There’s a stealthy attack happening in London on football. It goes by the name of David Elleray. He was a famous English referee at the end of the last century. A good official and a learned man, a Geography teacher by profession. Things went wrong years after he’d retired, in 2016, when he took up the post of technical director of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the body charged with cleaning up, determining and publicising the Laws of the Game. Since he’s been there he’s sent out blasts of disconcerting instructions every year that are driving us all mad. A bunch of initiatives that arrive before the previous ones have bedded in, some of them changed in short order, making no more sense than the polishing of his pate.
Elleray's changes... plus VAR
On top of that we’ve got VAR, a tech-lover’s project that promised peace and justice but which, fused with Elleray’s mad notions, have created a level of confusion never before seen. Yesterday our top referees gave a press conference and once again retired referee Velasco Carballo (now responsible for VAR In LaLiga in Spain) set out the supposed advantages of the new-fangled invention. This in the week Messi escaped a sending off and Real Madrid were denied a penalty at the Di Stéfano stadium. But, as he was down to speak, he set out his percentages in that same boring tone Fernando Simón (the Spanish epidemiologist who acts as spokesman for the public health response to the covid-19 pandemic) uses in his daily homilies that almost nobody attends and anyone who does attend doesn’t believe. When they finish we all feel just as helpless.
What is a handball now?
Ref Carlos Clos Gómez, for his part, went to great pains to explain what is and what is not a handball. I remembered the suffering of Real Sociedad defender Le Normand two days ago in the game against Real Madrid, when he was hit by the ball with his hands together behind his back as if he were wearing handcuffs - a reflex reaction caused by the defenders' fear that the refs will give a penalty for absolutely anything. It’s Elleray’s legacy. Before a handball was what the referee considered to be reasonably deliberate or when the hand was put out to block space. Now it’s a table of logarithms that Elleray modifies every so often, depending on whether it's a rainy summer or not in England. It’s already enough that we’ve got to put up with football in this state and the horror of the pandemic. But we don’t deserve to have to listen to them as well.