I keep seeing the topic of handball – particularly in the penalty area – being debated by TV pundits...

I keep seeing the topic of handball – particularly in the penalty area – being debated by TV pundits. You know the drill; it starts with an attacker blasting the ball into the penalty area (as either a shot or cross, or the well-known ‘cross-shot’ which is football’s equivalent of when you’re playing pool and you smash the cue ball into the pack and close your eyes, hoping for the best). A defender is 2 yards away with his hands down by his sides (where hands tend to be). The ball strikes his hand, blocking the shot/cross from reaching its destiny. The attacking team throw their collective arms in the air and – along with tens of thousands of fans – shout “HANDBALL!”. Many foreign players (perhaps because of an inability to verbalise their appeals) also point at one of their own hands – a particular favourite of everyone’s favourite horse-faced racist Luis Suarez – useful as some referees may not be familiar with what ‘handball’ actually refers to. Sometimes the handball is deliberate, sometimes not.

                                                             Actual photo of Maradona's Hand of God

However, despite the rules being fairly clear-cut, there is always debate over whether or not it should have been a penalty. If I had a quid for every time I’ve had to endure Alan “they done that all game” Shearer and co-pundit Alan “time-and-time again” Hansen arguing over these decisions, I’d have enough money to attend a game at Emirates. To confirm, the FIFA rule on handball is a follows:

“A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)…A penalty kick is awarded [if this] offence is committed by a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball, provided it is in play.” FIFA Laws of the Game 2011/12 – Law 12 ‘Fouls and Misconduct’

                                                            Vidic giving it the old 'accidental' handball

Clearly, the rules denote a deliberate intention to touch the ball with your hand. This is the key part of the rule – intent. I would estimate that 95% of the handballs that occur in the box are unintentional. We all know that the majority of footballers aren’t the brightest, but even the thickest ones generally don’t want to handle the ball and give away a penalty, unless it is in the extreme scenario of preventing a goal in desperation. On the whole, if someone kicks a ball at you from a few yards away, you’ll be hit by the ball before you even realise that it’s been kicked. It would require some kind of Matrix-like anticipation capabilities to deliberately get your hand in the way. I’m pretty sure the only player on the planet capable of this kind of witchcraft is the little pygmy from Barcelona.

So why do referees continue to give penalties for handballs which can’t be deliberate? It seems to come down to whether or the player gained an advantage. A referee may see it as deserving of a penalty if the ball is prevented from continuing on its course towards a likely goal, or at least a chance of a goal. However, according to the laws of the game there must be intent for it to be penalised. This got me thinking, and I think I’ve got a solution…

My recommendation would be to alter the rules to read as below:

  1. A direct free kick is awarded if a player handles the ball deliberately (except for a goalkeeper in his own penalty area). A penalty kick is awarded if this offence is committed by a player in his own penalty area. [as currently exists]
  2. An indirect free kick is awarded if a player gains advantage by way of handling the ball in a manner which is deemed by the referee as accidental. An indirect free kick may be awarded inside the penalty area, to be taken from the position of the offending player.
  3. If the above (2) occurs within the six yard box, the indirect free kick shall be taken from the penalty spot (with players allowed to stand on the goal line as per a regular indirect free kick from this range).

I think that the above would clear up the debate. If it’s deliberate, it deserves to be a penalty and the offending player will be dealt with accordingly. If it’s accidental and the offending player had no intent to handle the ball, I don’t see how this can warrant a penalty kick, especially when such offenses often occur on the edge of the box with little or no threat of a goal being scored. Thus, an indirect free kick in the box would essentially give the advantage to the attacking team but allowing the defending team a fighting chance of preventing a goal – a more accurate simulation of the event which would have occurred from the ensuing cross/shot.

I’m pretty sure Mr Blatter won’t be looking to implement such a rule any time soon, as he is much too busy preventing goal line technology from being implemented. God forbid football should join other sports in the 21stcentury. Also, I don’t think he is one of my 15 subscribers.

                                                                   Blatter: can't hear public opinion