Football heading for 30-minute halves and stopped clock

The other day, there was great gnashing of teeth when Atlético Madrid scored at Espanyol in the ninth minute of stoppage time, with another minute still to go. As was to be expected, the hosts felt the play had been extended too long, but when everything was added up post-match, it turned out there should have been even more time added on. Two major stoppages had had an impact: a two-minute drinks break, and five and a half minutes for a VAR review. (Two recent, artificial problems, introduced by meddling reinventors of the wheel.) Add another, shorter VAR check, the usual interruptions for injuries, and we get 12 long minutes of stoppage time, before we even consider time added on for substitutions.

Espanyol then went on to benefit from a very, very late goal of their own against Real Betis, while Atlético lost out against Athletic Club when the referee blew the final whistle just when Jan Oblak had played a long ball through to Yannick Carrisco, seemingly setting the Belgian up for a scoring chance. On Monday, the Barcelona supporters were unhappy at how little was added on after a game in which Granada had wasted plenty of time. I could go on. Something as basic as the end of the match, something which used to involve the referee simply looking at their watch, has become the subject of intense debate. Football has always seen complaints about time added on, but never to the extent we’re witnessing now.

Atlético Madrid head coach Diego Simeone complains to referee Jesús Gil Manzano after Los Rojiblancos' LaLiga draw with Athletic Club on Saturday.

Football's fundamental simplicity is being eroded

The game is losing what it was originally all about. Having become as wildly popular as it is because its chief strength lies in its simplicity, it is now getting more and more complicated. Drinks breaks and VAR are intrusive inventions. The number of subs allowed (we’re up to five) is another own goal. And we now have the finicky habit of stopping the play whenever a player goes down. That allowed Yan Eteki to pull a fast one at the Camp Nou, and allowed Thierry Correia to pull up injured off the field of play but go to ground on it, to enable his replacement to warm up. The inevitable outcome of all this will be two halves of 30 minutes, with the clock stopped every time the ball goes dead and a hooter at the end, much like basketball.