COLUMN: Time Wasting Is More Than a Jose Bordalas Problem – It Is a Spanish Problem

La Liga is back, and its first matchday brought plenty of uplifting stories this weekend: our dear “Isinho” Palazon scoring the first goal of the season, Baraja’s revitalized Valencia that is somehow even younger than last year, Sergi Darder now assisting and creating in Mallorca, Jude Bellingham leading a young and energetic Real Madrid, or Isco’s MVP debut with Betis. 

Yet it seems that the biggest talk in La Liga town this weekend was over a negative: how La Liga’s new rules regarding added time led to more than 25 minutes of stoppage time at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez between Getafe and FC Barcelona. This amount comes as less of a surprise when you consider who coaches Getafe: ever since Jose Bordalas started coaching in La Liga, his teams have been consistently measured one of the top time-wasters in the league. Maybe it’s not my wisest decision to add more fuel to this discourse, but I feel inclined to contribute a few things. 

Some degree of time-wasting and football dark arts is good for the sport. In an era of increasing inequalities in football, time-wasting is a valuable tool for the underdog to level the playing field. It feels deeply hypocritical to see Real Madrid or Barcelona fans complain about Getafe gaining unfair advantages in time-wasting, when their clubs have more than ten times the revenue and wage bill of Getafe. And audiences are certainly entertained by *some* degree of gamesmanship.

However, there is something like too much time-wasting and discontinuity in the game, and both Primera and Segunda Division in Spain are veering into that territory. Since 2019, La Liga has been the lowest-scoring of the Big 5 European leagues. La Liga’s ability to attract offensive talent has dwindled in the face of the richer Premier League and teams founded by petrostates, and that has forced La Liga managers to build teams with a more conservative message. Coach Unai Emery explains it clearly and succinctly in an excellent 2020 interview with El Pais. 

“The football of order that we see [in La Liga] has to do with the message of keeping a clean sheet. You look at the opponent’s goal with caution. That message has sunk in. The other extreme, that of beautiful, attractive matches, with both teams looking at each other’s goal, transmitting energy and uncertainty for 90 minutes, goes against organisation.”

“In Spain, we, the coaches, are very organised, very tactical, and competitive. And that is like the short blanket dilemma. It gives us an advantage but keeps us away from spectacular football.”

This conservative message has also included breaking up the opponent’s play via dark arts such as time-wasting, which is also reflected in the numbers. 

In your average elite football game, the ball will be in play roughly 55 mins of the time. Data journalist Mark Thompson looked at data from some historical games of Pele, Diego Maradona, and Johan Cruyff, confirming that this average also applied to their times. As pointed out by Opta Analyst, last season the average La Liga match saw the ball in play for just 53:42 minutes, about 60 seconds less than the Premier League (54:49) and 90 seconds less than Ligue 1 (55:20). 

Segunda is in an even worse place. The CIES Football Observatory took effective playing time data for 36 European leagues between 2019 and 2022 and found Segunda at the bottom of their ranking. 

In the last couple of years, football authorities, from FIFA to the Spanish Technical Committee of Referees (CTA in Spanish), have tried to solve the time-wasting issue by increasing stoppage time and pushing effective match time closer to 60 minutes. The 2022 World Cup led the way with this change, and La Liga and the Premier League have followed suit shortly after. This is a well-intentioned but ineffective solution for several reasons. 

Firstly, increasing stoppage time adds more stress to the bodies of football players who already have to deal with overcrowded schedules. This issue was well summarised in a public statement last week from Manchester United defender Raphael Varane, and there are even scientific papers that back up Varane’s claim. 

Second, as pointed out earlier in Thompson’s studies, this push for 60 minutes goes against the traditional length of a football match, which has historically averaged 55 minutes. Some leagues, like the Spanish ones, might be below that average right now, but in general, the ball today is in play roughly for as long as it was in the 70s or 80s. Why do we feel the need to change that? 

Finally, pushing for more added time and 60 minutes of playing time does not solve the fundamental issue with time-wasting: the frequency of interruptions in the game. Bordalas and Getafe provided the perfect example this weekend. As pointed out by Opta, the game had an effective playing time of 60:49 minutes, yet the interruptions continued to be as frequent and unpleasant as in a shorter game. One could even argue that adding more game time increases the number of interruptions and compounds the problem. 

Another potential solution is using the stop clock as in basketball, which Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez has been an advocate of for some time. This solution does not consider that players who waste time don’t just want to run down the clock but also break up the opponent’s play and kill their momentum. Without the countdown of a running clock, there is a chance that interruptions of play will become even longer and create even more discontinuity. 

More effective solutions might involve changing some “peculiarities” of the Spanish refereeing style. According to FBREF data from the 2022/23 season, while the average Premier League game featured 21.6 fouls per game, the average La Liga game featured 25.8 fouls. This stricter refereeing leads to more interruptions of the game and more off-beat football. Data journalist Bart Frouws found that in the 2019/20 season, La Liga referees called for handball penalties almost three times more frequently than their Bundesliga and Premier League counterparts. One area where the refs can be more strict to make the game more continuous is punishing more time-wasting offenses with yellow cards. 

Time-wasting is a fundamental aspect of football in many ways. Especially in a sport where inequalities keep increasing, and the odds get increasingly dire for the underdogs, we should avoid making decisions that make the playing field even more tilted toward the strongest teams. Eliminating it entirely would be one such decision.  

However, there is something like too much time-wasting and interrupting play, and Spanish leagues have veered into that territory for the last few years. The solutions proposed by FIFA and the Spanish CTA are well-intentioned but likely ineffective because even if the ball stays in play for a longer time, the frequency of interruptions will continue. And as attacking talent continues to leave Spain for richer pastures and the inequalities in Spanish football continue, managers will continue to push for conservative tactics and the dark arts to remain competitive with the behemoths of Spanish football. If some of these core issues are not solved, a return to more attractive football and less time-wasting is but a far-off dream that Emery’s blanket does not cover. 

Tags Barcelona FIFA Getafe Jose Bordalas La Liga Premier League Xavi Hernandez


  1. For me throw ins are one of the worst offenders of time wasting they take far too long and i feel there is no excuse for it,having watched alot of premier league matches at the weekend i noticed that the referees seem to have caught onto this and clamped down on it as i noticed at least 3 players getting booked for time wasting by throw ins which i have to admit Im pleased to see,i don’t know if the spanish and other european leagues will follow suit ? hopefully fingers crossed they do.

  2. Time wasting is a standard tactic for underbudgeted clubs, and to some degree I don’t blame them. It’s sometimes hard to watch, but I get it.

    The problems start when the deliberate fouling isn’t policed by the match officials. The referees must control that aspect of the match, or players get frustrated, retaliation happens, and the match devolves into chaos.

    You want to take an extra five seconds to make a throw-in? You want to walk over and pick up the ball? Fine, but one more deliberate foul and you’re carded; one more after that and you’re gone.

    It’s not that hard to enforce if you have the courage to do it.

  3. Take the example of American hockey: if a player does a “Neymar” to the point where play must be stopped, legitimate or not, he must spend equal time out of the game. Conversely, if a player gets a yellow card for hurting someone, he must stand in a penalty box for a prescribed number of minutes. All this to dissuade time wasting.

  4. The problem is that football is losing its audience and the new generation generally don’t find it as interesting to watch as the previous generations did. I have been watching football for some 40 years and agree that it is loosing it’s glow. I had people over during Getafe vs Barca and the overall feeling was that it was +2h of wasted time that we could have been doing something better entertainment wise. Football as an entertainment is failing, that is why Laporta was for the Super League as the sport probably won’t survive in the current state. Nowadays, it’s hard to gather people during games other than big Champions League games and El Classico. As I see it, with so many entertainment options available football needs to be optimised, fast and fun. We probably need stop clocks and active playtime of 30+30min (2min time-out after 15min), immediate play during free-kicks with active without breaks for changes (to avoid interrupting play), continue optimising VAR and so forth. I might be exaggerating but I feel we need big changes to survive on merits of football and without state financing.

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