In Depth

‘Nonsense’: football’s lost the plot with new handball rule

Managers and the media slam decision-making by officials and VAR

Goals galore, late penalties and shock results contributed to a wild weekend in the English Premier League. 

On a normal day Jamie Vardy’s hat-trick in Leicester City’s 5-2 win at Manchester City would dominate the newspaper back pages. 

However, while the efforts of Vardy and Leicester are recognised by the media, there is another subject hogging the headlines. 

After a number of controversial handball decisions were made over the weekend, the video assistant referee (VAR) has once again taken over as the hot topic in English football. 

Premier League results
  • Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Manchester United 3  
  • Crystal Palace 1 Everton 2  
  • West Bromwich Albion 3 Chelsea 3  
  • Burnley 0 Southampton 1 
  • Sheffield United 0 Leeds United 1  
  • Tottenham Hotspur 1 Newcastle United 1  
  • Manchester City 2 Leicester City 5 
  • West Ham United 4 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
Monday’s fixtures
  • Fulham vs. Aston Villa (5.45pm)  
  • Liverpool vs. Arsenal (8pm)

Dier decision for Spurs 

There was controversy in a number of Premier League matches this weekend after handball decisions saw crucial penalties awarded. 

At the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium yesterday Newcastle salvaged a point after scoring a late penalty in the 1-1 draw against Spurs. 

Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham side had looked on course to win thanks to Lucas Moura’s 25th-minute goal. However, a handball decision against Eric Dier saw Newcastle awarded a penalty in the 97th minute, which Callum Wilson stepped up to score. 

Andy Carroll’s knockdown came off Dier’s arm inside the box, BBC Sport reports, and following a lengthy consultation with the VAR, on-field official Peter Bankes awarded the penalty after reviewing the incident on the pitch-side monitor.

Bruce: ‘it’s ludicrous’

Even though his side profited from the decision Newcastle manager Steve Bruce hit out at the new handball rule. 

The Toon boss said: “If you’re going to tell me that is handball then we all may as well pack it in. It’s a nonsense, a nonsense of a rule. It’s gone for us today – however, it’s ludicrous.”

He added: “The handball has been around for a hundred years. If it is deliberate, no problem, but it has to be clear and obvious. We have lost the plot with it and it loses the spectacle of it. 

“Maybe we can do something about it, we seem to have these phases where we take everything literally in the Premier League and maybe we have to say no to it.”

Spurs head coach Mourinho stormed down the tunnel after Wilson scored and he refused to comment on the issue in his post-match interview. “I don’t want to speak about it,” said the Portuguese.

‘Forget Fergie time’

At Brighton on Saturday Manchester United secured all three points with a penalty that was given after the final whistle was blown. 

Solly March’s header looked to have given Brighton a 2-2 draw at the Amex Stadium, but there would be one last twist, The Guardian said. 

After United forced a late corner, Bruno Fernandes took it and Harry Maguire saw his header cleared off the line by March. Referee Chris Kavanagh promptly blew the final whistle, but Maguire argued that his header had flicked off Neal Maupay’s hand. 

Kavanagh was advised by VAR to check the pitch-side monitor and he awarded the spot kick which Fernandes scored. 

“Forget Fergie time - this was beyond even that,” said the Guardian’s David Hytner. And he’s not wrong. 

Fernandes’s strike came in the tenth minute of stoppage time - on 99 minutes and 45 seconds to be precise - and the Premier League confirmed that it was third latest goal in the competition’s history.

‘It’s ruining football’ 

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson was also left fuming after his side were undone by a “nonsense” handball call in the 2-1 home loss to Everton, reports. 

Saying the new rule is “ruining football”, Hodgson added: “I can’t understand how everyone in the game of football - the Premier League, referees, managers and coaches - have allowed this rule to come into operation. It is ruining the game of football, no question of that.

“We can’t understand what constitutes a handball and what doesn’t. The idea that you can look at this on a screen and this constitutes a handball. It is just an absolute nonsense. I don’t want to profit from it or lose from it.”

What is the new handball rule?

BBC Sport explains a new interpretation of the handball law was introduced at the beginning of this season. Under these new rules, a player will be penalised for handball if: 

  • The hand/arm is clearly away from the body and outside the “body line” 
  • The player clearly leans into the path of the ball 
  • The ball travels some distance 
  • The ball touches a hand/arm that is clearly raised above the shoulder 
  • The player falls and the hand/arm is extended laterally or vertically away from the body 
  • A deflection clearly makes no difference to the ball touching a hand/arm that is clearly extended away from the body and/or above the shoulder

Media reactions to the new rule

Jamie Carragher, Sky Sports

“It’s an absolute disgrace. An absolute joke. Newcastle fans will be ecstatic, I can understand that but everyone else in this country will say exactly what I’m saying. 

“Eric Dier jumps for the ball, has no control of where his arms are going to be, it was a header half a yard away from him, hits him on the back of his arm, he has no idea what’s going on. This is a joke. 

“Whether it’s the Premier League, the FA, Fifa, Pierluigi Collina, whoever is involved in this, stop it, because you’re ruining football for everybody. Absolute joke. You’ve got more trouble on your hands Premier League, Fifa, Uefa, whoever is involved. Change this now!”

Martin Samuel, Daily Mail

“Only a surreal environment could come up with the handball rule as it stands now. Only the comically insane would give the penalty against Eric Dier yesterday.

“It was a pity Jose Mourinho chose not to speak after. He is an intelligent man and intelligence is sorely missing from football’s hierarchies these days.

“VAR was supposed to end controversy with undeniable fact. It was intended to make grey areas black and white. This is the result.”


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