The alternative penalty shootout for football: Attacker Defender Goalkeeper

The alternative penalty shootout for football: Attacker Defender Goalkeeper. In the opinion of Tim Farrell the current penalty shootout in football is unfair and problematic. He got a new a idea to decide who wins the game. The attacker receives the ball at the centre mark, with a defender and goalkeeper in play as wel.  He kicks off and has 30 seconds to try and score a goal.

A blog post where he explains his new idea and shows you why football should adopt it.

Alternative penalty shootout

Introduction of Tim Farrell and how he got the idea

In 2008 after watching the UEFA Champions League final, I conceived and developed Attacker Defender Goalkeeper (ADG), an alternative to the penalty shootout.

Now some people are going to assume I’m an Englishman who has suffered years of shootout torment and that’s why I created ADG. I’m actually an Australian and if you remember back to 2005, Australia beat Uruguay on penalties to qualify for their first World Cup in 32 years.

So, as a devoted Socceroos fan, that was an unforgettable moment. The point I’m trying to make is that ADG isn’t about national allegiances, or who’s been successful in shootouts and who hasn’t.  Indeed, I have no affiliation with any football federation or association, club or governing body. ADG was simply born out of a love of football and the strong belief that the penalty kick shootout is a cancer on an otherwise beautiful game.

Watching the World Cup down here in Australia needs some passion and dedication because the matches are mostly in the middle of the night and it’s also the dead of winter! The 1994 World Cup final was of course another critical moment. Roberto Baggio had scored 5 goals in the 3 knockout games, including a late brace to rescue Italy from defeat against Nigeria. In the shootout it was left to Baggio to keep Italian hopes alive and I think all football fans remember what happened.

You often hear people say, don’t fix what’s not broken. But FIFA acknowledge how problematic the shootout is and that’s why we saw golden goal and why other alternatives are always discussed. Even Sepp Blatter, for all his faults, declared the shootout a tragedy and in 2012 asked Franz Beckenbauer to come up with an alternative. Beckenbauer said something about them being better than the coin toss, and that was it!

So, there’s a lot of arrogance at work. Most football administrators will argue that since it’s already the world’s most popular sport, why bother? The answer, as both rugby and cricket have found, is that updating any sport keeps it fresh and, equally important, fair. Instead, with football we have a tie-breaker that gives one team a 20% advantage, crucifies its players and fails to showcase what makes the game great.

The idea: alternative penalty shootout for football

What rule change do you propose?

Attacker Defender Goalkeeper (ADG) is an alternative to the penalty shootout. ADG features a series of ten contests where an attacker kicks off from the centre mark and has 30 seconds to score a goal against a defender and a goalkeeper.

How does Attacker Goalkeeper Defender work?

The referee tosses a coin and the team that wins the toss, decides whether to attack or defend in the first contest. The teams receive an additional substitution. The referee meets separately with the teams and records their five attackers.

The attacker receives the ball at the centre mark. Having seen the attacker, the opposition field their defender, who is positioned outside the centre circle. The goalkeeper is positioned inside the penalty area.

Half the field is in play. The attacker kicks off and has 30 seconds to try and score a goal. The contest will end if any of the following occur:

  • A goal is scored
  • The ball goes out of play
  • The goalkeeper controls the ball with their hands inside the penalty area
  • The 30 seconds elapses
  • The attacker commits a foul

If the defender or goalkeeper commits a foul, the attacker is awarded a penalty kick and the 30 second time period is disregarded for the remainder of that contest.

Teams take turns attacking and defending. Teams play a total of ten ADG contests. At the completion of the contests, the team with the most goals is the winner. If scores remain level, the same players from the first contest will compete in the first sudden death contest.

Still a penalty kick if a defender fouls the attacker

The Advantages

1. Removes Advantage of Kicking First

A professor from The London School of Economics discovered that the team who takes the first kick in the penalty shootout wins 60% of the time. As the team who wins the coin toss can always elect to kick first, it’s an inherently unfair situation for the opposition.

The scoring rate for penalties by professional players in the shootout since 1970 has been 73%. So, the team kicking second is usually playing catch-up and experiences greater pressure with each kick. ADG’s scoring rate is estimated at 20%. The dramatically lower scoring rate removes the expectation that the player will always score. Of course, when the associated psychological pressure is removed, there won’t be any advantage in attacking first in ADG. Teams can simply take turns attacking and defending. 

Now some people assume that regardless of the actual scoring rate or the type of competition, going first in an ABAB sequence will always present some sort of advantage. For instance, serving first in the deciding set of a tennis match is generally acknowledged as an advantage. However, the actual statistics reveal that just as many players ultimately win the match when serving second in the final set.

IFAB have also rejected the ABBA kicking sequence which mirrors the tennis tie-break. However, ABBA was just putting a band-aid on a broken leg. It didn’t address the penalty shootout’s two other major problems – it doesn’t showcase the game and it creates psychological trauma for players who miss critical kicks.

Here’s the the historical first ABBA WU17 shootout to test this new idea.

First ABBA penalty shootout

2. Reduces Psychological Trauma

While missed penalty kicks are usually the contributing factor in deciding a shootout, it will be the goals that decide ADG. This distinction is crucial, as it changes a negative natured competition into a positive natured one. Where the penalty shootout creates victims and villains, ADG creates heroes. Indeed, there’s first-hand evidence from players including Maxime Bossis, Didier Six, Roberto Baggio, Bruno Conti and others, that missed penalties in critical matches foster serious long-term psychological trauma.

Today’s players also have to cope with all the scrutiny and vitriol from social media, which makes it infinitely worse. Death threats were made against the Danish striker, Nicolai Jorgensen and Colombians, Mateus Uribe and Carlos Bacca on their twitter pages after missing penalties at the 2018 World Cup.

Players measure themselves against their team-mates. If four of your team-mates convert penalties and your solitary miss loses the match, you’re going to feel singularly responsible for the defeat. You’re going to feel guilty about letting your team-mates and supporters down.

ADG’s scoring rate is estimated at 20%, or about 3.5 times lower than the shootout. So, the expectation from team-mates and fans is that you won’t score. They hope you do, but they don’t expect it. Now there may be more expectation on the gifted genius or the speedy superstar who’s great on the ball. If they score a scintillating goal, of course they’re going to be a hero.

However, if they don’t score, they won’t be saddled with feelings of guilt and responsibility because it’s likely none of their team-mates scored either. As we said, that’s how players ultimately measure themselves. They measure their personal performance, against that of their team-mates.

A talented player who doesn’t score in ADG may feel disappointment, but they won’t experience the burden and trauma of knowing they lost the game. It’s like the difference between watching a player miss a penalty kick during normal play and during the shootout. The player who misses during normal play is usually angry or disappointed with themselves, but they’re not that desolate or inconsolable figure who knows that they’ve just cost their team the match or the championship.

3. Showcases the Game

ADG showcases the skill, speed, athleticism and dynamic beauty of modern football. Conversely, if the match was a cagey scoreless draw, supporters still have the opportunity to see brilliant and exciting goals during ADG.

4. Coach and Strategy are Vital

The coach is responsible for selecting his five attacking players and the order in which they will compete. He then instructs his remaining players which attacker they should defend against, and he can also strategise with them on the best way to defend against their specific opponent.

Modern football has brought the coach centre stage and this is a great opportunity for them to utilise their knowledge and tactical skills to influence the outcome of the match. Contrast this with the shootout lottery, where the extent of their involvement is usually limited to asking players if they are willing to take a penalty kick.

Coach and 4th official

4. All Players Compete

As every player competes in ADG, it’s a fairer test of a team’s overall football ability.

5. Promotes Fair Play during the Match

Teams who have received yellow and red cards are at a disadvantage during ADG. This is fairer for teams who have played within the laws and the spirit of the game. 

Let’s use the 2010 World Cup quarter-final between Uruguay and Ghana as an example. In the last minute of extra time a Uruguayan player deliberately handled the ball and denied Ghana a match winning goal. As we all now know, Ghana missed the penalty kick and went on to lose the shootout.

Once Ghana had missed the penalty kick, Uruguay were not subject to any further disadvantage for the remainder of the match. In fact, it doesn’t matter how many players a team has had sent off, if they can make it through to the penalty shootout, then they are at no further disadvantage to their opponents.

However, if ADG rather than the shootout had ensued, Uruguay would have been without a defender for one of the contests. This gives the Ghanaians a distinct advantage, which is something I know most rational football fans around the world believe they were entitled to. This episode illustrates how ADG is much more effective than the penalty shootout at punishing teams who are guilty of unsporting and illegal play.

6. Promotes Attacking Play during the Match

ADG counteracts a scenario of a team playing totally defensively, in the belief that their best chance of winning is via the penalty shootout. This is especially common when a team has had a player sent off and is referred to as “playing for penalties.” A coach will instruct all his eleven players to stay behind the ball, in hope they can jag a win in the penalty shootout. In ADG a team with a red card is a defender down, which means an opposition attacker will go one-on-one against their goalkeeper.

Now some people might suggest that teams could play for ADG, just like they do for penalties. However, if you were so confident in your team’s superior football ability during ADG, why not just apply those skills to normal play and try and win the match in 90 minutes?

While the likelihood of receiving yellow or red cards during the shootout is almost non-existent, these sanctions are more conceivable during ADG. As any additional sanctions will likely hinder teams as they progress through the elimination stages of tournaments, there’s more incentive for teams to attack and try and win the game in normal play.

Teams will also be discouraged from substituting creative attacking players during the match, as their skills will be invaluable if ADG eventuates. By keeping these players on the field it increases the likelihood of a winning goal during normal play. 

In the 2006 World Cup final the French replaced Ribéry and Henry after 100 and 107 minutes, respectively. Would these substitutions have occurred if ADG rather than penalties was imminent? Both are sublimely talented attacking players who despite their genuine fatigue, would be invaluable for ADG. But their presence on the field for the duration of normal play, increases the chances of a French goal and the match being decided prior to ADG.

Share your ideas on this subject

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Thoughs on this idea? Or do you have alternatives for this? Love to hear from you in the comments below.


  • Ntiamoah Okoto Prince

    I think the ADG did not consider TIME, as this will further prolong the game after so many minutes of regulation time and extra time. And also require extra energy as there will be several physical contacts as defenders challenge for the ball all the way from the half way line to the goal line when the players are already exhausted in the regulation and extra time..

  • Tim Farrell

    The author’s preferred implementation is 90 minutes of normal play and then ADG. Please the website for more info.

  • Andrew Dinh

    Please bring this idea to Arsene Wenger. I love it!

    In my opinion, playing ADG with 1 attacker, 1 defender, and a goalie is kind of too linear. I would rather see 2 attackers vs. 2 defenders and a goalie with no offside rules applied during ADG phases. the 2A2DG will have more dynamic plays and strategies. The referee should be stricter with card disciplines so that it will allow a fair play + giving coach opportunities to rotate all his players on the mini games.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      IN NL at younger age levels you can have more subs. At u15 and u17 7 subs and players can go in and out. That helps a lot for player development.

  • Brian Kelly

    Just play an extra 10 minutes with two full full teams BUT the goal keeper cannot use his hands during this extra time period.

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