Sim-Bins in Football. Are You Already Feeling Blue?

Introducing Blue Cards Ruins Football

Card Factory Store Sign, on building exterior
Card Factory Store Sign, on building exterior / Peter Dazeley/GettyImages
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Those of you who tune into Gillette Soccer Saturday every week will no doubt be aware that former Premier League referee of twenty-two years, Mike Dean is employed as the resident sage on all things VAR. You will also be aware that he gets as many calls wrong as he does right. VAR has been completely vindicated when it comes to offside decisions because such decisions are a matter of fact. If your toenail is ahead of the last defender, you are offside. There is no debate.

Unfortunately, everything else involving VAR is a hostage to subjectivity. And low and behold, subjectivity equals inconsistency. The rapscallions that run football, not content with the chaos of VAR, have decided to treat us all to even more chaos in the form of a blue card that will mean ten minutes in the sin bin for certain footballing offences. The laboratory for this crazy light bulb moment will be next season’s FA Cup.

This promises to be both an interesting and no-doubt divisive experiment which will see ten minutes on the bench for any player who commits the newly conceived and ineffable blue card offence that was previously punishable by a yellow. I’m confused already.! There has been a cautious welcome of sorts for this particular kite in some quarters, while others are holding their heads at what they see as a clear and obvious error leading to yet more needless interference that will prove to be every bit as fugacious as a Jose Mourinho appointment!

So how will this unappetising dish be swerved, and what offences in particular will be targeted? Certainly, the professional foul of ‘taking one for the team’ where a player literally pulls down another player threatening to break away towards the goal, is one such offence that is viewed as worthy of a sin-binning for the offender. There are of course others which might cover dissent, time-wasting and simulation

But… and don’t for one second think that there isn’t one. I am afraid to report that this proposed blue card malarkey simply won’t work if we want to maintain football as a bastion of sporting entertainment. The beautiful game? Forget it. Seldom do such gee-whiz ideas work in practice as conceived in theory. See VAR above! And it doesn’t take the usual Sky Sports ultracrepidarian to point out the obvious fact that as soon as a player is discharged to the bin the rest of teammates will assume their default sin-bin positions.

There will be no attacking intent, and we can all look forward to the tedious and predictable spectacle of a real-time training session as the ten men dig in behind the ball until the ten minutes are up.  And don’t kid yourself that every team in the Premier League would not be already rehearsing in training how best to run down the clock when the inevitable blue card offence is committed. Time wasting will be elevated to an art form. But it also begs the question as to what will be the situation if the same team has two men in the bin! What if they have three? It will be too painful to watch. It will surely strangle the life out of our game.

This season thus far, the average number of yellow cards per game in the Premier League is 4.79 cards with 2.24 cards for the home team and 2.56 for the away team. Timing of the offences accepted, this could conceivably lead to a nine v nine situation at any point during the ninety minutes. Who wants to pay good money to watch that?

Unsurprisingly we haven’t been provided with the minutiae of how this indecent proposal will be managed. For example, how would players stay warm during the winter months when they are sent to the naughty steps? What role, if any will VAR play? How many sin bins would lead to a two or more-game suspension for repeat sinners? What is the maximum number of players who can be in the sin-bin for the same team at the same time or part thereof?

Under this proposal referees will come under even more pressure to sin-bin a player, not to mention the inevitable inconsistencies that will result from.....yep subjectivity! Every week, yellow cards are dished out quicker than DYNAMO doing street magic! And yet no two refs are guaranteed to show a yellow card for the same offence. In most games, the referee seldom shows a yellow card for the same offence! Is VAR, currently uninvolved in yellow card offences, now going to point out any clear and obvious errors concerning blue cards? If not, why not?

After all, a team with ten or fewer men on the pitch are at a distinct disadvantage. Sin-binning, like VAR could wind up with more unintentional consequences of re-refereeing of the game. Managers will spontaneously combust with the perceived injustices and stress of it all.  

The sin-bin idea has worked well in the lower leagues where the pressures on managers and players are not nearly comparable. To introduce it to the Premier League, however, misses the essential imperative that at the highest level of the game points literally mean prizes, not to mention millions of pounds. Inconsistencies will surely make it non-viable, and any VAR interference will lead to even more discontent, and possibly a fall in attendance from angry fans. 

Sin-binning might work well in rugby union, but if anything needs borrowing from that particular sport it should be the referee's ability to stop the clock. Wouldn’t we all welcome the end of added-on-time guesstimates that leave us all scratching our heads in disbelief? So just to recap this introduction of the blues. Two blue cards equal a red. Two yellows equal a red. A blue and a yellow equal a red, even though you may be forgiven for assuming that blue and red equalled green. And of course, a red equals a red. Got that? Good. Because if you honestly believe this sin-bin proposal will improve the game then it's your opinion.

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