By now you will have had a look at the Laws as redesigned by David Elleray and his team in the IFAB technical department and, if the proverbial criterion for judging referees is applied, so far so good.
I certainly didn’t notice the changes while watching England’s recent friendlies against Turkey and Australia, each of whom co-operated in a willingness to try the changes ahead of the official date of June 1.
There was, for example, no memorable denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity in the penalty area which failed to prompt an automatic red card on the grounds that the illicit challenge was (and here I paraphrase) a genuine attempt to win the ball.
This is nevertheless a sensible change amid mounting evidence that referees are declining to award penalties because they deem a triple punishment – spot kick, red card and suspension – excessive in cases of misjudgement rather than cynicism.
In effect this restores the interpretation issued immediately after the outlawing of the ‘professional foul’ in response to Willie Young’s offence on Paul Allen in the 1980 FA Cup final. It gives the referee leeway – and why FIFA ever took this freedom away is a mystery to me. The answer to the problems of the present often lies in the past, and this is a case in point. So congratulations to Elleray and colleagues for that gentle correction.
Another idea runs like this: ‘When fouls are committed off the pitch when the ball is in play, the match is restarted with a free kick on the touchline nearest where the incident occurred…and a penalty could be awarded if it happens parallel to the penalty area.’
This can mean only one thing. A penalty can henceforth be awarded even if the offence takes place outside the area. Bizarre. And, anyway, how can anything be parallel to an oblong, as opposed to a straight line?
There is so much in IFAB’s work that moves in the right direction that I hesitate to jump to worrying conclusions. It can, for instance, only help the game’s flow if a free-kick for offside can be taken from the place where the offside player received the ball.
But I do fear we are approaching the European Championship with too many questions about the changes and I hope Elleray will find the answer to them – fully, frankly and in front of the world’s media – before the big kick-off at the Stade de France on June 10.