Should the “Pass Back to the GK” Rule Be Changed?

I often think about rule (laws of the game) changes that could be made to improve the game of soccer.  For instance, during the World Cup, I posted about changing the red and yellow card system, by maybe having a sin bin or using video replay after the game to catch the cheaters who are diving.

Really, I can only think of one major rule change in my lifetime and that is the GK not being allowed to use his hands on a back pass.  This rule change was made about 20 years ago.  There have also been modifications to the Offside rule, but they have been modifications and not a drastic rule change.  I guess the six second rule for GK’s to get rid of the ball once in their hands is kind of a major rule change, except, I think for the most part this has been forgotten about.  I can’t remember a ref making a point of this in the last season or two.

Well I have thought for some time that they might take the “no hands” rule on a back pass to the GK a little further.  The rule was initially changed because it was too easy to kill the game or slow it down.  When a team was leading by a goal, it could easily kill the last 10 minutes or so by passing the ball back to the keeper.  The keeper would then roll it out to a defender and when the defender was pressed by an opponent, he would simply pass it back to the keeper who would pick it up.  If an opponent pressed the goalkeeper the goalkeeper would simply kick it up the field leaving the player out of the game and in an offside position, or if a defender was open, he could continue the same process and roll it out to him.  A team could also kill most of the game once they were ahead like this, especially if they were the weaker team and fortunate to be one goal ahead.

So, if the intention of the rule change was to stop the game being killed or played negatively, has it done so?  Well I guess it has, but only to some degree.  The game can still be played somewhat negatively with players passing the ball back from long distances.  This happens two different ways.  In one instance, players under pressure will pass the ball back to the GK from 40-50 yards or so.  In the other instance, teams can be attacking and have the ball in the attacking half (sometimes close to the 18 yard box) and then with a series of passes be forced to go backwards and eventually pass the ball back to the GK.

My thought is, if FIFA think this is slowing the game down too much, they could further the rule with an additional change, by incorporating the same “over and back” rule from basketball with a slight change to adapt for soccer.  This rule is pretty simple, once the ball goes in the attacking half of the basketball court, the team in possession cannot take the ball back to the defending half.  So, to adapt this rule for soccer, once the ball is in the attacking half, you can still bring it back into the defending half, but you can’t pass it back to the goalkeeper.

So let’s say a team starts with the ball in their own half, make a few passes and advance into the attacking half, then the opposition puts the pressure on and forces them to go backwards with a few passes and the team ends up in its own half again (happens a lot in the pro game), then they cannot pass back to the GK.  This would force teams to be more positive by taking out the safety valve of the back pass.

Another addition to this could be the rule used in Futsal.  If the GK distributes the ball to the defender, then that team cannot pass back to the goalkeeper at any time unless they lose possession and then regain it.

So with those two rules in place:

No passing back to the GK once your team has possession in the attacking half.
No passing back to the GK if he started with the ball unless your team loses possession.

Then there is no safety valve and it would force players to play the ball forward more thus producing a more attacking game.

On the other hand, I can foresee a negative in that if players don’t have the safety valve of a pass back to the GK when under pressure, then they would likely be tempted to play long balls rather than a more attractive possession style of play.

Just some random thoughts.


  1. Just wondered what your thoughts were on this in Junior Football?

    I think that we should probably allow back passes in youth football until around U12-U13 because we see an awful lot of goals scored simply because defenders and goalkeepers panic when they have possession in their own half and just lump the ball directly to the nearest opponent. Instead we want to develop players who are calm in possession and trust themselves and their teammates to keep possession (and subsequently build attacks).

    In a similar vein, we should allow goalkeepers to take goal kicks out of their hands – too many times in youth football a goal kick is a better attacking opportunity for the opponents than for the GK’s team.

    Again just some random thoughts about how the rules affect the way the game is played and if this in line with our development philosophy.

  2. coach ant says:

    i don’t think you can kill the game off by passing to the keeper, they cant pick it up and most of the time are pressured very quickly,this can sometimes be quite exiting as keeper gets the ball passed back, he gets closed down and can often make big mistakes under pressure that can lead to goals,also a goal keeper is a player and they must also work on their ball control passing and distribution skills,as you said they can and do start play out from the back in a possession style often the back 4 and keeper play 5v2 against strikers until they can patiently play the ball forward,also agree with you that if there were no keeper to exept a back pass the defenders would have no backward support and would just hoof it.i would leave it alone the game is beautiful just the way it is,Now about goal line technology!.

  3. John says:

    Think your idea is just too complicated Mike.
    If a team wants to pass back to its GK then thats fine by me because he cannot use his hands and needs good footskills to retain possession,which is a good idea and improves his ability.
    Also if a team is chasing a game then its up to them to work harder and press the ball much quicker if they want possession of the ball.
    Dont think the basketball idea would work as its on a much smaller playing surface and would be easy to get around on a football field.

  4. Mike Saif says:

    Pavl, I agree with both of your ideas.

    Coach ant, maybe killing a game was a bit strong, but I’ve seen teams end up passing the ball back to the keeper after taking a corner.

    I still think not allowing a pass back into your own half once it’s gone into the attacking half would be worth a look. Maybe a trial somewhere?

  5. ben gunter says:

    I just watched Olympique Marsielle score their third goal against Spartak Moscow….

    The epitome of how high pressure can truly overcome the pass back to the keeper and force a team to play out of the back. High pressure at its greatest!!!

  6. Hugh Clements-Jewery says:

    How about this for a potential rule change:

    I know an Australian who was incredulous defenders could just kick the ball out of play when under pressure by an attacker. This makes it easy for the defenders – no skill is involved, and arguably punishes the attackers as the defenders can potentially reorganize to defend the resulting throw-in.

    So how about a rule prohibiting a defender from purposely putting the ball out of play when under pressure?

  7. Steve says:

    This would not be good for the game. It would further shrink the field on most posessions because teams would not have to defend against a switch across the back.