FORMER referee Kenny Clark believes changes to the handball laws will add “an awful lot of controversy” to Scottish football next season.

Under new guidelines brought in at the start of the month, players can now be penalised even for an accidental handball if they are deemed to have made their body “unnaturally bigger” by extending their arms.

The recent Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham, that Jurgen Klopp’s side won 2-0, saw a penalty awarded in the first minute after Sadio Mane’s cross struck Moussa Sissoko on the arm when the French midfielder was gesturing to a team-mate, and the decision proved controversial. Clark’s fear is that the new rules will make such instances all the more commonplace and football will suffer as a result.

Clark, a former FIFA official, fears the amended laws could result in forwards cynically aiming the ball at a defender’s arms to try to win a cheap penalty.


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And Clark fears that there will be a high degree of subjectivity based on the new laws surrounding handball, which will inevitably lead to inconsistent calls from officials.

He said: “In their efforts to make things better, I’m not convinced they [IFAB] have necessarily clarified things.

“It’s all very subjective and that’s going to be the difficulty of it. We almost need to launch a campaign explaining all the changes and making people understand what they mean.

“But a lot of it will still come down to the interpretation of the match officials so it’s going to be controversial. It’s going to be very subjective about what’s natural and what’s not in the season ahead.

“I think if a winger was able to detect that a defender’s arm was up then I could see some trying to aim for that to win a penalty. Players these days are clever enough and talented enough to do that.

“So I think you’ll see more and more defenders approaching a winger who is about to cross the ball with their arms tucked behind their backs or right in at their sides. And as difficult as it might be, they’re going to have to learn not to bring their arms up.

“But if you’re running into position, your arms have got to go somewhere!


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“It’s nigh on impossible to run with your arms behind your back so if the ball then strikes a defender on the hand, the referee then has a big call to make.

“I had a radio debate earlier in the year with Michael Stewart when he was giving me a lecture on biomechanics and I can see more of that kind of discussion ahead about whether a player could help it or not.

“There’s going to be an awful lot of controversy and analysis.”

Clark also believes the increased use of VAR will also place a greater focus on handball decisions. Scotland defender Nicola Docherty was punished by the video referee in the recent Women’s World Cup match against England when a cross accidentally struck her on the arm in fairly innocuous circumstances.

Clark said: “Nobody was claiming for anything in that incident and then everyone was totally flummoxed when it got called back by VAR for a penalty. And that’s going to happen a lot in future.

“VAR is being brought into the Premier League down south and also the Europa League as well as the Champions League.

“Incidents that might have been let slide before will be placed under the microscope in those competitions using VAR.”


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The new laws also mean that a goal cannot be awarded if there has been a handball – even if accidental – in the build-up.

But Clark thinks decisions such as these are also likely to be open to interpretation and could be problematic to implement, given the ill-defined nature of the rules.

He added: “If the ball goes into the net off an attacking player’s hand or arm or if it hits their arm and then they create a goalscoring opportunity, then a free kick is awarded whether it was completely accidental or not.

“The possible controversy out of that is how far back do we trace the point of creating a goalscoring opportunity?

“I can see that being open to interpretation and may give rise to some difficulties, as at the other end of the pitch if the arm is in a natural position when the ball strikes it then it won’t be penalised. So people will need to get their head around those differences.”