BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 11, 2023: Liverpool's Diogo Jota appeals for a penalty after a hand-ball during the FA Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Liverpool FC at the Vitality Stadium. Bournemouth won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

European Football Board calls on UEFA to issue new guidelines on handball

A group of top European managers and former players including England boss Gareth Southgate have called on UEFA to issue new guidelines on handball.

Interpretation of the handball law continues to be one of the most contentious areas of the game, but the new UEFA Football Board, which met for the first time this week, has issued recommendations for next season.

The board, which includes Southgate, plus former England defender Rio Ferdinand, former Wales striker Gareth Bale and ex-Republic of Ireland forward Robbie Keane, said UEFA guidelines should clarify “that no handball offence should be called on a player if the ball is previously deflected from his own body and, in particular, when the ball does not go towards the goal”.

The PA news agency understands an exception to this would be if a player scored immediately after such contact with the hand or arm, where the law is clear that any contact – whether deliberate or not – must be penalised.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

UEFA cannot change the law but can instruct referees in its competitions to interpret it differently.

The Football Board also said that not every handball after a shot at goal should result in a caution and urged UEFA to launch an initiative towards the game’s lawmaking body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to ensure a player should only be sent off for a handball which denies a goalscoring opportunity if they deliberately or intentionally touch the ball with their hand or arm. Otherwise, a yellow card should be issued, the board said.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said earlier this month he “absolutely doesn’t understand” the handball law.

“What’s clear is that the current handball law is really obscure. No one understands it any more,” he told Slovenian newspaper Ekipe SN.

“So we really need a conversation here, finding solutions and clarifying some issues.”

UEFA technical director and chief of football, the former AC Milan midfielder Zvonimir Boban, chaired the Football Board meeting and said: “The handball rule will always be disputed, but we can make it more consistent and aligned with the game’s true nature.”

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is having to deal with the coronavirus fallout (Niall Carson/PA)

The handball law states it is an offence if a player deliberately touches the ball with their hand or arm, for example by moving their hand or arm towards the ball.

It is also an offence where the ball hits the hand or arm when a player is deemed to have made their body unnaturally bigger, when the position of their hand or arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation.

Former Premier League referee Peter Walton called on the IFAB to ensure consistent interpretation of the handball law across competitions in the wake of controversy around a recent Liverpool goal at Leeds, where the ball struck Trent Alexander-Arnold on the forearm in the build-up.

“The confusion comes from different interpretations of the same law,” Walton wrote in The Times.

“In the Champions League you may see an identical situation to the Liverpool one but the handball will be given. That’s because UEFA’s interpretation is more stringent than the Premier League’s.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Monday, April 17, 2023: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“The IFAB needs to pool together all these competitions – because there’s such a crossover now – and align them in their interpretations. That way, fans, players and managers would know what to expect — because they don’t at the moment.

“We don’t need to change the wording of the law. It has been modified and slimmed down in recent years, so the details are not the problem. As with the offside rule a few years ago, you just need to draw a line in the sand and make it work. What’s then needed is a consistent approach across competitions.

“You see defenders with their arms behind their backs, but that shouldn’t be necessary — it’s an unnatural position. The natural position is to have your arms by your sides; if the ball hits one of them there, that’s fine. That is not a handball.”