It may have been hugely ironic, and also a bit hypocritical, but Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s comments about time wasting did not deserve to be dismissed out of hand the way they were last week. Perhaps if he was David Moyes, or one of the few managers not tainted by constant berating of referees, he would have been taken more seriously.
Yes, Ferguson is a hypocrite – every team including his own would waste time when leading in an important match, as Tottenham did at Old Trafford last weekend. And the North Londoners deserve no criticism – or at least no more than any other team for their actions.
But it completely ridicules football when teams are able to get a competitive advantage by basically doing nothing. Goalkeepers picking the ball up and moving over the other side of their penalty area to eat up valuable seconds, forwards falling over and taking their time over the resultant free kick.
It has become an acceptable part of the game, but why is there this muted acknowledgement that teams will prevaricate when they should be getting on with actually playing football? Possibly because it is only usually the biggest teams who complain, and who really is interested in helping them out?
There is a nice and easy solution to the issue too. Stop the clock whenever the ball is out of play. They do it in hockey, and the game flows very well. 35 minutes each half, no injury time, either the ball is in play or it is not. They also have video replays in hockey, but that is another issue entirely. But you do not see hockey players taking their time when they fall over, or even falling over intentionally. They do not seek to waste time over knocking the ball back into play during set pieces, and it is hard to see how the same principle could not apply to football.
The sport is meant to take place in matches lasting 90 minutes. Most people reading this probably will never have seen a 90 minute match in their lifetime. I know I haven’t. Yet that is what we pay for, so why do we all accept this? Maybe this is one of those issues on which Ferguson actually has a valid point which should be listened to by the authorities and FIFA, who can actually do something about it.