Monday, May 9, 2011

UEFA's Away Goal Rule Sucks; Just sayin...

I took this argument to Twitter last week in advance of the Europa League semifinals: Succinctly, it's my opinion the away goal rule sucks and, more importantly, is outdated. It was instituted in the mid-'60s, first in the Cup-Winners Cup and eventually to the European Cup (which became the Champions League) in order to force visiting teams to attack on the road in European ties. The premise is that away goals have more value than a home goal; those dingy two-star hotels these guys stay in just sap their strength, y'know.

And maybe, 45 years ago, there was validity to that theory. Teams did travel by train, or rickety plane. Maybe accommodations, training and salaries weren't to the standards and levels they are today. And perhaps visiting teams did just play to survive on the road.

It was a different time. Players, for the most part, spent their careers wearing one jersey. There were no free agents, no mega-million signings. Players played for the love of the shirt. Players played for the love of the club and the fans adored them for it. Today, players are corporations. Sure, you root for United, Madrid and Bayern if that's your club. But you don't have that kind of affinity with players any more. There are no more lifers--or very few of them any way.

Being a football lifer and all that comes with it, however, was the norm 45 years ago, and made the away-goals rule a viable option. It probably was a really neat idea and fans loved it. Today? Not so much. I don't think it works any longer.

I have a difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that playing at home puts a club at a disadvantage, or that a traveling team needs a handicap. Are you going to tell me Leo Messi on the road is any less dangerous than at Camp Nou? Or that Braga's 1-0 home win over Benfica last week was worth more than Benfica's 2-1 win at home the week before because they gave up a goal at home? C'mon. Read that last sentence aloud; it sounds dumber than it does reading it to yourself.

It's time to get with the times and take all of this into consideration: better travel, better conditioning, better salaries, better living conditions, better lifestyles. All of it makes--and more--makes the away-goals rule obsolete. Braga-Benfica should have gone to extra time. It was 2-2, not 2-2 with an asterisk. And trust me, I'm no Benfica fan. I'm speaking objectively.

If I were speaking subjectively, I'd point you to the 1971-72 Cup Winners Cup second round between Rangers and Sporting where the referee mistakenly send the game to penalties and did not take into account that Rangers, by some eerie mathematical formula, had scored more away goals than Sporting and should have won the tie. Sporting "won" the game in penalties, but lost it moments after the final whistle when the ref was reminded that goals scored away from home on Tuesdays with the Moon in Sagitarius were worth more than goals scored on Thursdays with the Sun in Virgo, or some shit like that.

If you ask me, that ref was ahead of his time.

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