ever, I’m all ears. But I think Patrick Swayze has my back with this rebuttal:

swayze20sec

Patrick Swayze has a surprisingly firm opinion on this.

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