Premier League fans are being left short-changed as new figures reveal they are watching less on-field action than ever before.
Top-flight bosses are desperate to clamp down on time-wasting as football’s lawmakers prepare to discuss 60-minute matches with a countdown clock to ensure supporters get their money’s worth.
Data analysts at Opta have shown that Premier League matches are lasting longer than ever but that the ball is in play for the shortest time since records began.
Data has revealed that Premier League fans are being short-changed with on-field action
The average Premier League match this season has lasted 98min 6sec — the longest since Opta began recording the data 11 seasons ago — yet the ball has only been in play for 54min 53sec, the shortest in that time. The ball is in play for just 55.9 per cent of the match.
This is in stark contrast to the World Cup, where a new era of stricter time-keeping on substitutions and celebrations saw huge amounts of stoppage time added at the end of each half, which led to matches averaging longer than 100 minutes but saw the ball in play for 58min 4sec — more than 57 per cent of the time.
The Premier League are resisting calls to implement the same stringent methods — despite popularity among fans — until at least the summer, when discussions will be held over the best ways to speed up breaks in play.
New referees boss Howard Webb is soon to meet all Premier League clubs to discuss his plans, including stamping out time-wasting.
Premier League referees were urged to do so before the season started and have been dishing out yellow cards in attempts to stop players slowing down play.
Officials have shown 37 cautions for time-wasting this season, a rise of 14 per cent on the season average for the previous campaign.
Newcastle are one of the worst offenders, with their matches seeing the ball in play for just 51min 36sec. Arsenal fans accused Eddie Howe’s side of time-wasting during their goalless draw that saw unused sub Jamaal Lascelles shown a yellow card for disrupting a throw-in while warming up on the touchline, as he did against Chelsea in November.
Leeds are the biggest culprits with their games seeing the ball in play for an average of just 50min 56sec. All three Premier League matches in which the ball was in play for less than 45 per cent of the game involved Leeds.
Newcastle’s Jamal Lascelles was recently shown a yellow card whilst on the substitute bench
The least time in a game was the pitiful 43min 26sec for Aston Villa’s win over Brentford in October. This is a whopping 25 minutes shorter than Man City’s 4-0 win over Southampton in the same month — the highest amount of time the ball has been in play this season. City also boast the match with the highest percentage at 71.6 per cent.
Not surprisingly it’s City who lead the way with 61 minutes, which is the highest of any club in Europe’s big five leagues and the only side that average over an hour. And it’s not only a problem in the Premier League.
Fans of clubs in Europe have it far worse. Only the Dutch Eredivisie and Ligue 1 boast a higher percentage of the ball in play. In the Scottish Premiership, the ball is in play less than 51 minutes.
Football’s lawmakers IFAB the (International FA Board) will discuss measures to fix the growing problem, including the strict timekeeping trialled at the World Cup.
‘The feedback has been positive, especially from the crowd in the stadium,’ said FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina. ‘There haven’t been any negative reactions from people I’ve met. It’s important to offer spectators in attendance and those watching on TV a good show and some good entertainment.’
FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina has backed calls to combat the growing issue
Another option is to reduce matches to 60 minutes with a countdown clock shown to supporters that stops whenever there is a break in play — not necessarily at every goal-kick or throw-in but for things like VAR reviews, injuries and goal celebrations. Ifab will discuss this at their AGM in March.
Former Arsenal vice-chairman and FA and Premier League ambassador David Dein has pushed the idea, one he discussed with Collina in Qatar.
‘The time has come for transparency via a countdown clock so the public can actually see how much time is left,’ he told The Times. ‘It should not be a national secret. I’m not saying the clock should be stopped every time the ball goes out of play but certainly for those incidents which cause the greatest delays: goal celebrations, substitutions, penalties, injuries and now VAR checks.’
In the Premier League, new chief Webb will also hope to reduce stoppages with fewer VAR interventions. It’s his belief that the bar for Stockley Park to intervene on clear and obvious errors should be high.
Former referee Howard Webb is hoping that the VAR process will become more transparent
Webb also wants the VAR process to be more transparent. During his time in the MLS, Webb introduced a weekly YouTube review of all the contentious VAR decisions to help fans understand the process.
He will soon begin regular debriefs with broadcasters to discuss key incidents involving listening in on the audio between the ref and those at Stockley Park.
Last week, the EFL released their first ‘Behind the Whistle’ article in which ex-Premier League referee and MoS expert Chris Foy took a look at the big decisions from the Championship to League Two. The hope is for something similar to be introduced for Premier League incidents in the future.