European football could look a little different in the coming years if UEFA decides to change the rules for the Champions League and Europa League competitions. According to Kicker, European football’s governing body is considering a series of rule changes that includes eliminating the away goals rule.
For those newer to football who may not be familiar with the rule, the away goals rule is a tiebreaker for two-legged European football series where, if the teams are tied on goals scored after both legs of the series, the team that has scored more goals away from home would advance. Kicker reports that UEFA will discuss the proposed rule change in a meeting of the Executive Committee today, but stressed that no announcement will be forthcoming anytime soon as to whether the rule will be eliminated.
Tottenham Hotspur fans are all too aware of the impact the abolition of the away goals rule can have. Spurs were knocked out of the two-legged Carabao Cup semifinal against Chelsea two weeks ago because away goals were not counted as a tiebreaker for the first time at that stage. Spurs won the first leg 1-0 at Wembley but lost the second match 2-1 at Stamford Bridge; under the old away goals rule Spurs would’ve advanced to the final by virtue of scoring the series’ only away goal. Instead, they were sent home via a penalty shootout.
I agree to a point that the away goal rules is outdated. Kicker reports that at the time the away goals rule was instated in 1965, it was a means to encourage visiting teams to play more attacking football, to reward in a small way the difficulty of scoring goals away from home due to the stress of travel, and because things like match balls were not standardized across leagues. Those things, the argument goes, are less applicable now, and the away goals rule can feel like a relic from a bygone era. Kicker quotes UEFA Competition Director Giorgio Marchetti as saying, referring to opponents of the away goals rule, “They think that achieving away goals is not as difficult as in the past.”
On the other hand, without some sort of random tiebreaker matches could easily devolve into unwatchable slogs as teams tied on aggregate just play out the match to head to a penalty shootout that is basically a coin-flip. And there is something about a smaller club eliminating a bigger club like, say, Real Madrid by defending heroically at home and nicking an away goal on the road that feels like justice.
There’s probably a solution that nobody has thought of that could maintain the integrity of the competition while still doing away with an outdated practice that no longer seems to apply. At the moment, and maybe it’s just me smarting from the loss to Chelsea, eliminating the away goals rule for European competitions just seems a little bit like a new way for teams like Tottenham to lose.