New Rules in effect for Fall 2019

The new rule changes implemented by the International Football Association Board are now into effect. These rule changes, announced back in March, include tweaks to free-kicks, goal kicks, drop balls, handballs, and penalties.

There are some significant changes that could come into play quite soon. Here are some of the major rule changes notable to seasons currently in progress such as Major League Soccer and upcoming seasons such as European leagues, implemented as soon as the leagues decide to make the change.

  • During a free-kick – direct or indirect – if the defending team has three or more players in a wall, the attacking team may NOT have a player within one yard of the wall. This means no longer can attacking teams place wall-busters to break up a wall, or look to have players lose their marks by running through or around a wall. If they do, the referee can penalize the attacking team with a free-kick in the other direction.
  • Quick free-kicks can now be taken before a referee shows a yellow card, and the referee is allowed to wait before showing his yellow card until the next stoppage in play. Previously, if a free-kick resulted in a yellow card, the attacking team would have to wait until the referee shows his card before play can resume. However, the rule still stands where a referee distracted by already beginning to display a caution may halt a quick free-kick until he finishes the action.
    • As a caveat to this, if the referee was going to show a red card for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, the attacking team still may take a quick free-kick, but the punishment automatically reverts from a red card into a yellow as the attacking team is considered to have restarted its course of play.
  • Goalkeepers may now come slightly closer while defending a penalty, only required to have one foot on the goal line instead of required to stand completely on it. Most referees allow leniency on this rule anyways, but now there is a bit of written leniency to go along with the flexibility on the field.
  • Also regarding penalties, an attacker who required medical treatment may now be allowed to take a penalty once treatment is concluded. Under the previous rule, if an attacker required treatment after a penalty was given must come off the field and was not allowed to take the ensuing penalty.
  • A drop ball will now be awarded if a ball strikes a referee and falls in possession of the opposition side, or if the ball strikes the referee and ends up in the back of the net.
  • Drop balls can no longer be contested. However, along with that, drop balls can be taken by an attacking team wherever they possessed the ball when play was stopped, meaning an attacking team can continue from the point at which the attack was stopped.
    • One caveat: any play stopped in the penalty area will be returned to the goalkeeper no matter who possessed the ball at the stoppage.
  • One big change we could see possession-happy teams like Manchester City take advantage of centers around goal-kicks. A goal-kick is no longer required to leave the penalty area before a teammate touches the ball, meaning once the goalkeeper touches the ball for the kick, it is immediately considered in play. Opponents must remain outside the penalty area when a goal-kick takes place.
  • Finally, a rule change has been made to try and combat time-wasting with substitutes. Any substitute must leave the field of play at the nearest sideline point, unless the referee determines he can quickly make his way back to the team’s designated touchline area.

The handball rule has also been re-written, but instead of explaining the changes, it’s better just to display the entire new rewritten rule. According to the newly written laws, the changes are:

  • Deliberate handball remains an offense. The following ‘handball’ situations, even if accidental, will be a free kick:
    • The ball goes into the goal after touching an attacking player’s hand/arm
    • A player gains control/possession of the ball after it has touches their hand/arm and then scores, or creates a goal-scoring opportunity
    • The ball touches a player’s hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally bigger
    • The ball touches a player’s hand/arm when it is above their shoulder (unless the player has deliberately played the ball which then touches their hand/arm)
  • The following will not usually be a free kick, unless they are one of the above situations:
    • The ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player who is close/near [this would now put Moussa Sissoko’s opening-minute penalty in serious doubt, as it hit his chest before redirecting off his arm, although one could still argue it “made his body unnaturally bigger” which would still qualify it as a foul]
    • The ball touches a player’s hand/arm which is close to their body and has not made their body unnaturally bigger
    • If a player is falling and the ball touches their hand/arm when it is between their body and the ground to support the body (but not extended to make the body bigger)
    • If the goalkeeper attempts to ‘clear’ (release into play) a throw-in or deliberate kick from a team-mate but the ‘clearance’ fails, the goalkeeper can then handle the ball

The IFAB wrote a lengthy reasoning for the change in the handball rule. This reads,

Greater clarity is needed for handball, especially on those occasions when ‘non-deliberate’ handball is an offense. The re-wording follows a number of principles:

  • Football does not accept a goal being scored by a hand/arm (even if accidental)
  • Football expects a player to be penalized for handball if they gain possession/control of the ball from their hand/arm and gain a major advantage e.g. score or create a goal-scoring opportunity
  • It is natural for a player to put their arm between their body and the ground for support when falling.
  • Having the hand/arm above shoulder height is rarely a ‘natural’ position and a player is ‘taking a risk’ by having the hand/arm in that position, including when sliding
  • If the ball comes off the player’s body, or off another player (of either team) who is close by, onto the hands/arms it is often impossible to avoid contact with the ball
  • When the GK clearly kicks or tries to kick the ball into play, this shows no intention to handle the ball so, if the ‘clearance’ attempt is unsuccessful, the goalkeeper can then handle the ball without committing an offense

These rule changes, as a whole, seem to benefit the game. The handball rules are still highly subjective and will likely still cause problems in many cases, but hopefully the rewritten laws will provide clarity on situations which have already occurred and may occur again. It’s tough for a rules committee to predict new situations which may arise, but these all seem to have been born off previous occurrences and aim to avoid uncertainty and subjectivity in repeat cases.