Q&A on handballs with former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg

Q&A: What is the handball law? Will the Premier League change their approach? What do our referees think of it? MARK CLATTENBURG answers the questions

  • There’s a definite lack of understanding when it comes to the new handball rule
  • There were multiple controversies this weekend surrounding penalty calls
  • Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg has cleared up the rules 

‘What we don’t want to create is a culture where defenders have to defend with their hands behind their backs or where it is acceptable for attackers to try to drill the ball at their hands to win a penalty.’ 

That was Mike Riley, the head of referees body the PGMOL, speaking in July 2019 after crucial changes were made to the handball law. 

But now we’re seeing the Premier League become a breeding ground for controversial, cheap penalties. Here, Sportsmail’s Mark Clattenburg explains why… 

The handball rule has been blasted again after another weekend of controversy in the league 

It is an offence if a player touches the ball with his hand or arm below the sleeve when he has made his body ‘unnaturally bigger’. This applies even if the ball ricochets off an opponent and on to their arm, as with the penalty awarded last week against Matt Doherty after it deflected off Spurs team-mate Harry Winks’s foot. 

In my view, this law does not lend itself to the spirit of the game. No wonder fans are disillusioned. 

When was this law introduced? 

Though it has only started to plague the Premier League this season, the new law was introduced by IFAB — the game’s lawmakers — in the summer of 2019. IFAB added anything above shoulder height was not a ‘natural’ position, hence Eric Dier’s punishment yesterday. 

Rather than rushing these rules in for 2019-20 — the same season VAR was introduced — PGMOL chief Riley decided to delay introducing this law to the Premier League until 2020-21.  

Jose Mourinho was angered by a penalty decision, storming down  the tunnel before full time

But wasn’t this already in place at the 2018 World Cup?

An interpretation of it was. FIFA decided to take a hard stance on handballs inside the box in Russia. You might recall Croatia’s Ivan Perisic was penalised in the final against France. In all, there were a record 29 penalties awarded at that World Cup, several of them after contentious handball calls. 

Will the Premier League change their approach to handballs? 

The good news is they could change their interpretation of the law — namely what they consider to be an ‘unnatural’ position of a player’s arms. The bad news is they are unlikely to do so. This is bound to be discussed at the shareholders meeting in October. But reverting to a more lenient way of looking at handballs would see clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester City playing by one set of rules in the Premier League, and another when competing in UEFA competitions.

On top of that, Premier League chiefs would be concerned about distorting the competition by changing their approach to handballs part-way through a season. Expect many more months of this, I’m afraid. 

Joel Ward was controversially penalised for handball which lead to Everton’s winning penalty

What do our referees think of it?

Players and managers have not held back in their criticism of the law and, believe it or not, though they’re the ones applying it, some referees aren’t fond of it either. There are PGMOL officials who feel this new interpretation of handball is harsh on defenders and is making referees seem unforgiving.

Referees are marked for every match and receive feedback from supervisors. If they don’t apply the law the way they’re told, they risk being demoted or dropped. That would cost them money, with a significant chunk of their salaries based on game-by-game bonuses. 

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