The Rational Ref

Arsene Wenger's rant against the away-goal rule is self-serving

A fairer option would be for Uefa to scrap the ruling at the end of 90 minutes regulation play

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 February, 2014, 2:08am

With Uefa and AFC Champions League matches about to kick off again following the long winter break, the debate about the rule on away goals has reawakened and refuses to be put to bed anytime soon.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has asked Uefa to scrap the rule because he reckons it would take away the negative approach that clubs fall into during the two-legged knockout stages of the Champions League and Europa League competitions.

"The weight of the away goal is too heavy, too big and is not justifiable any more," said Wenger in December. "People are surprised by my question. But I think it is a problem in the modern game."

Contrary to what Wenger believes, away goals bring more excitement to the game. It was introduced to encourage visiting teams to be more aggressive rather than boring
William Lai

The Frenchman explained that the away-goal ruling, which Uefa introduced in 1965, actually arose during the non-televised era of the old European Cup. He said the priority for travelling teams was not to concede any goals.

This was when teams would grudgingly travel many hours across the continent to compete in what Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho recently called "19th century football". Travelling teams would trudge off their parked buses, and then haul themselves on to the pitch to "park the bus" again.

Wenger further claims that because there were no television cameras "you got kicked everywhere". "Nobody said a word, so to encourage the teams to play they said OK, we give you [the away-goal rule as] an incentive for the away game," said Wenger.

"In the modern game everything is on television and analysed. There is no big difference anymore. Sometimes I think there is a counter-effect as teams play at home not to concede goals. At home the first thing managers say is let's not concede a goal." Wenger's argument is justified and appears altruistic, but is not altogether the whole story.

From a referee's perspective the true motivation for his stance, which is typical in soccer whenever managers and players make complaints, is because he has personally fallen foul of the rules.

Last season Arsenal were dumped out of the Champions League on account of the away-goal ruling after a 3-3 aggregate draw against eventual winners Bayern Munich. The Gunners lost 3-1 at home and won 2-0 at Bayern. "It is difficult to win 2-0 at Bayern without conceding a goal. The weight of the away goal is not justifiable anymore," argued Wenger.

Contrary to what Wenger believes, away goals bring more excitement to the game. It was introduced to encourage visiting teams to be more aggressive rather than "boring". And as soccer tactics developed over the decades, it became natural for managers to warn their players not to concede away goals. Without the idea of away goals, an element of excitement and drama would be removed. What is really needed is a small tweak to make the ruling fairer.

Mike Ashton, avid fan and secretary of Hong Kong's popular amateur Yau Yee League, coherently explained this.

"This is easy to deal with. You can have an away goal rule in both legs of a knockout stage in soccer, but the away goal rule should end abruptly in the event of the match going into extra time because both teams are locked in a tie situation.

"For instance, in the first leg match the home team won 2-1 and in the second leg match as an away team they are losing 2-1. At the end of regulation time, the aggregate score is 3-3. Where is the sense of extending the away-goal ruling into extra time?" said Ashton.

By eliminating the away-goal ruling immediately after regulation play, this would bring some fairness back to both teams. It is unfair that the away team should enjoy the psychological motivation in scoring an away goal in extra time, when their opponents never have this opportunity.

By that stage, both teams will have played equal periods of regulation time using the away goal ruling and therefore should be evenly motivated to win fairly without one team earning "double" the value for a goal.

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