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What Sort Of Impact Have The New IFAB Time-Keeping Rules Had On Top-Flight Football?

Nearing yet another international break, and now eight weeks into the Premier League season, it seems like an appropriate time to pause and digest how IFAB (International Football Association Board) time-keeping rules have impacted English football.

Such rules mean the average game duration has risen to over 100 minutes, with examples such as Arsenal vs Manchester City in the Community Shield and more recently, Fulham vs Sheffield United, which lasted almost 114 minutes.

These rule changes, whilst aiming to increase active play time by essentially making games longer, have not achieved their desired effect and have led to a Premier League injury crisis. With 124 players out injured at the time of writing, the IFAB rules have struck a breaking point.

The IFAB’s ‘Ticking Time Bomb’

IFAB is correct in addressing the drastic drop in active playing time in English football. Only last season, there was a measly average of 55 minutes of play per 90, the lowest in the Premier League for the last 10 years.

However, simply adding more extra time has not been an appropriate solution. So far, in the 2023/24 season, despite the surge in overall game time, the average active playing time in the Premier League has only risen slightly to 58 minutes per 90.

This highlights a major fault in the new approach. There is no guarantee that more extra time will stop overall game time being wasted. For example, there is still an opportunity for time wasting even if it is added to the end of games in the form of additional time.

In practice, the balance of active playing time in the overall game duration will not change dramatically with this model.  

It is acknowledged that this comes early in the season and so the full efficiency of the rules is incomplete. Nonetheless, this still reflects that IFAB rules have failed to have the desired influence on games.

In comparison, Arsene Wenger’s proposal for a ‘stop clock’ mechanism is much more proactive. Whenever the ball is inactive, the game is paused, so there is no real game time for opportunistic players to waste. IFAB’s current proposals will always suffer from human error which minimises but never eliminates time wasting.

It is bizarre that IFAB considered the ‘stop clock’ approach before dismissing it in favour of the extra added time legislation. The latter does sensationalise games by creating the opportunity for late goals, however, it simultaneously harms players by compiling extra minutes and leading to more frequent injuries, which is another huge issue of the legislation.

Worst Injury Crisis In Recent History?

As additional time is increasing, regular starters could face over 380 more minutes across the Premier League season. That is if they make it that far.

Two keen objectors to the rule change back in August, Kevin De Bruyne and Raphaël Varane, have both ironically suffered injury spells this campaign. The former remains out until the New Year, and Varane, who was seemingly back, did not make the Manchester United squad to face Brentford over further injury fears.

While age can be highlighted as a factor contributing to De Bruyne and Varane’s time on the sidelines, this remains the tip of the injury iceberg.

22-year-old Bukayo Saka broke his club-record streak of participating in 87 successive Premier League games amid struggles over a foot/ankle injury which has now forced him out of the upcoming England fixtures.

On a wider level, 14 Premier League sides have five or more injured players with Crystal Palace leading the way with 11 injuries as the Eagles’ rising talents Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise have picked up injuries.

It seems like no coincidence that this rapid spike correlates with these new changes which Manchester United Boss Erik ten Haag stated is “overloading players and squads.”

The hangover of the congested 2022/23 season is also to blame as the mid-season World Cup exacerbated the fixture schedule of last season. Nonetheless, IFAB has further intensified the physical demands on players who were already struggling with the current fixture expectations.

While physical injury lists spiral, it is also important to consider the mental burnout effects of longer games. Only four months ago, Dele Ali bravely detailed his struggles with his mental health, where the pressure of training and the intense schedule led to an addiction to sleeping pills.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Richarlison, Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings and Everton’s Jack Harrison have all talked openly about seeking psychological help amid growing demands on players. Against this backdrop, IFAB timekeeping rules reflect their ignorance regarding players’ mental and overall welfare.

What Needs To Change?

The scheduling of the overall football calendar is obviously oversaturated and needs reform, but for the issue of Premier League time-keeping, players and managers have waded in with their solutions.

Vincent Kompany radically proposed the idea of a player appearance cap in an effort to safeguard players. Placing a limit on the number of appearances a player could make might potentially force change higher up in the football hierarchy.

Nevertheless, difficulties when prioritising club and international games may complicate this and create a conflict of interest for players.

Pep Guardiola supported the idea of player-led change. The current Manchester City boss has made his negative opinion on the ever-increasing pressure on players clear and has combatted this by adding incredible depth to his squad. However, the Spaniard highlighted that the only group capable of changing this narrative are the players themselves.

IFAB time-keeping rules this season have not been a success in increasing active playing time and have also created an injury epidemic.

It is clear that a rethinking of Premier League timekeeping is very much needed which combats the drop in active playing time more effectively while simultaneously protecting players from physical and mental burnout.

Statistics in this article are sourced from Opta Analyst and Premier Injuries.

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