FIFA LAWS OF THE GAME #12: The Back-pass rule

simon mignolet back-pass filip joos wrong

20 April 2013 – Sunderland took another step towards securing Premier League survival as manager Paolo Di Canio marked his first match at the Stadium of Light with victory over Everton. Stephane Sessegnon scored the game’s only goal just before half-time, stabbing a shot beyond Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard. Sunderland had a lucky escape late on when Larsson inexplicably attempted an extravagant backpass which caught Mignolet unaware and the Belgian had to grab the ball to prevent it from sailing into the net. Everton were subsequently awarded a free-kick eight yards from goal and Mignolet was booked, but Baines’s low effort was blocked and eventually cleared. Should Mignolet have been send off for Denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity?

There are two sending-off offences that deal with denying an opponent an obvious opportunity to score a goal:

- If a player denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball.
– If a player denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick (direct or indirect) or a penalty kick.

However, inside his own penalty area, the goalkeeper cannot be guilty of a handling offence incurring a direct free kick or any misconduct related to handling the ball. He can, however, be guilty of several handling offences that incur an indirect free kick.

The back-pass rule refers to two clauses within Law 12 of the Laws ofthe Game of association football. These clauses prohibit the goalkeeper from handling the ball when a teammate has intentionally “kicked” the ball to him, or handling the ball directly from a teammate’s throw-in.

The actual offence committed is the handling of the ball by the goalkeeper, not the ball being passed back. An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team from the place where the offence occurred, i.e., where the goalkeeper handled the ball.
The offence rests on three events occurring in the following sequence:
– The ball is kicked (played with the foot, not the knee, thigh, or shin) by a teammate of the goalkeeper,
– This action is deemed to be deliberate and intentional, rather than a deflection or an miss-kick which is not intended for goalkeepers direction, by the referee
– The goalkeeper handles the ball directly (no intervening touch of play of the ball by anyone else). Handling the ball involves retrieving the ball or making a save with one or both hands.

If, however, in the opinion of the referee, a player uses a deliberate trick in order to circumvent the amendment to Law 12, the player will be guilty of unsporting behavior and will be punished accordingly in terms of Law 12; that is to say, the player will be cautioned and an indirect free-kick will be awarded to the opposing team from the place where the player committed the offense. Examples of such tricks would include: a player who deliberately flicks the ball with his feet up onto his head in order to head the ball to his goalkeeper; or, a player who kneels down and deliberately pushes the ball to the goalkeeper with his knee, etc. In such circumstances, it is irrelevant whether the goalkeeper subsequently touches the ball with his hands or not. The offense is committed by the player in attempting to circumvent both the text and the spirit of Law 12, and the referee must only be convinced that this was the player’s motive.

The back-pass rule was introduced in 1992 to discourage time-wasting and overly defensive play after the 1990 World Cup was described as exceedingly dull, rife with back-passing and goalkeepers holding up the ball. Also, goalkeepers would frequently drop the ball and dribble it around, only to pick it up again once opponents came closer to put them under pressure; a typical time-stalling technique. Liverpool’s Bruce Grobbelaar was one of the most well known exponents of this practice. Therefore, another rule was introduced at the same time as the back-pass rule, with the same intentions. This rule prohibits the goalkeeper from handling the ball again once he has released it for play. This offence would also result in an indirect free kick to the opposition.

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2 responses to “FIFA LAWS OF THE GAME #12: The Back-pass rule

    • No, The referee was spot on. Inside his own penalty area, the goalkeeper cannot be guilty of a handling offence incurring a direct free kick or any misconduct related to handling the ball. That means no red card can be issued for handling the ball when a teammate has intentionally “kicked” the ball to him.

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