A few seasons ago Premier League referees were instructed to clamp down on shirt pulling. For a week or two, chaos reigned as penalties flowed like corner kicks.
Predictable uproar followed and the fuss was such that the officials were sufficiently spooked to stop giving them. The rule still exists but is — for better or worse — followed less rigorously.
It feels as though we are now at that point with handball. The rule and all its variations is so stupid as to have become baffling.
The new handball rule is baffling and it is having a hugely negative impact on football
The referees — those on the field and in the VAR room — are following it and games are being ruined, results morphed. So there is nothing more to be done than make noise.
Roy Hodgson did so in his own way on Saturday. The Crystal Palace manager’s tone was measured but as his irritation simmered, his point was perfectly and intelligently made.
His defender Joel Ward was actively moving his hand away from the ball when contact against Everton was made, so how could it possibly be a penalty?
Hodgson spoke not just for himself and his players and his club but for all of us and this is the only way to prevent football’s slide accelerating towards farce. We have to make noise and hope that somebody listens.
Players don’t help themselves, of course. When the ball struck Ward’s hand at Selhurst Park, the Everton players appealed for a penalty, just as Newcastle’s players did when Spurs’ Eric Dier suffered similarly on Sunday. We can put that down to competitive instinct and shouldn’t expect it to change.
Crystal Palace’s Joel Ward was penalised despite trying to move his hand away from the ball
Palace manager Roy Hodgson was livid but made his point perfectly and intelligently
Elsewhere, though, the message must be delivered that this is a rule that is not working and must change. It is hard to understand how exactly we have reached this position. As Hodgson said himself, there was nothing wrong with the old rule. A hand that moves the ball deliberately is penalised. One that does not is not.
But here we are regardless, trapped in a world where dissent is not routinely punished but players offside by a hair’s width are. A world where assistant referees are told not to flag for offside until a movement is complete — where a player is allowed to run through and score only to be told he had been wasting his time doing all that sprinting and shooting for which he is paid.
This is the modern way. The rules of the game are constantly tweaked, manipulated and altered and rarely for the better.
I was never keen on the introduction of VAR but the system is improving. It was certainly helpful at Brighton on Saturday. Gradually, the technology is becoming less of a problem than the rules themselves.
In the Black Country, Chelsea levelled late on at West Bromwich. The ball struck the arm of Kai Havertz and we are told play would have been stopped had he been the player to then cross to goalscorer Tammy Abraham. But the fact he played the ball back to a team-mate means the game went on.
The ball struck Kai Havertz in the closing stages vs West Brom before Chelsea equalised
How can this be? How can handball be handball one moment and a legitimate piece of play the next?
You could not make that up but somebody at the International Football Association Board actually has.
IFAB are the body responsible for this mess and they meet in Zurich. So if you want to write, write to them. In the meantime, we hope other managers follow Hodgson’s lead, and that includes some of those who benefit from the breaks.
Steve Bruce’s comments on Sunday night were admirable while Everton’s Carlo Ancelotti did not go quite so far. ‘I cannot agree with this kind of rule but you have to accept it first of all,’ said the Italian.
And this is the point. We don’t have to accept it. We don’t have to accept it at all.
Sessegnon set to depart on loan
We can expect young Tottenham wide man Ryan Sessegnon to leave on loan this week after failing to impress.
The gifted 20-year-old was pursued by the London club for three years but after a £25million transfer from Fulham in 2019 it is said his innate shyness is holding him back.
There is more to football than just talent, it seems.
Ryan Sessegnon is set to be loaned out by Tottenham after struggling to make an impact
Richer fans at the front of the queue
The Premier League will this week continue their aggressive pressing of the Government to allow fans back into football and that is quite right.
Clubs have been working for three months to devise ways to make social distancing work at their stadiums and should not be silenced by last week’s peculiar blanket decision.
When the time does come to reopen the gates, however, it will not arrive without controversy. For example, at a meeting of the 20 top-flight clubs a week last Thursday, one chairman outlined his plans for the first phase.
He said he proposed to push for a 30 per cent capacity initially and then indicated he would be offering tickets to high-end and corporate customers first.
The Premier League are desperate to see the return of fans within stadiums this season
Foden cannot be forgiven yet
The highlight of last week on the field was young Phil Foden’s magnificent first-time pass for teenage Manchester City debutant Liam Delap to score in the Carabao Cup against Bournemouth.
Foden is flourishing under Pep Guardiola and there will doubtless be many more moments like that one.
Nevertheless, there is an England squad announcement on Thursday and Foden and his friend from Manchester United Mason Greenwood should not be in it.
The pair’s breaching of Covid-19 guidelines in Iceland earlier this month still feels fresh and manager Gareth Southgate’s message needs to be strong.
Phil Foden is flourishing at Manchester City but shouldn’t be named in the England squad