By Walter Broeckx
With the late winner from Koscielny against Burnley a whole lot of people felt the need to give their comments on the goal. There was the question of the offside that was a non-question as it was Koscielny who struck the ball and not Oxlade-Chamberlain. So that could be ignored. But the fact that the ball went in coming from the arm or elbow if you like from Koscielny raised a big debate.
Now I do admit that I don’t listen to the pundits but I wonder if they ever mentioned the other handball decisions in this match. The cleared cross handball that could have resulted in a penalty. And then the most blatant penalty handball froul of them all when Keane (who committed the first handball I mentioned) just stopped Theo Walcott by sticking out his hand and stopping the ball from going past him. He had to stick out his hand to do this…. but the ref ignored it. And very strangely…. the media silence on this handball was…. well silent. Did you hear any discussion about this incident? Strange….well you are lucky you have Untold as we pick up on those incidents. But apart from Untold? I haven’t heard much about it. Not even in the after match shows, MOTD, other referee reviewing publications…. they missed it completely. Did I ever told you Untold is the most complete of them all?
But going in to the handball rule in general there is one thing that makes the difference as opposed to other sports. That is that in the laws of the game they say that one has to make a deliberate handball to commit a foul. And that is a problem. As how do you know if a player commits a deliberate handball foul? As we can’t look inside his head to know his real intentions. So the ref has to make a judgement based on a few criteria. But even those criteria are not very clear in themselves. One such criteria is the distance between where the ball is kicked and the actual handball. So for the first not given penalty incident in the Burnley match you can say that the distance between where the ball was played and where he touched it with his hand was rather big so a penalty should have been given. But then on the other hand the distance between where Theo Walcott played the ball and the touch with the hand from Keane from Burnley was rather small. And yet it was a more blatant penalty than the first. For other reasons I will mention later on. But so you see that even the distance criteria is not absolute.
The other criteria is : is there movement towards the ball with the arms or is it the ball that strikes the arm? In the case of Keane/Walcott you see Keane sticking out his arm towards the path of the ball. So a clear deliberate move from Keane. And that should have resulted in a penalty. It resulted not even in a mention in the media. On the other hand the Koscielny handball could not be considered as deliberate because of a few reasons. The distance rule is that it was close to from where the ball was kicked. But as shown that is not an absolute rule. But the fact that Koscielny surely didn’t intended to play the ball against his own arm is something that we can be sure of. If he really did think and tried in that fraction of a second: “hey, lets kick the ball against my own arm and then score a goal like that” well… does anyone believe that? Whereas Keane surely did think: “I got to stop Theo from going past me” and stuck out his arm to stop the ball.
Another criteria is are the hands in a natural position. Again the Keane/Walcott handball: his hands were not in a natural position. No he stuck out his arm to stop the ball. As for Koscielny… well a player jumping up tends to raise his arms and so in that case you could say that when Koscielny jumped up his arms were in a natural position. And then we have the criteria about the hands being outside the body or not. In the Koscielny case they were not outside his body but were in fact in front of his body. So no handball. As for the Keane/Walcott incident his hands were clearly outside his body. The same goes for the other non mentioned penalty incident.
Now as you see lots of criteria and all those criteria have to be judged by the ref in a split second. To get that right each time is very difficult. I would dare to say neigh impossible. As the review of the Burnley match showed. 3 handballs and only 1 judged correctly. And given that those 3 decisions each could have deciced the match as they were key incidents involving penalties and goals…. that can be costly mistakes. Not just for the teams but also for the refs when they get their score from that match.
So what can be done about it? How can we make this simpler? How can we stop the discussion? If you are interested in stopping the discussions of course.
Well one option could be to get rid of all the interpretation and talk about deliberate. If the lawmakers would just say: a ball that touches the hand is always a foul. Intention or not. Deliberate or not. It just is a foul. I think in field hockey this is how the rule is applied to playing the ball with your feet. That is always considered and given as a foul even if the opponent plays the ball deliberate against the foot. You just have to make sure you get your foot out of the way. And that could be the same in football. Now you might say that some players might want to try and exploit this deliberately play the ball against the hand of a defender. That would result in more penalties and fouls. But at least the rule would be clear. It would demand a change from defenders so they have to go in with their arms behind their body and making themselves smaller. So in the end the attacking teams would gain an advantage.
Also the throwing yourself in front of the ball would be more dangerous because now referees tend to let those handballs go a lot but then if you touch the ball with the hand it is a foul. So it would make things much easier to judge. Players should be more careful in where their hands are as they could mis a kick or a control and hit their own hand. Then that would be a foul and now it is mostly considered not deliberate.
It would make live of the referees easier as they don’t have to judge anymore but just determine if a hand touched the ball or not. Much, much simpler. But then again… how would the pundits fill their air time to expose themselves as not knowing the laws of the game if we would make it simpler….