MARTIN SAMUEL: How have lawmakers made such a horlicks of handball?

MARTIN SAMUEL: How have the lawmakers made such a horlicks of handball? The IFAB have no concept of fairness, let alone an appreciation of the beautiful game

  • How have the lawmakers got handball so wrong? This is not about technology
  • Nobody who appreciates football would come up with the handball law as it is
  • Nobody who plays game would have disallowed Spurs’ goal at Sheffield United
  • However the laws are on the book for 2020-21 already, too late to change  

It is there on the opening page of the IFAB booklet. Beneath the heading, ‘The philosophy and spirit of the Laws’, is a simple statement. ‘Football must have Laws which keep the game fair, as a crucial foundation of the beautiful game is its fairness.’

So what happened? How is it that football now has laws that Jose Mourinho believes will stop people watching; that Peter Crouch says will hasten disillusioned players into retirement?

How have the lawmakers got handball so wrong? How have they moved so far from what was intended, sucking the very concept of fairness from the play? This is not about technology. This is about human beings operating without feeling for their sport.

How have the lawmakers got handball so wrong? This is not about technology

Nobody who loves, understands or even appreciates football would come up with the handball law as it is. Nobody who plays the game would have disallowed Tottenham’s goal last week against Sheffield United.

Yet those who had the chance to address that issue chose not to. The laws are on the book for 2020-21 already, too late to change. There should be a revolt.

Next season, the only concession to the number of goals wiped off due to accidental, unavoidable handballs in the build-up play will be a tiny amendment to Law 12.

Nobody who plays game would have disallowed Tottenham’s goal against Sheffield United

‘Accidental handball by an attacking player or team-mate is only penalised if it occurs immediately before a goal or clear goalscoring opportunity.’

No use to Tottenham, that. No use to West Ham, either, who were also poorly served by a handball decision against Declan Rice when playing at Sheffield United earlier in the season.

That ‘immediately’ is too vague. The ball kicked against Lucas Moura, who was falling having been fouled, went directly to Harry Kane, who scored. Rice was some 30 yards from goal, but ran on to provide the assist for Robert Snodgrass to score, too.

Both would count as events occurring immediately before a goal — certainly in the eyes of men as good as given the job of disallowing goals. That’s what VAR is. A goal eraser. It has disallowed 50 goals and counting this season, many for offences that would not have been spotted or raised a murmur of complaint previously.

West Ham were also poorly served by a handball decision against Declan Rice earlier in season

The handball calls are the worst, though, because they are inconsistent. An attacking arm is active when a defensive arm is not. The concept of an accidental infringement is not applied.

Nobody would advocate for a repeat of Willy Boly scoring with a hand for Wolves against Manchester City last season. Yet if a handball would not be given against a defender, how can it be different for a player in an attacking position?

Had Moura’s offence happened in his own area, it would not have been a penalty. Why, then, is it a foul at the opposite end?

They could have made handball a black-and-white issue only if the ball is converted with the hand. All other instances would be subject to rational assessment about intent or seeking advantage.

But, no. The rules for next season ensure the potential for travesty remains.

IFAB have no concept of fairness, let alone an appreciation of the beautiful game.  

Parry so vexed by problems of his own making 

Rick Parry continues to justify his miserable decision to relegate Tranmere on points per game, even though the indeterminate nature of promotion and relegation continues to be proven, week by week. ‘Whatever formula you come up with, some people are going to be aggrieved,’ insisted Parry. ‘Clubs that have done well out of PPG are ecstatic. Those that haven’t are dismal. But what we did was fair, it was logical.’

No, it wasn’t, because the ecstatic clubs were allowed to vote on a situation to make themselves ecstatic. And the dismal ones? There were never going to be enough of them to counter-block. So Parry sold them out. Tranmere — three points off Wimbledon, with a game in hand — will now be replaced via play-offs by Northampton, who finished seventh in League Two, one point above Port Vale with nine matches of the season remaining. 

Northampton did not accrue any more than 58 points which last season would have seen them 15th. And we will never know whether they would have got so much as one more in addition. Their play-off form was reasonable — two wins, one defeat — but when the season was suspended, Northampton had lost five of their last seven league games, including at home to Port Vale. Fair? Logical? It was nothing of the sort. 

Rick Parry continues to justify his miserable decision to relegate Tranmere on points per game 

Increasingly, Parry is being found out. In League Two, the EFL are now contesting the punishment given to Macclesfield who have repeatedly defaulted on wages, because they know the PPG system has relegated the wrong club in Stevenage, whose owner at least meets his commitments. 

It follows Parry telling a parliamentary committee about the evils of parachute payments — which he created during his time at the Premier League. He seems vexed by problems of his own creation. ‘Parry in bet fury at Wigan’ read one headline. 

This story concerned the dubious takeover of Wigan and the possibility that one of those involved could have profited financially through a foreign gambling market if the club was placed in administration and relegated. So Parry was furious at the consequences of a takeover his EFL waved through. Some logic. Good job he’s so hot on the fairness.

It’s not just De Gea who should be getting stick

So it was all David De Gea’s fault again on Saturday. Beaten at his near post by Junior Stanislas of Bournemouth, Rio Ferdinand led the criticism. 

And, yes, it was a very tight angle from which to concede. Maybe, however, De Gea wasn’t expecting Manchester United captain and England centre half Harry Maguire to get nutmegged on the edge of his own six-yard area, a contribution mysteriously overlooked. Although maybe not by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.  

Dean Smith is moaning like a manager whose team are going down. Much of what he says, though, has substance. Indeed, his observation about the impact of increased substitutions has even more credence than the previous complaint about the intensity of Aston Villa’s early Project Restart schedule. 

The player welfare aspect of using five substitutes during such a hectic period is understood, but it is no surprise an elite club, Chelsea, were instigators of the plan. The strength in depth found at the top end of the division was always going to be a significant factor once close to half a team could be replaced during a game and the advantages to the top clubs were obvious. 

It is quite possible Liverpool would have beaten Villa anyway on Sunday, but the three changes Jurgen Klopp made on 61 minutes — knowing he also had two more in reserve — undoubtedly swung the game in Liverpool’s favour. 

Dean Smith has complained about the increase in use of substitutions during Project Restart

Given that matches were taking place in such an alien environment anyway, the games should have been kept as near to the pre-suspension matches as possible. Klopp would no doubt have liked to make three changes when Watford’s second goal went in on February 29. 

As that would have been his limit, however, he made one on 61 minutes, a second after 65 and by the time he made his third after 79 minutes, Watford led 3-0. It is easier for the bigger clubs in Project Restart than for those with less squad depth, and that is not right. 

Arsenal can’t afford Ozil MkII 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appears to be reconsidering leaving Arsenal, so perhaps Real Madrid have cooled on his transfer. 

Certainly, his early performances after Project Restart were those of a man whose attention was elsewhere. If he is more focused now, it could be because at 31, in a depressed economic climate, his options are increasingly limited, no matter his talent. 

The suggestion is he wants £250,000 a week. He certainly has the potential to be worth that to Arsenal — unless he behaves as if he has done the club a favour by signing. That is what happened with Mesut Ozil and Arsenal cannot afford the same mistake twice. 

Dortmund are banking on Jude 

Of all the clubs to keep losing young talent to Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United are the least deserving. If Jude Bellingham had joined Erling Haaland in preferring life in the Bundesliga to, say, a career at Chelsea or Manchester City, it would be understandable. 

It is going to be a while before much of the Premier League repels the idea of young players finding their pathways blocked. It is going to take more than one individual, or one season.

There is no reason for Jude Bellingham to believe he would have less chance at Man United 

Yet Manchester United have always promoted youth and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is no exception. There is no reason for Bellingham to believe he would have less chance there than at Dortmund. 

More appealing to those around him will be the idea a player can make his name in the Bundesliga and then ascend to the Premier League with fortunes made from the deal. Dortmund pay better wages for teenagers, because they recoup hugely in sales.

Intermediary fees are also enormous when the big move occurs. Yet Bellingham is just 17. It is to be hoped he has shoulders broad enough to carry all those depending on his success.

What is grand about this Government is that they’ve got policies built on convictions and evidence, but if you don’t like them, they’ve always got others. 

So cricket balls, cricket teas and cricket pavilions are all natural vectors of disease, until banning club cricket goes down like a lead balloon, when it suddenly becomes safe by Saturday. 

And quarantines are absolutely essential from countries such as Portugal and the United States, unless it is going to affect the playing of elite sport, in which case come one, come all and try not to cough on anybody. It’s almost as if they’re making it up as they go along — except that would represent some sort of plan. 

The Derby was supposedly disappointing in 1965, too. Sea Bird went off 7-4 favourite and won by two lengths, cruising. As a result, his greatness was not fully acknowledged until the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe four months later, when he came home by six lengths ahead of a very strong field, despite some ill-disciplined running. Sea Bird still has the second highest Timeform rating in history, behind Frankel.

Serpentine won’t touch that. Yet given how little racing there has been, it is perhaps too early to write off his Derby triumph as a fluke.

Yes, mistakes were made farther back and even jockey Emmet McNamara admitted he was given a free run, but this may yet prove a better horse than is imagined. As the saying goes, you can only beat what’s in front of you — or in Serpentine’s case, many, many lengths behind.

Serpentine’s easy Derby triumph at Epsom should not be written off as a fluke just yet

Jonny Bairstow averaged 18 in 2019 —Moeen Ali did not want to play Test cricket at all. So while it can be said that neither player has been entirely well handled by England at Test level, it is not a complete surprise to find them outside the 13-man party playing West Indies this week. 

Apparently, the Football Association knew Australia and New Zealand represented the better technical and logistical choice for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but went with the inferior Colombian candidacy out of loyalty to the UEFA block and for development purposes.

‘European members of the FIFA Council felt that it represented a strategic opportunity for the development of women’s football, thanks to the legacy and increase of attention for the women’s game that the tournament would bring to the continent.’

Really? The women’s World Cup — a development tournament? This is the blue riband event for women’s football. Why should it be farmed out to a palpably inferior host –— Colombia had a 2.8 technical rating, compared to Australia and New Zealand’s 4.1?

More likely, as UEFA have a memorandum of understanding with CONMEBOL, the South American federation, the FA vote reflected fear of losing European support for their 2030 World Cup bid. So they voted against the best interests of the women’s World Cup to protect their own and, given that Australia and New Zealand were successful, ended up the losers in every way. 

Manchester City are likely to play their Champions League second leg against Real Madrid at home after all. 

Neutral venues in Portugal had been proposed, but the four teams with home games outstanding have argued persuasively that this would be unfair. 

Knowing UEFA, however, City should not feel they have made new friends. Their allies on this one were Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich. That’s UEFA’s gang right there. 

Man City look likely to play their second leg against Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium

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