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How the Premier League's new handball rules are 'killing the game'

The Premier League
The Premier League's new handball rules have enraged managers, pundits and fans alike.
Deepit Magee
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 29 Sep 2020, 16:03 IST
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It’s stoppage time in a Premier League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United. Newcastle, who are a goal down, are desperate to salvage something from the match.

Andy Carroll jumps up to attack a cross floated into the Spurs box and heads the ball down. His header hits the arm of Spurs’ Eric Dier who was facing the other way and had no way to see that the ball was coming in his direction. 

A VAR check ensued, and a penalty was awarded to Newcastle who scored from it. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.

The incident in the Spurs-Newcastle game has only highlighted a problem many have been livid about this season - the Premier League’s new handball rules. The changes to handball laws have meant a slew of controversial penalties - often called by VAR - have left not only fans and managers but even players and pundits enraged.

New handball laws: What has changed?

The new change for the 2020-21 season seems to be due to the complications in the Premier League's interpretation of the handball laws. Laws are set down by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), and the Premier League applies them as per their best interpretation of them.

The IFAB has clarified on the handball rules further this year, clearly defining the ball hitting which part of the arm constitutes a handball. The laws were changed last season to decide that 'intent' is no longer taken into consideration when penalising handballs. 

The laws were changed primarily to prevent 'injustice' arising from handball offences in attack to prevent a goal scored by a player by unintentionally guiding the ball in with his hand, for example. However, the way the law has been written means that any contact between a defender’s hand and the ball is called for a penalty by VAR.

The official rules in this regard say:

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Any goal scored or created with the use of the hand or arm will be disallowed this season even if it is accidental. 
If the ball hits a player who has made their body "unnaturally bigger", then a foul will be awarded.

The problem lies with the phrase ‘unnaturally bigger’. It is so open to interpretation that penalty calls often come down to the discretion of individual officials who are manning the VAR booths. And players have been getting penalised for the ball hitting their hands even when they literally could have done nothing to avoid it, like Eric Dier for instance. 

Dodgy penalties in the Premier League all around

Does this look
Does this look 'unnaturally bigger'?

Crystal Palace's Premier League game against Everton last week had a similar incident. Everton were awarded a controversial penalty when Lucas Digne headed down the ball in Palace’s box, and it caught hit Joel Ward on the wrist. It was ruled as a handball, and a penalty was awarded on VAR check.

Most pundits at the time pointed out that Ward did not seem ‘unnaturally bigger’, and it was an entirely natural place for his hands to be in.

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Back in the first gameweek of the Premier League this season, Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof fell prey to a similar call. Lindelof has had a disastrous start to the season anyway, but he was not helped by VAR as United collapsed against Crystal Palace.

The ball was kicked right into Lindelof’s arm, leaving him with no time to react or move out of the way. Yet, a penalty was awarded after consulting with VAR. You can see that incident here:

Lindelof was left with no time to get his arm out of the way.
Lindelof was left with no time to get his arm out of the way.

It doesn’t help that these penalties are being awarded at key moments in games as they have often tended to produce the winning goal or a point-salvaging one.

Who’s complaining about the Premier League's new handball rules?

Just about everyone. Obviously, the aggrieved managers of various Premier League clubs are at the top of the list. Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson was livid about the call against Everton, saying that it was ‘destroying’ his enjoyment of football and that the new rule was ‘killing the game’. 

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To Hodgson’s credit, he spoke out against the new handball rule even when his team benefited from it against Manchester United.

Newcastle United’s Steve Bruce has also rallied against the handball rule, calling upon all Premier League managers to band together and say 'this must stop’.

Pundit and former footballer Gary Lineker also spoke out against the handball rules, calling the new laws ‘utterly ridiculous’ and saying that they’ve been ‘exacerbated by VAR’. He also said quite emphatically: "Can we have our game back please?’"

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Former England striker Peter Crouch, meanwhile, had a slightly humorous take on the handball situation, saying that he would have given away penalties all the time if he had to deal with the current laws.

Fans are also angry at the rule’s implementation. While some are already ticked off by the incorporation of VAR checks slowing down games, others have directed a steady stream of vitriol at Premier League officials due to the new handball rules. 

How has the Premier League responded?

Well, they have not. As of now, no formal request for changing or reconsidering the new handball laws has been made by any managers’ or players’ body.

If managers or players do decide to band together and make a formal application, the Premier League may be forced to respond to the issue. Until then, get ready for more dodgy handball calls every week — this is how Premier League football works now.

Published 29 Sep 2020, 16:03 IST
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