It appeared to get buried in the news cycle last month, but Arsene Wenger’s suggestion that the Premier League season – and that of other major leagues – be moved to a March-November schedule would be one of the most radical changes to the game in modern times.

The former Arsenal boss, who is now chief of global football development at FIFA, suggested the move would allow for the World Cup to be played every two years, as opposed to four, and played during the winter months – just as next year’s tournament in Qatar will be doing for the first time. Other major tournaments, such as the Euros, would also be played every two years under the Frenchman’s plans.

Wenger admitted his idea is currently out of kilter with those who run the game, but is adamant – having worked to a similar calendar when in charge of Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan in the 1990s – it would benefit everyone around the world.

He told beIN Sports: “If you look at the teams in the World Cups usually the average age is 27 or 28. Because the World Cup is every four years, there are very few chances to win it again because when they go back to the next World Cup they are 32 or 33. That’s why maybe we should organise the World Cup every two years.”

Whether his grand plan ever takes off remains to be seen, but the Premier League winning manager’s idea has seen us go back through time to look at other ‘radical’ ideas that took off, or didn’t, in the game. Plus, one that is still in the BETA phase...

Offside rule

The intricacies of the rule may change on an almost seasonal basis these days (we’ll cover armpits and toenails further down) but the basic fundamental that an attacking player is deemed offside if they’re in front of the last outfield defender when the ball is played has been in place since 1925.

When the game of association football was gaining popularity in the mid-19th century, the offside rule was similar to that of what is seen in rugby today, and play would initially see teams field eight forwards and move the ball forward via dribbling or scrummaging. Then, in 1863, The FA decided to introduce the ‘three-player rule’, where an attacker would be called offside if positioned in front of the third last defender. Passing then became integral to the game which also saw an increase in goals before 1925 when the ‘two-player rule’ was introduced. The biggest change since came in 1990 when an attacker was no longer ruled offside when they were level with the last defender.

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Back pass

The 1990 World Cup is remembered for Gazza’s tears, Nessun Dorma and Roger Milla’s hips, but it was also the nadir for slow, tedious football. Introduced in 1992 in direct response to the 1990 tournament, which saw teams passing back to their goalkeeper to pick up and regain possession, the rule is widely regarded as one of the most successful law changes in modern football. With goalkeepers now no longer able to pick up a back pass back from their team, valuable seconds and minutes were being added to the clock, as well as promoting quicker, more attractive football. In 1997, this rule was extended to include throw-ins.

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In the mid-19th century substitutions were allowed before a game kicked off if a player didn’t turn up, but in-game substitutions weren’t introduced until the qualifying rounds of the 1954 World Cup. Richard Gottingher made history when he became the first substitute as we know it today when he came on for West Germany in a 3-0 win over Saarland in 1953.

Many countries introduced the substitute rule into their domestic leagues during this decade, but it wasn’t seen in England until the 1965/66 season when Charlton Athletic goalkeeper Keith Peacock became the first substitute to appear in a league match in England. Originally introduced to replace injured players only, tactical substitutions were allowed from the 1967/68 season; the number of which was increased over the decades and is currently five in some leagues following the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite international football leading the way on substitutions, they weren’t allowed at tournament level until the 1970 World Cup, something Sir Alf Ramsey came to regret when England were dumped out in the quarter-finals to West Germany after he took off talisman Bobby Charlton.

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Golden goal

“Next goal wins!” is heard around the world on a daily basis, so when it was announced that the biggest games in football were to be decided by this playground rule it sparked some of the biggest debates in recent history.

Along the lines of the back pass rule, golden goal – or sudden death as many called it – was introduced to make an often dull 30-minute period of extra-time less conservative and to encourage teams to go out and seek the winning goal. It may have lasted only ten years, but a golden goal from Oliver Bierhoff won Germany the Euro 96 final, as did David Trezeguet’s effort in the Euro 2000 final for France.

Following mixed success and reaction of its use at the 1998 World Cup, the 2002 edition turned out to be the last hurrah for golden goal. It’s younger, uglier brother – the silver goal – was introduced and used in UEFA competitions in 2002, including Euro 2004. Thankfully, that’s where it ended.

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Goal line technology

Looking back, it’s amazing to think how such a simple question took so long to be embraced by technology – was the ball over the goal line or not? It came too late for Pedro Mendes and Frank Lampard, but there is no disputing the hugely positive impact that finally putting a camera on the goal line has had on the game.

First tested by FIFA in 2011 and approved by the IFAB in 2012, the governing body used the technology at the 2012 Club World Cup and then the Confederations Cup in 2013, before rolling it out at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Premier League first used goal line technology in the season leading up to that World Cup and has been present ever since. What makes goal line technology so simple and effective is that it only has one question to answer. VAR, on the other hand…

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Video Assistant Referee

Where to start with this? Long called for by fans and pros alike to prevent endless debate over contentious decisions, the introduction of VAR has done exactly the opposite.

“But every tackle looks dangerous in slow motion!”

“It’s not clear and obvious!”

“Why isn’t the referee going to the monitor?”

Following years of debate, VAR was used in a non-friendly fixture for the first time in 2016 in a Dutch Cup game between Ajax and Willem II, before it was introduced in MLS in 2017. Bundesliga and Serie A were the first major European league to introduce it for the 2017/18 season, and the Premier League finally relented ahead of the 2019/20 season following VAR’s use in previous editions of the FA Cup and UEFA club competitions. VAR was front and centre of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, including deciding a penalty for eventual winners France in the final.

The technology wildly splits opinion amongst fans, players, managers and referees. It’s asked more questions than it has answered, and often it’s the rules of the game that come into question following a major incident. Was VAR really introduced to determine if a player’s armpit was offside, and is that really clear and obvious? VAR is here to stay, so we better get used to it.

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