Handball or not handball? That is the question

Phil Etchells offers a strong defence of the new handball rule which is causing a store in football

multiple writers
20th October 2020
In Favour
Despite the upsetting rumours that the new handball rule might be “softened” in the coming weeks, I, personally, am very pleased with it. Alongside the brilliantly effective VAR, it is reminding us why the Premier League is the best in the world and is making a COVID-affected season and its glorified training games very entertaining.

So, what is the new rule?

Well, for a start it’s not exactly a new rule - it’s been in effect in Europe since last season - and so, in a tribute to Brexit, England decided it had to do things slightly differently. Instead, the “new interpretation” of the old rule has been implemented from this season.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) have precisely defined the new boundary for a handball offence as: “the bottom of the armpit”. This is clearly illustrated a graphic of what appears to be a bloke with a sore arm, available here

Unfortunately, there has already been some backlash against the new rule. Moaning Mourinho climbed on his soapbox after Spurs’ game against Newcastle. He said Eric Dier was wrongly penalised in the 97th minute for waving his arm in the air and looking in the wrong direction. It was Dier’s fault for not seeing Andy Carroll sneak up behind him and skillfully head the ball onto his arm.

The true injustice was in Manchester United’s second game of the season. They were drawing 2-2 away at Brighton, which wouldn’t have been a nice result for United. So thanks to this new rule, they were awarded a penalty in the 100th minute, after the final whistle had blown and the game had finished. This enabled Super Solskjaer and the Class of 2000 to collect their well-deserved three points.

After just four weeks and 30 games, six penalties have been awarded for handball - equalling the total from 380 games in 2017/18. At this rate, it’s been predicted that there will be over 70 penalties given for handball this season.

Strikers, like the great Andy Carroll, will be licking their lips at the prospect of winning so many penalties.

It could finally be “his year” because this rule will allow him to show his true, still unseen potential as England’s number 9.

Forget Calvert-Lewin, Southgate must take Carroll to the Euros for his majestic headers. Just think how many penalties he could win us, aiming at eight dangling defenders’ arms? 

Phil Etchells

I'm not exaggerating when I say that the new handball rule is a disgrace. It's absolutely nothing short of an injustice and an eyesore in the sport we love to call "the beautiful game."

Football is an art. What separates it from other sports is that feeling when your team scores. Basketball, rugby, cricket and countless other elite sports are high scoring. But the low-scoring nature feeling of football is what makes the feeling extra special and is what separates it from the rest.

Since VAR was introduced, the feeling of scoring a goal has changed. And for the worse. There's too much doubt, wondering "will it count?" and has meant that the spontaneous feeling has largely been lost.

The new handball rule alienates me even further from the natural feeling of the sport I fell in love with.

Defending is an art form that is becoming lost in modern football, with strong tackles regularly punished, any grappling being an instant foul and now it seems that defenders can't even have the ball hit their hand in a "natural position".

For example, take the Eric Dier/Andy Carroll incident during the Tottenham vs. Newcastle match. Admittedly, I'm a Spurs fan, so this may come on a little strong, but Jamie Carragher said it best: "that decision is a disgrace". A disgrace is exactly what it was, Andy Carroll was on the pitch for 15 minutes and made five penalty appeals for handball during that time. This is what modern football will look like.

Eric Dier was jumping for a header, using his arm as leverage, when Carroll headed it onto his arm. The ball was behind Dier. How can that be a deliberate handball?

The IFAB's own guidelines state that "extra leeway will be granted in regards to ricocheted handballs, or if the player in question cannot see the ball." So why is this not being applied? The blame lies with both VAR and the lawmakers.

Tottenham not winning that match, despite domination from the 1st minute to the 90th minute, is nothing short of an injustice.

Steve Bruce showed class after the game, arguing strongly that even he thought his Newcastle team should not have been awarded a penalty, and adding that the rule is "nonsense."

Yet, Steve Bruce is a smart man. Carroll was instructed to make the most of that rule. We are only going to see more managers instruct players to aim at a players hand if they cannot score.

Is a sport, where the best tactic is to aim at a player's hand, one you want to watch? Is it a rule that adds excitement to the game? No. It's a decision that brings anger and is alienating fans at the every level of the game.

If this rule stays, it's time to say: "lived it. Loved it. Farewell beautiful game."

Andrew White

How will it impact this season?

Whilst only a few weeks in, this season has already become dominated by one question: is it a handball?

You can guarantee that if the balls comes so-much as a centimetre close to striking a player above the waist there'll be a barrage of opposition players surrounding the referee, screaming claims of handball.

So let's just take a look at how many handballs we can expect over this Premier League season.

Over the last 5 PL seasons, totaling 1,900 games, we've seen 472 penalties awarded, 66 for handball (I know this is a lot of math, stick with me). So, on average, 14% of all penalties were for handball.

Only 26 games into our current Premier League season we'd seen 20 penalties awarded, with 6 being for handball. That's more than double the average for the last five seasons, meaning 30% of all penalties were awarded for handball.

What more, at this current rate, we can expect 292 penalties this season, with 88 being awarded for handball. That seems like an insane amount - with this year set to host some unusual, and in most cases unfortunate, statistics.

Absolutely bonkers or the modern game? You can decide!

Tom Moorcroft

Featured image: via Twitter @BBCSport
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