“I truly believe football is a very unfair sport.”
Those were not the words of Newcastle United’s Eddie Howe after his side had been stripped of a victory in the eighth minute of stoppage time by a hotly controversial penalty. No, Luis Enrique, the manager whose team smuggled a 1-1 draw courtesy of a divisive handball call, was the one talking about injustice.
Enrique was lamenting the abundance of chances that his Paris Saint-Germain side had squandered before VAR spotted Tino Livramento’s handball. However, that’s not to say that Howe let the incident pass by without comment.
The usually diplomatic coach labelled it a “poor decision”. Newcastle’s goalkeeper Nick Pope, who was beaten by Kylian Mbappe’s emphatic conversion from 12 yards, claimed that it was so egregious as to be “bad for the game”.
After sifting through all of the hyperbole, here’s why PSG were awarded the fiercely controversial penalty.
- Why did the referee award PSG penalty vs Newcastle for handball?
After taking a 24th-minute lead through Alexander Isak and matching their hosts in the first half, Newcastle hunkered down for the final 45 minutes. Thanks to Bradley Barcola’s uncalibrated radar and Pope’s heroics, Newcastle still led 1-0 going into injury time.
With the seconds slipping away, Ousmane Dembele stabbed another cross towards Newcastle’s goal. Livramento had scuttled over to block the Frenchman but the ball ricocheted off his midriff and onto the point of his left elbow.
As outlined in IFAB’s handbook, which is implemented across every competition on the planet, Law 12 defines a handball as when a player “touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger”.
Howe used this exact wording to argue that it was not a penalty post-game. The rules state that no offence has been committed “when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation”.
Livramento was running across to Dembele and it could be argued that his raised arms were in a natural position for that action – when do you ever see anyone go for a jog with their arms bolted by their waist – but the video assistant referee (VAR) Tomasz Kwiatkowski was not convinced.
Kwiatkowski advised the on-pitch official Szymon Marciniak to take another look at the pitch-side monitor. After a few replays, the Polish referee – who was in charge of the World Cup and Champions League finals in 2022 – pointed to the spot.
Tellingly, Kwiatkowski had been scheduled to act as the VAR for Real Sociedad’s group-stage game against RB Salzburg on the following day but was replaced by the German official Marco Fritz. UEFA have not publicly explained this decision.
- Is there a different interpretation of the handball law in the Champions League and Premier League?
The main sticking point for many onlookers was the deflection that took the ball from Livramento’s body and onto his arm.
Nowhere in the laws of the game is there any consideration for this event but the Premier League clarified this topic midway through the 2020/21 season.
After an amendment to the laws during the summer of 2020, a staggering tally of six penalties had been awarded for handballs over the first three weekends of the new Premier League season. At that rate, 76 handball penalties would have been handed out by May. Across the entire previous campaign, only 20 spot kicks were a result of a handball.
The Premier League’s clarification in September 2020 explicitly stated that a player will still be penalised if “a deflection clearly makes no difference to the ball touching a hand/arm that is clearly extended away from the body and/or above the shoulder”.
It could be argued – and the case was vehemently made by some corners of the internet – that the deflection Livramento suffered clearly did make a difference. Had Dembele’s cross not bounced off his chest, there was no danger of it hitting his elbow.
In April 2023, the UEFA Football Board – stacked with Champions League winning managers (such as Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho) and players (Paolo Maldini, Luis Figo among others) – recommended a similar amendment in European competition.
“The Board recommends that UEFA should clarify that no handball offence should be called on a player if the ball is previously deflected from his own body and, in particular, when the ball does not go towards the goal,” the statement read. UEFA made no changes – as Newcastle found out.
What we know
- Kylian Mbappe scored a hotly controversial 98th-minute penalty against Newcastle in the Champions League
- Tino Livramento was found guilty of handball despite a deflection
- The same decision may not have been made in the Premier League.