Can Soccer learn from American Football?

David Beckham

Where the USA leads, others always seem to follow in the world of sport.  They were pioneers of the artificial surface in the inaugural North American Soccer League, introduced the regular sight of cheerleaders encouraging their team pitch side and championed electronic scoreboards to name but a few. One sport that always seems to be evolving and embracing new technology is American Football.  Are there components that are used in the National Football League (NFL) that can be transitioned to Soccer?

The most obvious one is the direct communication the coach has with his players on the field via radio.  With the transmitter and receiver discreetly imbedded within the standard safety helmet players have to wear, information can be passed instantly from the sideline.  For a player in the world of Soccer this would simply be, a) impractical and b) illegal under the Laws of The Game.

However, as with most things could a loophole be exploited?  Petr Cech, Chelsea’s Czech goalkeeper wears a soft padded helmet for safety reasons to protect against an existing injury.  Could a transmission device be embedded in this so instant information could be passed, e.g. which way a penalty taker favours in a shootout?  If this did occur would we see an influx of outfield players then opting to wear a head guard for ‘safety reasons’?  A microphone may not be required as the coach just wants to get a point across rather than going via the Captain or player nearest the dugout.

Petr Cech

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gone out with the old and in with the new by ditching their standard playbooks and purchasing iPads for their playing and coaching staff.  Rather than study a bulky binder of opposition and team plays, with the touch of a screen this info can be displayed immediately and anywhere.

During Gary Megson’s much-maligned tenure at Bolton Wanderers, one thing he did was exactly the same as above.  He introduced iPads for all the players preloaded with information on their opposite number, set plays and tactics for the upcoming match.  How many other clubs also do this in the Premier League and below?

When Ben Foster was at Manchester United about to face Tottenham’s penalty takers in the League Cup Final 2009 shootout, his goalkeeper coach Eric Steele handed him an iPod preloaded with video footage of the Spurs penalty takers. Needless to say he helped his team lift the cup that day but was it an unfair advantage?  The NFL authorities believe video technology is an unfair advantage, and have imposed a rule that prohibits the use of any ‘electronic computers, tablets or recording devices within 90 minutes of kick off’.  Exactly how this is governed is anyone’s guess but the FA were quick to respond on the barrage of questions they were inundated with after Foster’s heroics and a spokesman advised, “It is not against the laws of the game and as far as we’re concerned we don’t have any problem with it”

Penalty save

Over the pond the ‘uniform’ (or kit as we know it) has also been utilised to give teams a leading edge over their opponents by supplying real time information to the sidelines.  Accelerometers are integrated into some of the clothing so the impact of a tackle is known which can be key when physios are engaged to deal with an injury.  In fact, this technology is already flying across the Atlantic and landing in North London as Under Armour are to supply the new Spurs kit with an inbuilt sensor called a ‘Bug’.  As well as an accelerometer this will record heart rate, skin temperature and breathing so coaches can monitor real-time performance.  I can just imagine Harry Redknapp screaming at his staff to “get off that toy there’s a bleedin’ game going on ‘ere!!”

Back in 1986 the NFL adopted a limited Instant Replay System, which allowed the coach to request a review of a play in certain circumstances.  Today this is still in place with coaches allowed two opportunities for a replay and a third if the previous two were successful. The great thing about this is the referee only has sixty seconds to watch the replay to decide if the call was correct. The debate often arises that this should be introduced to Soccer but it will ‘slow’ the game down.  If correctly governed I believe this would add to the game; how many penalties do we see that are classed as ‘controversial’?  Controversy could be taken away in a minute and players could soon be exposed if diving – Ashley Young beware….

Technology is always advancing and never going to stop.  At what point does Soccer stand up and say ‘we will lead, rather than follow’?  As more money ploughs into the game the stakes are also increasing, promotion to the Premier League can mean in excess of £85million, with relegation being devastating and potentially financially destroying to those who fall through the trap door. Knowing that a controversial penalty that never was could have been avoided by the implementation of technology that is available today must be a killer.

In some ways Soccer can learn from the NFL and vice versa.  For every technology there is an argument for and against.  Whichever side of the fence you sit on you must not have splinters when you consider this prospect – just look at the 2100-inch 1080p LED HDTV’s below that the Dallas Cowboys have…. You can certainly see a penalty shout on that!!

US AC Milan

Chris Stygal


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