How the Premier League’s new handball rules ‘kill the game’

It’s time to stop in a Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United. One-goal Newcastle are desperate to save something from the game.

Andy Carroll jumps up to attack a floating cross in Spurs’ box and directs the ball down. His head hits the arm of Spurs’ Eric Dier who was facing the other way and had no way of seeing the ball coming his way.

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

The Spurs-Newcastle game incident only highlighted an issue that many have been infuriated with this season – the new Premier League handball rules. Changes to handball laws have resulted in a host of controversial penalties – often referred to by VAR – that 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 appears to be due to complications in the Premier League’s interpretation of handball laws. The laws are established by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) and the Premier League applies them according to its best interpretation.

The IFAB has further clarified the rules of handball this year, clearly defining the ball hitting which part of the arm constitutes handball. Laws were changed last season to rule that “intent” is no longer taken into account when penalizing handballs.

Laws have been amended primarily to prevent “injustice” resulting from offensive handball offenses to prevent a goal scored by a player by unintentionally guiding the ball 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 sanctioned by VAR.

The official rules in this regard say:

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 enlarged his body in an “abnormal” way, then a foul will be assessed.

The problem lies with the phrase “abnormally larger”. This is so open to interpretation that penalty calls are often left to the discretion of the individual officials who operate the VAR booths. And the players were penalized for the ball which hit their hand when they literally could not have done anything to avoid it, like Eric Dier for example.

Questionable Premier League penalties all around

Does it sound 'abnormally larger'?
Does it look “abnormally bigger”?

Crystal Palace’s Premier League game against Everton last week had a similar incident. Everton received a controversial penalty when Lucas Digne directed the ball into Palace’s box, and he hit Joel Ward on the wrist. It was judged like a handball and a penalty was awarded during a VAR check.

Most experts at the time pointed out that Ward didn’t look “unnaturally taller,” and it was a very natural place for his hands.

Returning in the Premier League’s first matchweek this season, Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof was plagued by a similar appeal. 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 sent straight into Lindelof’s arm, leaving him no time to react or move away. However, a penalty was imposed after consulting the VAR. You can view this incident here:

Lindelof did not have time to free his arm.
Lindelof did not have time to free his arm.

It doesn’t help that these penalties are awarded at key points in games, as they often tend to produce the winning goal or a point-saving goal.

Who complains about the new Premier League handball rules?

Most everyone. Clearly, aggrieved managers from various Premier League clubs are at the top of the list. Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson was furious over the appeal against Everton, saying it “destroys” his enjoyment of football and the new rule “kills the game”.

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

Newcastle United’s Steve Bruce has also rallied to the handball rule, calling on all managers in the Premier League to come together and say ‘this has to stop’.

Expert and former footballer Gary Lineker have also spoken out against the rules of handball, calling the new laws “utterly ridiculous” and saying they have been “exacerbated by VAR”. He also said emphatically, “Can we get our game back please?

Former England striker Peter Crouch, meanwhile, took a mildly humorous take on the handball situation, saying he would have imposed penalties all the time if he had to face current laws.

Fans are also angry with the implementation of the rule. While some are already ticked off by the incorporation of VAR controls that slow down matches, others have directed a constant flow of vitriol against Premier League officials due to the new handball rules.

How did the Premier League react?

Well, they didn’t. For the moment, no formal request for modification or reconsideration of the new handball laws has been made by any body of coaches or players.

If managers or players decide to regroup and make an official request, the Premier League could be forced to respond to the issue. Until then, be prepared for some shady handball calls every week – that’s how Premier League football works now.


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