A group of the Premier League’s most senior managers are ready to make a direct appeal to football’s governing bodies to overrule “ludicrous” changes to the handball law. Steve Bruce, the Newcastle United manager, called the new Premier League interpretation of the rule “a total nonsense” even after his team salvaged a draw with a penalty in added time against Tottenham Hotspur when Andy Carroll headed the ball into Eric Dier’s arm. Roy Hodgson had described the rule as “completely unacceptable” on Saturday after Crystal Palace’s defeat and said that it was “destroying” his enjoyment of football. Jose Mourinho also predicted that, “for some”, it could now “easily” become a tactic in football to simply get into the penalty area and then kick the ball as hard as possible in the direction of an opponent’s arm. Football’s rulemakers, the International Football Association Board, have introduced the most substantial set of changes to the handball rule this century in recent seasons - and the most controversial relates to the issue of intent. The Premier League had previously instructed referees to give players extra leeway for ricocheted handballs that were impossible to avoid, but were told this summer by Fifa to fall into line with the rest of football. As well as allowing referees to use pitchside monitors for VAR decisions, that meant awarding fouls for handball whenever a player was deemed to have made their body “unnaturally bigger” with their arm regardless of intent.
Leicester City thrashed Manchester City on Sunday in what was a particular low point in the esteemed coaching career of Pep Guardiola.
We often heard the accusation last season that VAR, with its microscopic offside calls, was “killing” football. Yet what we are seeing so far this campaign with the new interpretation of the handball rule is actually something far more significant. It is a development that threatens to actually change football and the way in which individual teams play. That was not just evident here in added time when, following the award of a free-kick that was patently also a nonsense, Newcastle United launched the ball at Andy Carroll’s head and struck lucky when it cannoned back into the left arm of a totally helpless Eric Dier. Rewind about 20 minutes and there was an equally instructive second-half moment when, having got to the byline and found himself with no realistic chance of a goal, Harry Kane did something strange. Rather than check back and look for a team-mate who might be in a better position to score, he instead smashed the ball from point blank range into the midriff of Jamaal Lascelles. It duly hit the Newcastle United defender’s arm, with the penalty appeal only turned down because Lascelles’ arms had not sufficiently moved from his side. There was no such luck for Dier who, having used his arms to jump, was adjudged by referee Peter Bankes to have made his body “unnaturally bigger”. That Dier had his back to Carroll, had been gently nudged in the build-up to the goal by Lascelles, knew nothing about it and was clearly not close to denying a goal, was all immaterial. Bankes simply consulted VAR and, in following the letter of the law, rightly pointed to the penalty spot. From not having had a shot on target all game, Newcastle suddenly had a share of the points. And the rest of us were left with a rare feeling: Sympathy for Jose Mourinho and an acceptance that, yes, his grievance was legitimate.