Looking Back at the Backpass Rule

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Soccer has undergone many changes since its inception. When you consider that ‘football’ was initially a barbaric affair played between rival towns back in 9th century Medieval England, which often resulted in injury and death, it’s difficult to believe that it is the same beautiful game that we watch and play now.

9Perhaps in 1000 years time people will look back on modern day football in a similarly negative light. What’s certain is that the sport will have changed and adapted. We’re already starting to see the game develop to bring soccer in line with the Digital Age. We now have goalline technology and video replay refereeing is just around the corner.

However, the last major change to directly affect the way the sport is played was the introduction of the back-pass rule. While this rule does not make back-passing an illegal move, it rules that goalkeepers are unable to handle the ball after receiving it from one of their team-mates. Should the goalkeeper by deemed to have illegally handled the ball, an indirect free-kick is awarded to the opposing team.

10Modern day soccer is all about attacking play. Teams such as Pep Guardiola’s Tika-Taka Barcelona side, known for their piercing play and goalscoring prowess, are celebrated, while Premier League side Chelsea were slammed for their overly defensive displays which led them to the 2012 Champions League trophy. Even shot-stoppers are now called upon to act as a component in a team’s attacking system.

However, an attacking style of play wasn’t always football’s preferred method. The back-pass rule was introduced shortly after the 1992 European Championship to bring an end to cautious, defensive play that was branded ‘too boring’.
3The debate over a potential rule change began following the 1990 World Cup, which had been deemed negative and dull by fans, due to the high number of teams utilising highly defensive tactics to effectively run down the clock. One particularly memorable moment saw Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Packie Bonner keep hold of the ball for more than five minutes in a group game against Egypt, to clinch a point that would eventually see them through to the knockout rounds.

Of course, this change put a huge strain on goalkeepers to adapt their game. They could no longer rely solely on their hands to deal with danger and had to become equally as skilled with their feet. Some managed to do just that, while others suffered. A notable example is Mark Bosnich, a decent young shot-stopper who was set to become the heir to Peter Schmeichel at Manchester United. Lacking in the passing department, the Australian keeper failed to cut it under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.

1The rule’s impact on the goalkeeping position has begun to show in recent years, culminating with the saga at Manchester City this summer, where Pep Guardiola opted to replace club icon Joe Hart with a new keeper in Claudio Bravo. The reason behind the switch was ultimately Bravo’s superior passing ability. Likewise, Germany keeper Manuel Neuer is often hailed as the greatest keeper in the world, largely due to his skills with the ball at his feet.

While the back-pass rule hasn’t succeeded in eliminating time-wasting from the sport, the huge impact that it has had on goalkeeper is as clear as day, from the favoured abilities of a keeper to their role as part of a team.

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