FA Cup final penalty shows how football is becoming impossible for defenders, says Jon Newsome
Having played for Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday in the Premier League era, Jon Newsome is far from a relic, yet he believes the game is becoming unrecognisable from even his time, and that the priorities of its lawmakers are badly skewed.
When Manchester United were awarded a penalty at Wembley when the ball flicked his hand as Jack Grealish’s hand as he looked in the opposite direction, referee Paul Tierney initially waved play on but was persuaded to change his decision when video assistant David Coote advised him to look again on the pitchside monitor.
Newsome called it "embarrassing".
Bruno Fernandes's spot kick had no effect on the outcome of the game, Ilkay Gundogan going on to score his second and win it 2-1 for Manchester City, but it was an unedifying moment Grealish complained about in the media afterwards, even though Tierney probably followed the rules correctly.
Former centre-back Newsome, who retired through injury after his second spell at Hillsborough, has sympathy.
"The rules of the game don't help when they removed the 'deliberate' element," he says. "It was always okay before they started fiddling about with it.
"I know you won't get a perfect game where everything they do is correct, that's never going to happen because there's always subjectivity.
"But if you watch Grealish at the weekend, his hands are up as he jumps, the ball goes over his head and he turns. His arms are what I would deem as a natural position when you jump.
"They're not natural if you're walking down the street but nobody jumps up and down like a pencil, you use your arms for leverage.
"That's where they've got it wrong. Some of the ones we've seen where a ball's been nicked past someone and it's just caught their arm away from their body somehow because they were turning or moving... it just makes it impossible.
"We see everybody now with their arms behind their backs but you're not as agile playing that way, you just can't move your feet, your body, as quickly.
"It's not just the handball law, it's a lot of things with the introduction of VAR and the way they've implemented it. It seems to be going a long way from the football I played in and the game I recognise.
"I think if you ask most football supporters and most people involved in football if it was better, I don't think many would agree it is."
Likewise, Newsome believes even playing offside has been made too difficult for defenders with interpretations about when players are or are not interfering with play.
"You adapt to the laws at the time but Brian Clough said if you're on the football pitch and you're not interfering with play, you're not doing very well," said Newsome, who also had spells with Norwich City and Bolton Wanderers and is now a radio pundit.
"As a defender, if a striker's in an offside position he has to be interfering with play because he's interfering with your decision-making.
"They're trying to fix something that wasn't broken, the same with VAR. Since it's been introduced, where's level gone (in offside decisions)? It used to be if you were level, you were onside but Mr Level's left town, nobody's ever level any more. Now you're off by 3mm – really? Is that what the game's come to?
"People have got involved who haven't particularly played it, don't particularly understand it."
It has been suggested the handball law could change again soon, but Newsome wants to see more understanding of how the game is played and more effort into the things supporters find most annoying.
"I don't think it would be a bad thing if you got ex-players involved who understand what goes into trying to close a shot down or block a cross and explaining to the decision-makers that it's part of the game," he commented. "You're asking players to either do something they can't do or something which is ridiculous.
"The penalty on Saturday in the FA Cup final, the showpiece of English soccer, it's embarrassing, isn't it?
"What annoys me about the game much more now is the feigning of injury and wasting time. That's what we need to put a stop to, not whether somebody's onside by 3mm. They seem to miss the elephant in the room and tinker with the little bits.
"When I was brought up the idea was that you never showed anybody you were hurt, even if they gave you a real good whack. Now it's the complete opposite, they throw themselves on the floor when they haven’t been touched.
"There doesn't seem to be any shame in cheating. It's got to carry a weighty sentence, not just a yellow card. Is it any different from putting a bet on your own team?
"There has to be a stance against it because it's ruining the game."