In March, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) made some revisions to the laws of the game that will have far-reaching consequences. The most important change will be the introduction of video assistant referees (VARs), at first on a trial basis. VARs will be allowed to review goals, penalty decisions, red card incidents or cases of mistaken identity on instruction of the referee and of their own volition, as this handy FIFA graphic explains.
VARs are expected to come into some of the bigger leagues next season but IFAB also passed some reforms that apply with immediate effect, starting at the Euros next month. Here to give us the lowdown on the new rules is former referee and all-round nice guy Howard Webb, the man who refereed the 2010 World Cup final.
THE RED BULLETIN: There’s been relatively little in the media about the new laws of the game. The video referee aside, which change will have the biggest impact on the way the game is played in the future?
HOWARD WEBB: Undoubtedly the change to Law 12, in reference to denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity - DOGSO. We’ve had the problem of the “triple punishment” here. If a player fouls someone inside the box when he’s through on goal, then that player will be sent off, a penalty will be given, and the offending player will be banned for at least one game. It’s been like that since the 1990/91 season. But now the player will be given a yellow card if it is clear that they are making a genuine attempt to play the ball. That’s very important. The triple punishment has been reduced to a one-and-a-half, if you will, a penalty and a booking.
In other words, the new law wants to protect defenders who unintentionally foul a striker while genuinely trying to play the ball?
Exactly. IFAB felt that the old law was not really used in the way it was intended when it was brought in. It was introduced after a few high profile incidents in the 1980s, including the FA Cup final, where Arsenal’s Willie Young cynically tripped Paul Allen (West Ham) from behind just outside the box as he was about to shoot. The ref could only book him for that and award a free kick.
These situations, by the way, are still sending-off offences if they happen outside the box under the new rule. So if you’re denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity outside the box, the outcome will be the same as it was before. You will only get away with a booking inside the box if the referee decides that you genuinely tried to play the ball. If you handle the ball then you’ll be sent off. If you pull the player down, that’s a red card. If you’re being violent, using excessive force - red. It’s a bit more complicated now because referees have to think harder and make a judgment on intention. But overall, morally, it’s been brought in for the right reasons.
Who pushed for this change?
My understanding is that there were different opinions in different parts of the world. The South Americans were not keen on a change at all apparently. They thought a watering down of the punishment would be counter-productive. But UEFA pushed quite hard for it. Players and managers advising IFAB also made the case that the triple punishment was too harsh for things like collisions or accidental trips.
Is there a danger that defenders will try to make it look as if they’re going for the ball?
Absolutely. It’s now a matter of interpretation, which makes some inconsistency inevitable. Some players will try to exploit that element of doubt.
Andrés Iniesta handled the ball in the box in the Champions League quarter-final against Atlético, denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by cutting out a pass. Why?
I don’t know really. It should have been a red card. You have to consider the location of the offence, the location of other defenders, the direction of the ball and the likelihood that the striker will be able to control the ball. In that instance, all those factors pointed to a red card. It would have been different if it were a speculative cross into the box.
RB: The handball rule itself has not changed though, has it?
No, but referees are being encouraged to give defenders the benefit of the doubt.
What about the other new laws?
Well, you can now pass the ball any way you want from the kick-off. It doesn’t have to go forward anymore.
That won’t revolutionise the game though will it?
No. There’s also harsher punishment for penalty-takers who feign during the run-up. Even if their kick goes in, they’ll be yellow carded and the other team will have an indirect free kick.
Was this seen as a big issue?
No, because players don’t tend to do it much. They weren’t allowed to do it under the old rules either.
I also found something strange in the new laws. It says there that you cannot score an own goal directly from a corner in the opposition half. If the ball flies into your own net, the other team is now awarded a corner. What’s that all about?
It’s the same with a direct free kick. If it goes into your own net, it’s a corner for the other team. You cannot score an own goal from your own free kick.
So it’s just a bit of tidying up? I can’t imagine someone’s ever scored an own goal from a corner in the other half. That would have to be some cross.
Exactly. They’ve just filled in some gaps and allowed for all eventualities, even if some of them are very unlikely to come to pass.