The rule of three points
Now this rule is one that is rarely if ever discussed, so it is ideally suited for demonstrating something that can help get to the heart of the overall problem.
The central view expressed in the text as a whole is that more goals would be good for football. More goals, more excitement, more action, more fun, more spectators. And repeatedly emphasised: by “spectators” is meant the neutral one, which no longer exists but could be won back.
The fans of this and that team may have other interests and needs than many goals – unless their team scores them — but these interests and needs “neutralise” each other, both in their construction and in their number. Here quite a few, there quite a few. These want a goal for theirs, those a goal for the opponents. These don’t score for theirs, those don’t score for the opponents.
In this respect, they are not “entitled to vote”.
The neutral spectator would be entitled to vote, but due to his self-imposed absence he is not willing or available to vote. He might watch if it were fun. Watching alone would be a kind of vote: “It was fun, I’ll be back.” To the canal, to the stadium. And all this without a fan connection to either of the two teams playing.
So the realisation was also gained from the official side. Football could be a bit more exciting and entertaining. Especially the games that are 0:0 or 1:1 after 70 or 75 minutes between two teams on equal terms – and both, scores and teams on equal terms, occur very often — seem to us (FIFA, on behalf of the game’s supporters) to be far too boring. Ball-shuffling until the final whistle? Some kind of peace agreement? A “draw offer” like in chess, which is often enough due to mutual fear of defeat? We want to put an end to that.
In any case, it cannot be said that spectators themselves came up with the idea, still less the fans. In this respect, this “we” for FIFA. A grievance has been identified and an attempt has been made to address it. The grievance: too many peaceful agreements, to the detriment of the game and the excitement. All this exclusively from the official side.
So in this respect there should be agreement between the views generally held here and those in official positions. We want more goals, more offensive spirit, more exciting games, more late drama, more entertainment. How could this be achieved?
The idea was born and introduced in the English leagues as early as 1981. Gradually, other leagues followed suit. In 1994, for the World Cup in the USA, it was also practised this way for the first time for the group stage. Not even a bad idea there, because with three games per team, one can already assume that each team should win at least one game and therefore not try to hold on to the draw from the start.
An idea was born, found to be good, tried out and finally permanently integrated into the game, officially introduced. Not at all unusual. People have ideas and try them out. If it proves successful: keep it up.
The inconsistencies would only come afterwards. Was there any official language on what was expected from the introduction of the three-point rule in league play? If so: not known here.
In this respect, the interpretation given above is simply used. They wanted more goals, to stimulate the offensive spirit, by promising both teams a worthwhile gain if they managed to score a goal.
So much for the theory, and even if not officially stated, it is the only logical one.
The continuation of the inconsistencies: when was it ever checked whether the goals set were achieved? Is there an increased offensive spirit induced by the rule, a recognisable increase in the willingness to take risks, are there more games that go down in history as spectacles, more dramas in the closing minutes, or, asked even more directly: are there fewer draws and more goals?
Since an official study is not known and presumably did not even take place – which would have to be called gross negligence — this one is simply made up as it is, as an excerpt, since no worldwide data can be collected, but it is probably unquestionable that it can be considered “representative”.
Before the introduction of the three-point rule, in the 1993 to 1995 seasons, the following figures for the data to be considered relevant were available in 2040 matches in the First and Second Bundesliga:
Draws: 29.75% Goals ø: 2.776
In the three seasons after the introduction of the rule, i.e. 1996 to 1998, there were the following figures in 1836 matches (in each of these seasons there were 18 teams per league, thus 6 * 306 matches; before that there were 24 teams in the Second Division in 1993, still 20 teams in 1994, thus the higher number of matches):
Draws: 29.15% Goals ø: 2.729
The deviations are so minimal that any statistician would be surprised, in principle, because he would tolerate higher deviations without thinking anything of it. In other words, the figures given would soon look manipulated to him. Someone has twisted something, hasn’t he? But that is not the case. That is exactly how the results are.
So if anyone were to see these figures on the part of FIFA, they could only conclude: “It was a nice try, the idea might have been good, but the hoped-for effect failed to materialise at all.
Now, as a sceptic, one could claim that these were the initial difficulties and that players and coaches would first have to get used to it. So it makes sense to compare three seasons later to see whether something has changed as experience has grown. Maybe they first had to realise how much they could get out of it with the aforementioned offensive spirit?
In the 2015 to 2017 seasons, the figures look like this:
Draws: 27.12% Goals ø: 2.678
The following thoughts might come to mind: “See, it worked after all? Fewer draws! I knew that.” The statistician might say: “If there are a few discrepancies, I’ll gladly take note of them. But not manipulated. Let’s see what it could mean.”
So there were fewer draws. Good. So according to that, the rule was implemented gradually, did it work? Hmm. Well, yes. Since the goals have gone down, surely that conclusion doesn’t seem appropriate? If there are fewer goals, then surely there should be more draws? The teams “meet” more often at the same score, so to speak. In handball: almost never an X, because there are so many goals. If the average were to arrive at 0.0 per game – in football — every game would be an X, guaranteed. Fewer goals — more draws. That would actually be the logic.
There were fewer goals, but also fewer draws. What is the reason for this? One answer would be: pure chance. Another will be discussed a little later, as the possible reason lies a little deeper.
In general, however, the conclusion would first be permitted: actually, nothing has changed. Above all, there were not more goals, as should have been part of the preliminary consideration when the rule was introduced.
Now one inevitably advances to the question of why the rule did not serve its purpose? What keeps players and coaches from taking an increased risk? Win two if it works, give away only one if it goes wrong. Surely that must pay off?
Even if this were to yield satisfactory or simply logical answers, the question still remains: why hasn’t anyone noticed so far? Just like that, something was changed at random because something was bothering you, but you didn’t check? And when you have checked: what was the reason and even more burning: how could we perhaps achieve the goals by other means?
Before the psychological examination, so to speak, takes place, it should first be pointed out that, apart from no advantages – as statistically proven – the rule has brought many more disadvantages. To this end, attention should first be drawn to the table illustrations. They are no longer as legible as they used to be. Counting only the pluses is flawed. You can never really deduce anything from them. Points per game? No one calculates, but it is also not that informative because it depends on how many draws there are in the league in general during the season.
In the First Bundesliga, the calculation was always that 40 points should be enough. But this was only a kind of guideline, because no one has ever been relegated with 40 points. In the past, with plus and minus points, it was somehow better to compare even and especially when games were cancelled (and this frequently occurs in the important phase of the season, namely the second half).
Another disadvantage is the theoretical possibility of manipulation: two teams from the lower midfield each have to play a match at their home ground. Unanimity: it’s going to be tight for both of them this season. The games themselves could be as well. So: rather you win the first leg, we win the second leg. Each has three points to play for. The rivals might just manage a draw in the first and second legs in duels between equals. The two with the agreement are already ahead, by a whole point. The competitors have only managed two points each.
Another disadvantage that urgently needs to be mentioned is that one is penalised for a draw. So let’s assume both teams heed the rule and go all out. Two more attacking players in each, centre-backs out. Full offensive. Result: The risk paid off. Both manage a goal. 2:2 in the end. Both teams leave the pitch in a daze, while the announcer sneers: “A draw that doesn’t really help either of them. That’s how it is, only the sneer is misplaced anyway, but partly due to the injustice of the rule. Both were deducted half a point (they should actually get one and a half points, but only get one). That is not fair, that is unjust.
So: a rule introduced just like that has brought nothing but disadvantages. And it has lasted for more than twenty years. Alternatives? Never thought of, never considered.
Now back to the reasons why the rule had no effect. This study could be dispensed with, since the results are conclusive and the rule would simply have to be withdrawn. It didn’t work, it won’t work, as you can see. Why? What difference does it make? Nevertheless, you can ask the question and look for reasons. Or: as a thinking person, one tends to do so and is called upon to do so. Does it bring insights that can be used here and there?
There are a total of three foregone conclusions as to why this is so. No claim to absoluteness is made here. The three reasons in brief:
1) The media set the guidelines. One of them is: losing is forbidden. This applies above all to the coaches. Because, as we all know, they are the “weakest link in the chain” and have to go if there is one defeat too many (i.e. two in total; this is sarcasm, but still close to reality). The coaches will do anything not to lose. A bird in the hand is better than a pigeon on the roof. Defender in, striker out, it’s 1-1, just don’t lose. The players follow the tactics, what else?
2) ) There is a recognisable dilemma about this: everyone knows very well that it might be worthwhile to increase the risk in order to score another goal, the winning goal, when the score is tied. Nevertheless, experience teaches that you concede it somewhat more often than you would score it. Mathematically worthwhile nevertheless, since you can win two points and lose only one, the risk of losing is nevertheless somewhat higher. So 40% of the time you score a goal, 60% of the time you concede one, mathematically a good deal, since you win two points in the 40% and only give away one in the 60%. The dilemma, however, is that both know that the opponent should actually do the same. So you pass the buck to him: “You know you have to attack, don’t you? You improve your chances if you do it.” But the opponent says exactly the same thing. Because they both know: the one who makes the first move, the one who gets involved, is still at a disadvantage. You start, we’ll score the goal from the counterattack. Accordingly, nothing happens. It stays the same as it always was. A draw.
3) Perhaps an even more important reason than the second: the three-point rule not only has its effect when a game is tied, but also when a team is leading. “Normally” it leads by a single goal, as all games are close. So even if the case were made – ignoring points 1 and 2 — that the risk is increased when a game is tied late, there are an even higher number of games where a team leads by the one goal. This lead can be described as “extremely valuable”. Because: conceding a goal would now cost two points. One has three, would fall back to one. Accordingly, it is not the offensive spirit that is spurred on, but from now on the “even dirtier victories” take hold. If it’s a home team: even the spectators will tolerate it if all the men are on their own goal line. Because even they know that you can’t give away a three-pointer under any circumstances. The possibly induced offensive spirit when the score is even is thus at least outweighed by this counter-effect: just yes and hold on to a lead by all means.
This point finally provides a possible explanation for the figures from the last three seasons. Fewer goals and fewer draws. This fits together, due to the fact that a 1-0 is now fought tooth and nail over time, rather than aiming for a 2-0, as perhaps in the past. So there are more narrow victories, which explains the statistics and implies a logic.
So the overall conclusion is: the rule has brought nothing or perhaps even the opposite. Not at all more goals, not at all more exciting action towards the end of the game, not at all more entertainment, let alone justice. Somehow we had to choke and get the three-goal lead over time. That’s how football is played today – partly even because of the three-point rule.
Nonsense and away with it. If you want more goals and more excitement etc., you have to go other ways. There are plenty of these ways and they are suggested in all the texts. The simplest one is mentioned here again: take a look at the rules and whistle according to them. If it says: “if there is foul play or handball in the penalty area, there is a penalty kick”, then this should be applied.
If it says “when in doubt, give the attacker the benefit of the doubt” in close offside situations, then you only have to take this tiny detail to heart – everything would be fixed. And anyway, it’s “when in doubt, give football the benefit of the doubt”.