April 30, 2019 By Deryl Aduda
How different would the final four of the Champions League look had the Away goal rule not been in place? Paris Saint Germain and Manchester City could make a genuinely compelling case that they would still be in the competition.
Last year, news filtered out of UEFA’s pristine headquarters in Nyon that the European football governing body are considering scrapping the away goal rule for its future competitions. UEFA’s Director of Competitions, Giorgio Marchetti said in reference to those who oppose the away goals rule, The coaches think that scoring goals away is not as difficult as it was in the past.”
As customary, this has divided opinion among football fans. So far, and with new rule changes already announced for the coming season (2019-2020), it looks likely that the away goal rule will still be with us for at least another season.
The argument for scrapping the away goal rule is anchored in its origins. First, we need to understand why it was introduced 1965. Away Goals (counting ‘double’) were introduced to get rid of playoffs by breaking a tie in case two teams remained in absolute parity over two legs. It was supposed to solve the logistical, physical and calendar nightmare that would result from the two legs being drawn. There was a time when a tie over two legs went to a replay at a neutral venue and then if the third game finished in a draw a toss of a coin decided who moved on.
Additionally, travelling teams would have a fairly difficult time in foreign/away lands. Transport wasn’t as smooth as it is currently, roads and accommodation facilities weren’t as modern as they currently are and pitches were heavy, especially during the winter months. Thus, away teams would have no incentive to play attacking football so they’d defend, get a result and take it back home where hopefully, the away team in the second leg would face similar challenges.
Times have changed and football has evolved. Those who are in favour of abolishing the rule argue that facilities and pitches have vastly improved. They add that in case of absolute parity after two legs, then penalty kicks already serve as a tie-breaker. Further, attacking football is currently lauded as the “right way” to play football and teams generally go out looking to score a goal in every game anyway. The most compelling argument for scrapping the away goal is that in cases where the second leg goes into extra time, the away team get 120 minutes to score an away goal, an advantage that the home team in the first leg never get as the first legs of matches end after 90 minutes, whatever the result.
Every point above is valid. However, I would like to make a case for keeping the away goal rule. First, big teams already enjoy a massive advantage over the rest of the crop. European super clubs are making more and more money as smaller clubs and smaller leagues are left behind. This financial disadvantage makes it almost impossible (and should be considered a handicap) for smaller teams competing with the big teams. What chance would a Getafe have in Europe against Man City? Away goals give smaller teams a chance to compete.
Read this fantastic thread by @OmarChaudhuri about Away Goals Rule
I’ve seen that UEFA are looking to scrap the away goals rule. I think this is a bad idea; despite being a bit of an anachronism, it makes two-legged knockout football more interesting. Here’s why! (thread – all stats for the Champions League since 2003)
— Omar Chaudhuri (@OmarChaudhuri) February 7, 2019
Most importantly, we watch football for entertainment. Look back at all the drama, tension, excitement, disappointment and all the emotions that football fans have experienced in the past knockout stages of the Champions League. This edge of your seat, nobody-knows-what-will-happen-next level of entertainment is as pure as it can get. At 2-1 up, Man Utd knew there’s still a chance, At 2-0 up in the second leg at home to Barcelona, Roma knew there was still a chance. At 4-3 up, City knew there was still a chance. And all these teams had to find a balance between going for all that important goal that would win them the tie, or defending perfectly so as not to concede.
With plans in motion to create a closed European Super League that will give us monotonous ties between the top teams in Europe, the entertainment value will surely reduce as these clubs play each other over and over again while making tonnes of money. Add to the blatant attempts by UEFA to make the Champions League a sporting event that is as big as the Superbowl, it baffles me why they would tinker with a perfectly working formula. The entertainment value that the away goals rule provide to the fans cannot be underestimated. Scrapping it off would take away an important point of interest from a competition that Muricio Pochettino calls “the most important competition in the world”