A total of 21 penalties have been given in 26 Premier League matches so far, and a large number of those penalties have come from unintentional handball inside the area. VAR and the new handball rule have been causing chaos in top-tier English football.
What is the new handball rule?
Prior to the 2020-21 season, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) modified the handball rule and clarified that accidental handball would be penalised “if it occurs immediately before a goal or a goal-scoring opportunity”. The boundary has been set as “the bottom of the armpit”, with the ball hitting below “the bottom of the armpit” would be called a handball.
What is the modification?
The IFAB’s handball rule, introduced before the 2019-20 season, had the provision for penalising any accidental handball if the ball hit an arm in an unnatural position. The modification this term has narrowed it down to the passage of play that leads to a goal or a goal-scoring opportunity.
Why is the new rule causing chaos?
Simply because the VAR is sticking to the letter of the law at the expense of common sense. On Saturday, Manchester United were awarded a penalty against Brighton & Hove Albion after referee Chris Kavanagh had blown the final whistle at the Amex Stadium. Harry Maguire’s goal-bound header struck Neal Maupay’s outstretched arm and the VAR, Simon Hooper, advised Kavanagh to consult the pitch-side monitor. Once the VAR came into play, the on-pitch official had to go by the letter of the law.
United were at the receiving end of the new rule when Victor Lindelof’s accidental handball inside the area was penalised in their Premier League opener against Crystal Palace. On Sunday, Newcastle benefited from a controversial VAR decision, when Andy Carroll’s header from close range hit Tottenham Hotspur defender Eric Dier’s arm, resulting in a penalty and a point for the Magpies. Palace suffered against Everton, when Lucas Digne’s header struck Joel Ward’s arm and a penalty had been awarded.
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How are the managers reacting?
As the legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby famously said, managers and players are the men of “grass and boots”. Little wonder then that almost every manager is hitting out at the VAR and the game’s new handball rule. A point against Spurs notwithstanding, Newcastle manager Steve Bruce spoke about football “losing the plot” and the Premier League matches “losing the spectacle” during his post-match TV interview.
A day previously, Palace manager Roy Hodgson called it “a nonsense ruining the game of football”. Spurs manager Jose Mourinho walked down the tunnel as soon as Newcastle had been awarded the penalty on Sunday.
So, is VAR ruining the game?
Football pundits are slamming the VAR in unison. “An absolute disgrace, a joke. Whether it’s the FA, Fifa, Pierluigi Collina (Fifa Refereeing Committee chairman), stop it, it is ruining football for everyone. An absolute joke,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports. “Ludicrous. Utterly ludicrous law exacerbated by VAR. Can we have our game back please?” England legend Gary Lineker tweeted.
Can this lead to a mid-season rule change?
Unlikely. A mid-season rule change usually doesn’t happen in football. But the Football Association (FA) and the Premier League can make things better if they advise the match officials to interpret the rule a little differently. Focusing more on arms in “unnatural position” and less on “the bottom of the armpit” modification might help.
Cricket, for example, is OK with video assistance for almost everything, including the no-ball.
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What’s the problem with football?
Cricket is an appeal-based, stop-start sport. Football thrives on continuity and flow. Simplicity is a reason why football is the most popular sport on the planet. The basic idea of introducing the VAR was to eliminate the clear and obvious errors from the on-pitch officials. Technology is now complicating the game instead.
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