The International FA Board (Ifab) have been busy of late, seeking to bring in several new rules that have largely targetted speeding up the pace of the game. Alongside rules that mean subs will now need to leave the pitch via the nearest touchline and attacking players won't be able to interfere with a defensive wall, they have also attempted to clarify some of the grey areas surrounding handball.
The aim of any rule whether sports-related or otherwise should be to eliminate the possibility of uncertainty in decision making. The new handball rules have gone some way towards removing the idea that referees and officials need to judge the intentions of a player. For too long the rules have focused on the idea that handball is only an offence where it is a deliberate act something which is almost impossible for any referee to judge in the vast majority of cases.
It might be an extreme comparison to make but take the example of unnatural death which lawyers, solicitors and judges spend years arguing over to determine whether the causes of death in a case were accidental or whether they constitute murder. While football is not a life or death situation (no really it isn't) the administrators should do everything in their power to ensure that decision making is as simplistic and efficient as possible. The new system looks less at whether the act of handball was deliberate/intentional and concentrates more on the advantage that was gained from the ball striking the hand or arm and as such is likely to produce fairer and more consistent decisions.
That being said the rules do seem to indicate that referees are to crack down more on handball incidents that result in an advantage for the attacking team than for those involving a defender.
This is all very well but anecdotally speaking I can't remember watching many games where this rule change would have had a major impact on the match. One such example of where it would have presumably made a difference was the game below between my 2nd team Bristol City and Wolves in this year's FA Cup
Wolves goal (1min 20secs) involved a handball that isn't really shown on this highlight reel but was clear during the match itself when the replays demonstrated that the ball bounces up off the Bristol City defenders boot, hits Doherty's hand and falls nicely into his path before he runs on to square it for the game-winning goal. The new rules would quite rightly have ruled out this goal for handball. However, I wonder if one of the Centre-Backs had let the ball brush his arm before pinging the ball over to Doherty whether this would have been deemed to be handball? In other words, at what point did the attack that led to Wolves scoring actually begin? I'd suggest it's almost impossible to establish the exact moment that a team transitions from defence to attack and as such a degree of ambiguity still remains.
Furthermore, the rules around situations involving defenders and handball don't really seem to have become any clearer.
I can see what they are trying to do here but again I think that the other consideration is the effect that the ball striking the hand had on that particular part of the game. United fans might hate me here but I don't think the shot that won them a last minute penalty (4mins 12 sec on below video) against PSG this week was going in. Instead, I think that had that defender not got his arm in the way regardless of whether his silhouette was deemed to be natural or not that ball was doing nothing but sailing harmlessly over the bar. Does that warrant a penalty? Not in my opinion.
Compare it to the Bristol City v Wolves game when in the 2nd half City had a big shout for a penalty (5mins 2 secs on the video above). Not only is the players hand further from his body but the offending body part stops a cross into the box which had 4 City players waiting to pounce - that for me should be the determining factor in the penalty having been awarded and it would follow the same rationale as that for advantages gained by attacking players i.e you shouldn't be able to gain a defensive advantage from the balling striking your hand.
Even if we accept the silhouette idea I'm not sure that enough has been done or possibly can be done to define what a natural silhouette is. I don't know about you but I don't run with my arms straight down by my sides, I don't jump without at the very least raising my elbows and I don't slide without putting out a hand to stop my fall. There are plenty of incidents on the football pitch where it is natural for a player's hands or arms to leave the side of the body (I put a few in the thumbnail image) and asking for the referee to judge whether each individual action is natural within that one crucial moment of a match is next to impossible and will likely lead to further online debate.