Referee Deniz Aytekin, currently one of the world's best, signals for the corner kick. He is perhaps bearing in mind the first line of Law 12 that deals with Handling the Ball. This states that "it is an offense if a player: deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, including moving the hand/arm towards the ball." Kenny clearly did neither. It's the most sensible part of the rule on handball, because it's easily understood. Haaland makes a half-hearted appeal for a penalty, and the video-assistant referee (VAR) indicates to Aytekin that they're going to take another look. Very quickly, though, the VAR agrees with Aytekin that it's no penalty, and the game continues with a corner.
German soccer bi-weekly kicker rated Aytekin's performance that day with a '2' (with one being the highest, and six the lowest). The referee, wrote the magazine, "radiated self-confidence and respect so that after the penalty incident with Kenny - correctly not given - there were no protests."
I agreed and gave my answer as follows -- no penalty, play on. My refereeing overlords, though, disagreed with me (the impudence!), and also with Aytekin, the VAR and kicker too. They said the correct answer was: penalty. They were kind enough to explain why. Brace yourselves:
"After the cross from the direct free-kick, the ball is played back in by the Dortmund player Haaland, parallel to the goal line. As the cross is coming over, the Schalke player Kenny orients himself toward Haaland. In doing so, he has already stretched his right arm out before Haaland's cross. With this outstretched arm he defends the ball which, just prior to that, kind of touches his knee and respectively his body. This deflection from his own body changes nothing with relation to Kenny's unnatural arm position, including an enlargement of his defensive surface, which should consequently result in a penalty.”
I'll certainly bear all that in mind next time a similar situation occurs in one of my games. Or maybe I will do what I've always done when the ball hits a player's arm at point-blank range. I yell, "No intent! Play on!"
Putting aside the issue of how such questions help to improve my education and performance as a referee earning $25 per game, the explanation does at least shine a light on how needlessly complex the handball law has become. Here's another excerpt from Law 12:
It is an offense if a player:
• touches the ball with their hand/arm when:
- [pay attention, Jonjoe Kenny!] the hand/arm has made their body unnaturally bigger.
- the hand/arm is above/beyond their shoulder level (unless the player deliberately plays the ball which then touches their hand/arm).
The above offenses apply even if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from the head or body (including the foot) of another player who is close.
Got all that? These clauses have all been added in recent years, and have only served to make the referee's job much more difficult. The sentence about players making their bodies "unnaturally bigger" has been the worst add of all.
When situations such as the Kenny handball are sent to the VAR, you hear the TV commentators debating the "unnatural" issue, but they sound as clueless as the rest of us. And yet again, the VAR is passing judgment in a situation needing multiple replays, which contradicts their remit of intervening only when a "clear and obvious error" has been made.
For the coming season the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which has otherwise done some good work in modifying the rules in recent years, has added more murk to the handball conundrum: "For the purposes of determining handball offenses, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit." Basically, this means when the ball makes contact with the top of the shoulder, above the 'T-shirt' line, it's no longer deemed to be handball. Except, what happens if the ball makes contact with the upper arm exactly on the T-shirt line, half above and half below? Is that handball? Expect a wordy sub-clause of enlightenment some time next spring.
It's been clear for years that there's no easy answer to defining handball. Previously, the problem was interpreting 'intent.' That seems a breeze now, though, compared with also interpreting the 'naturalness' or not of the defender's body stance, and if the arm was above shoulder height when it touched the ball (but not if the ball was "deliberately" played first).
In my experience, one consequence for the amateur ref has been that every single time the ball touches a player's hand or arm, there is now a loud and demanding chorus from opposition players, coaches and spectators of "Handball!"
My only remaining guideline is that if I'm in any doubt, I wave play on, grateful that there's no VAR in the amateur game. I'm also comforted by the thought that no one else any longer has a clue whether I've made the right call or not.