Is it time for FIFA to change the three goalkeeper per squad rule?
Slowly but surely, the footballing authorities have started to realize their mistakes. Over the past few years, several glaring errors have been corrected. This summer’s World Cup in Brazil will see yet another blot the authorities’ book being corrected with the introduction of goal-line technology for the very first time in the World Cup. While that is certainly a good thing, the summer’s showpiece event will also bear witness yet another outlandish and outrageous rule being applied.
FIFA’s book of World Cup Regulations is certainly one that is worth reading if one has the time. It is a pedants’ dream as it encompasses every little rule that one would hope to keep in mind, with regards to this summer’s article World Cup. As this is neither a book review nor an article that is sponsored by FIFA, let us quickly get to the point.
Article 26.3 of FIFA’s World Cup Regulations states: “Each association will be required to provide FIFA with a final [squad] list of no more than 23 players (three of whom shall be goalkeepers).” So, what’s so bad about the need to name three keepers, you ask? The answer is simple, there is no need, whatsoever. All that rule does is take away a spot in the final 23 that could very well go to an outfield player, who could change the game and win his country the World Cup.
The rule that a team has to have three keepers in its squad came into effect in 1934 as a result of the United States naming only one keeper in their 1930 World Cup squad. While all other teams at least had a substitute keeper, the United States went in with just one, thereby freeing up a spot on their squad for an outfield player.
The massive outrage that followed USA’s decision forced FIFA’s hands to amend the rules and ensure that there are substitute keepers in the squad. The decision was a logical next step and one that was greeted with euphoria. After all, no team would want to go through an entire World Cup with just one keeper, whilst constantly fearing about his welfare. The governing bodies would have been made to look foolish, if teams came with just one keeper and ended up losing the final of the most prestigious football tournament in the world, because their keeper was either injured or suspended.
So, while it is completely understandable as to why FIFA brought the rule in the first place, it is now time to amend it as it is outdated, and has been for some time now. Cases of teams changing goalkeeper in the middle of tournament was pretty common in the early years, but 1974 was the first time a goalkeeper was substituted in a game. The unfortunate footballer who went into the record books was Mwamba Kazadi of Zaire, who conceded three goals in the first 20 minutes and was replaced by Tubilandu Dimbi. Unfortunately for Zaire, that did nothing to stop the rot as he went on to concede another six.
Having said that, the need to use several goalkeepers is pretty rare. In Italia’90, the 24 teams used a total of just 27 keepers and even when the World Cup was a 32-team tournament in France 1998, just 36 goalkeepers were used in total. In fact, of the 371 teams to have qualified for the World Cup, only four teams have ever used three goalkeepers in a single World Cup tournament.
France became the first nation to play three keepers in the same tournament as they used Jean-Paul Bertrand-Demanes, Dominique Baratelli and Dominique Dropsy in the 1978 tournament. Since then, only Belgium, Czechoslovakia (both in 1982) and Greece (1994) have used their quota of three goalkeepers in the same tournament.
Injuries, suspensions or poor form will always be there, for all players, not just goal keepers. And the current rule only punishes teams by having them to have an extra keeper, when the need for a third is a statistical anomaly. Surely, it is time for FIFA to take a look into that particular rule. Surely.