FIFA's takeover of VAR has led to controversy

FIFA’s takeover of VAR has led to baffled referees, indignant bosses and has left defenders ‘without very much hope at all’ … the laws are in the wrong hands and the Premier League is paying for it

  • FIFA’s takeover of handball law has led to greater controversy and uncertainty 
  • There have been several contentious decisions regarding handballs recently
  • Mark Clattenburg says Victor Lindelof incident shouldn’t have led to a penalty

When the announcement came it was overshadowed by a tweak to the handball law which meant a disallowed Harry Kane goal at Sheffield United a week earlier would have stood.

But FIFA’s declaration on July 9 that they would be taking over the running of VAR from the International Football Association Board (IFAB) lies behind the new handball controversies which the Premier League accept could be the game’s talking point for weeks — and perhaps all season.

The English game has always been lenient on handballs, with referees allowed to apply their intelligence. But at a stroke, FIFA now wield a control which has meant far less room for manoeuvre this season. 

FIFA’s takeover of the handball law has led to greater controversy and uncertainty 

It has meant the award of penalties that seem beyond logic, such as Leeds debutant Robin Koch being penalised when the ball was deflected from his leg on to his hand at Anfield.

Even more unfathomable was the penalty resulting from a shot that deflected off Victor Lindelof’s arm for Manchester United against Crystal Palace. And Matt Doherty faced the same summary justice when a ball flicked off Harry Winks and clipped his hand from a mere yard. ‘Embarrassing,’ said talkSPORT’s Ally McCoist.

Leeds’ Robin Koch was penalised when the ball was deflected from his leg on to his hand at Anfield

But defenders who extend their arm leave themselves ‘without very much hope at all,’ according to one source. Players and managers have been left indignant and even referees themselves are baffled by the stringent application. 

Sportsmail’s Mark Clattenburg, who officiated under these rules in China, where they were also applied very literally, felt they brought clarity and removed the nonsense of trying to establish, in real time, whether a player deliberately handled.

‘You can’t put yourself in a player’s head and establish intent. Only the player knows what he intended,’ Clattenburg says.

But he still feels the Lindelof decision was wrong. ‘You can never judge a handball on a slow-motion sequence like that. The position of the defender’s arms were a consequence of his running action.’

Mark Clattenburg says that the penalty given against Victor Lindelof was wrongly awarded

On Friday The Premier League moved to provide some clarity, asking former referee Chris Foy to deliver his own interpretation. Foy explained that an ‘extended arm’ presented a problem. But his own assessment showed that a referee’s intelligence should supersede the strictures of a FIFA directive.

The Doherty handball — awarded after the referee consulted the pitch-side monitor — was ‘unfortunate’ for Spurs, Foy said, because of the defender’s ‘close proximity’ and the fact the ball cannoned off Winks’ foot. ‘The handball guidance says a deflection off another player’s foot from point-blank range should not be penalised if the arm is close to the body,’ Foy said.

Former referee Chris Foy warned of the dangers of introducing the system without nuance

Foy agreed with Clattenburg’s argument that Lindelof’s arm was in a natural running position and pointed out that the ball was struck from a short distance. ‘The decision could have gone either way,’ he said.

Foy’s assessment pointed to the dangers of introducing this system without nuance.

‘We don’t want to see players deliberately kicking the ball up on to defenders’ arms.’

The diktat on a goalkeeper having at least one foot on the line when a penalty is taken is clear. The retaking of Jordan Ayew’s penalty for Palace at Old Trafford was incontrovertible. 

But the handball controversy will run and run. Pierluigi Collina, former World Cup referee and chairman of FIFA’s referees’ committee, said on July 9 that the governing body taking over from IFAB was a ‘natural transition’.

It hasn’t seemed that way.

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