The idea was radical, of course. The sort of thought that ran contrary to conventional wisdom, that challenged a whole set of accepted beliefs, that contained within it the potential to change the face — and the nature — of soccer, perhaps forever. But it was honestly held and sincerely believed: a chance to address a flaw, maybe even to improve this thing we all love.
Yes, Arsène Wenger had been thinking about throw-ins again. It has been a cause of his for some time: At one point, though the story is uncorroborated, he apparently wrote a letter to the Football Association suggesting they be outlawed. He has softened since then. Now, he told the BBC, he simply wants them to be replaced with kick-ins. It would, he said, make the game “quicker and more spectacular.”
That, judging from some of the reaction to his suggestion, is not a widely-held view. The Daily Mail called his idea “crazy,” though more in the sense of “far-fetched” than “5G causes coronavirus.” The Mirror said it hinted at Wenger’s “blind spot.” On Twitter, a rather less august publication accused Wenger of “losing the plot.”
This is how soccer — in this sense meaning the morass of fans and observers and commentators, each of whom regards themselves and themselves alone as the unique and unimpeachable keepers of the flame — deals with the concept of change: by rejecting it outright, by fulminating against not just whatever practical flaws might be inherent in a new idea but seeks to expose moral ones, too. It does not so much engage with a suggestion as tremble at the temerity that one has been made.
As has previously been noted, soccer seems to be regarded less as a game codified into a sport by a self-selecting group of Victorian public schoolboys and tinkered with, almost endlessly, over the following 150 years and instead as some sort of gift bestowed on humanity, gleaming and perfect and divine, one that must not be changed for fear of offending the almighty. This is especially true of England, which exerts a guardianship over a game it believes it invented and, deep down, never really wanted to share.