Upon being asked if he would instruct his players on how to not fall foul of the new handball interpretations, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith responded, ‘No not at all because I don’t know how to not fall foul of it.’
Perhaps the most controversial penalty that has been given so far this season was when Andy Carrol headed onto the arm of Eric Dier, ultimately giving Callum Wilson the chance to equalise from the spot, meaning that Spurs dropped two points. After a similar incident between the same two players just minutes before went unpunished, Carrol again headed the ball onto Dier’s outstretched arm. Dier was facing the opposite way and was no more than two yards away from Carrol. Many would agree that Dier’s arms were not in an unnatural position; he needed to have them outstretched in order to jump high enough.
The rule states that it is an offence if the ball touches the hand or arm of a player who has their arm outstretched beyond their shoulder, and the rule also includes the fact that it is still an offence if the ball touches the player’s hand or arm directly from the head or body of another player that is close.
On this evidence, the decision was correct. However, common sense must be applied to the handball law as it is applied to the rest of the refereeing decisions. Everyone knows that Eric Dier did nothing wrong and handball should not have been given. Football laws are often ambiguous and can be interpreted in different ways, so it would be refreshing to see common sense being applied in these situations, although you can hardly blame the referee making the decision in this instance; the laws need to change.
Slightly less well documented was the handball decision recently given against Matt Doherty against Southampton – as Spurs ran out 2-5 winners it wasn’t talked about too much as it didn’t influence the outcome of the game, but a penalty was awarded after the ball flicked off the foot of Harry Winks onto the arm of Matt Doherty, who was less than a yard away and already had his arm in the position that it ended in before the ball hit it. This is another clear example of where common sense will tell anyone who understands football that it clearly should not have been a penalty.
Another big problem with the handball law in my opinion is the relatively recent law that says that it is an offence if a player scores a goal or creates a chance immediately after the ball has touched their or a team-mate’s arm even if it was accidental. This has improved from last season where the law was that if the ball had touched the arm of a player at any point in the build up of the goal then the goal should be disallowed.
It seemed bizarre that when the ball brushed the arm of Phil Foden (who was unaware as he was lying on the ground) before Riyad Mahrez dribbled past two more players to score against Liverpool last season, the goal was disallowed, or when the ball came into miniscule contact with LIonel Messi’s arm before his disallowed second goal against Napoli last season. This is a clear situation of where common sense should have been applied: although the law states that both goals should have been disallowed because the ball touched a player’s arm, did they affect the outcome of the situation and were they obvious enough to waste minutes of the game analysing? Would the opposition have complained if the goal had been given?
As aforementioned, the rule has now been changed so that the goal will only be ruled out if the goal or chance occurs immediately after the ball touches the hand, but this still does not seem right. Why should Messi’s goal against Napoli have been ruled out at all? It did not assist him when controlling the ball, it did not even contribute anything to the goal, yet not only was time wasted in forensically analysing whether it had made contact with the arm or not, Barcelona had a perfectly good goal ruled out.
Furthermore, why should this law only apply to if a goal is scored or a chance is created? Why is a handball only a handball in certain situations? With this logic, the ball could brush a defender’s arm in the area and nothing would be given, and it could then immediately brush an attacker’s arm in the area in exactly the same foul and it automatically becomes an offence.
Overall, I believe that it should only be handball if the defender deliberately touches the ball with their arm or hand, unless the ball hits their arm or hand to give them a significant advantage. For example, if a player tries to set up his team-mate with a dangerous through ball and it is blocked by an opponent’s arm, whether it was intentional or not, handball should be given.
In light of the recent incidents involving Eric Dier, Victor Lindelof, Joel Ward and Matt Doherty, there has been lots of media attention with regards to these bizarre handball decisions. Surely, surely this means we will soon see change.