It was the hard-line stance designed to clamp down on the time wasters. From this season, the Premier League would no longer idly stand by and allow the dark arts to conquer. Enough already.

The Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), led by former referee Howard Webb, outlined their expectation that Premier League matches would be lasting longer in 2023-24. The forecast was for games to span roughly 102 minutes on average, with officials instructed to add more time for goal celebrations, substitutions and any hint of skulduggery.



What’s new for this Premier League season? More added time, more yellows for time wasting

The arrival of the first international break of the season means a chance to assess the impact of the measures. Even allowing for a small sample size, there has been a significant change.

The 39 Premier League fixtures played to date have spanned, on average, 101 minutes and 25 seconds, according to Opta, the data analysis specialists. Or put another way, we are now seeing 11 and a half minutes of time added on. That is a figure higher than the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where the International Football Association Board (IFAB) placed an increased focus on time management.

The revised stance means Premier League games are lasting three minutes longer than last season. Perhaps more importantly, it means the ball has been in play for an average of 59 minutes and 21 seconds so far this season.


Arsenal versus Fulham last month reached 101 minutes (Photo: Henry Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images)

You are forgiven for shrugging your shoulders at such a figure, but it is the most telling impact brought by the changes. When the 2022-23 season ended, the ball had been in play for an average of just under 55 minutes.

In each of the previous five seasons, there had not been an annual average for ball-in-play above 56 minutes and 22 seconds. Opta’s stats only go back to 2012-13 for this metric but, within that timeframe, they show that before this season the most supporters had seen was the 56 minutes and 43 seconds of 2013-14.

That was what had troubled the IFAB and, by extension, the Premier League and Webb. “A declining trend in effective playing time,” as he put it. “People are paying good money to watch football and are getting a lower and lower number (of minutes) each year.”

So far this season, the changes have led to four and a half minutes more of football on average per match compared to last season.

Last weekend, the average time the ball was in play was north of an hour. Those 10 games, on average, saw the ball in play for 60 minutes and 15 seconds, lasting just shy of 102 minutes. The second half of Arsenal’s 3-1 dramatic win over Manchester United alone brought 13 minutes of time added on.

This past weekend would also indicate that the Premier League’s stance on timekeeping is not softening as summer says its goodbyes, just as Webb promised on the eve of the new season.

“We have to change mindsets,” said Webb, who this week appeared on the first episode of Match Officials: Mic’d Up, a Premier League Productions show dissecting contentious VAR calls accompanied by former England forward Michael Owen.



Webb: ‘Decision to let Man City goal against Fulham stand was an error’

“We will stick to this. We are not going to ease off. We are not going to start ignoring behaviours in October or November. This will be here for good. We have a responsibility to the game at all levels and to the future of the game to make it a better place for all participants.”

That, of course, is only Webb’s view. However, the new approach, a directive pushed by IFAB, backed by FIFA, and adhered to by the Premier League and PGMOL, has drawn criticisms from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and a number of high-profile players, including Kevin De Bruyne and Raphael Varane.

We had a meeting last week with the FA. They recommended from the referees new decisions and rules.

From the managers and players, we have shared our concerns for many years now that there are too many games, the schedule is overcrowded, and it’s at a dangerous level for…

— Raphaël Varane (@raphaelvarane) August 7, 2023

UEFA, meanwhile, will not fall in line during their competitions this season. Zvonimir Boban, the European governing body’s chief of football, called the extended games “absurd” last week.

“How often we have spoken critically about the calendar and too many games,” he said. “We are not listening to players and coaches. It’s crazy. It’s too much, so we will not do this. Our guidelines are different.”



UEFA concerned added time for time-wasting will harm player welfare

The English Football League (EFL) has followed the lead of the Premier League. The length of games is up across the Championship, League One and League Two, where all teams have played at least five games.

The Championship has seen a rise from 98 minutes and 20 seconds to exactly 101 minutes in the length of matches, with the ball in play for 57 of them — a huge leap from 52 minutes and 13 seconds last season.

The biggest upturn of all has come in League Two, the fourth tier of English football. The ball was in play for an average of just over 48 minutes in 2022-23 and that figure, with the aid of additional time, has been pushed up to 55 minutes.

The Premier League’s attack on timewasting is two-pronged. Increases to time added on is one strand, supplemented by upping the punishments given out to those Webb believes “nefariously delay the game”. More yellow cards, they believe, will eventually lead to less need for extended games.

That has prompted an increase in the number of cautions across the Premier League’s opening four weeks, with an average per round of 46.5, up from 37.8 in 2022-23. Of the 186 yellow cards given out so far this term, 24 of them have been for timewasting.

There was a sharp increase in round two of the season when 10 players were cautioned for that offence, including three just in Brighton & Hove Albion’s emphatic 4-1 win away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.


It was a long 100 minutes for Wolves during their defeat to Brighton (Photo: Harriet Lander via Getty Images)

That round of games also brought a costly yellow card for Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, who was booked for a delay to a throw-in, despite team-mate Kai Havertz holding the ball for longer. Tomiyasu was later sent off for a questionable second bookable offence.

The number of yellow cards given out for timewasting has fallen in the last two rounds of games — only three in round three and five in round four – but the average remains significantly higher than last season. The 92 players booked for timewasting last season meant the offence was picked up on once in every 4.13 games. Now, albeit with a small sample size, there is a booking for timewasting in every 1.63 matches.

Big changes, but take Webb at his word: they are here to stay.

(Top photo: Michael Regan via Getty Images)