It was quite something to see Diego Simeone on the news explaining that he had spent two hours in meetings to be informed about the new regulations in LaLiga for the 2021-22 season – and in particular the one governing handball – and that he is still none the wiser. That is where we have got to amid the constant tinkering with what is a very simple rule. If Simeone, a 51-year-old who said “goal” as a toddler before he uttered the words “mum” or dad” (I got that from Wikipedia), who played the game for 19 years at the highest level, earned 106 caps for Argentina and has gone on to have a successful coaching career at Atlético, no longer knows what constitutes handball then god help us all.
It was much easier under the old rulebook. Trust was placed in the referee to decide if a handball had been voluntary, that is to say if the player’s hand had moved towards the ball, or the ball had moved towards the player’s hand and in the case of the latter, if said player had artfully arranged his limbs to cut or alter the trajectory of the ball. Of course, handballs were always hotly debated, but from a fairly simple base of knowledge. Now there is a panoply of different requirements that are changed every season, as to whether a player’s hand was high or low, if the ball bounced or ricocheted before contact, if the player was on the ground or not. These have merely served to make life harder for referees and even more so now that there are two, the one on the pitch and the one in the VAR room.
As fate would have it, the first round of matches in LaLiga threw up two handball incidents that were as similar as peas in a pod, at Mendizorrotza and Balaídos. One didn’t result in a penalty (against Real Madrid) and one did (against Atlético). This double network created to achieve a “fairer football” (this meticulous code that attempts to classify a raft of casuistry on top of the technological Eye of God) has achieved nothing more than leaving Atlético fans to consider that insult has been added to injury. Those in charge of running the game of football lack the humility to acknowledge that this is the wrong path and that we were all better off with the way things were.