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Law and Inzaghi

I’ve just caught up with the tail end of William Birdthistle’s soccer-and-law guest stint at The Volokh Conspiracy, and I give him major points for prescience.  As the subject of his suggested rules-and-standards examination of the laws of the game, he offers the handball rule — or, precisely in the terms in which FIFA addresses it, the prohibition on handling the ball.  As a Liverpool supporter, he must have been dismayed to see that the first goal that Inzaghi scored yesterday in the Champions’ League final was deflected into the net off of his arm — a clear violation of the rule, at least if you’re a Liverpool supporter and/or a handball hardliner. 

Ah, the questions that a “standards” inquiry provokes here:  From the perspective of AC Milan, even if the ball ricocheted off of Inzaghi’s arm, did he handle the ball intentionally, as the law appears to require?  And if the referee is in doubt, as he must have been, to whom does he give the advantage, especially in a final?  There, the laws are silent.  I didn’t have a stake in the result, but from thousands of miles away I saw a handball, and I would have disallowed the goal.

Is there any way to cure the rule to make the play less likely the subject of debate (at least until the next time that Liverpool and Milan meet in a cup final)?  One could eliminate the “scienter” requirement that the law requires, or the unjust enrichment element that referees sometimes apply, or both.  But would this harm the aesthetic of the game?  I suspect that the aesthetic would change; harm is in the eye of the beholder. 

The final itself as a whole was hardly a thing of beauty, but that was no fault of the officiating, nor of needless cynicism by the players.  Liverpool had more of the play but couldn’t finish, leading just about everyone (including, perhaps, AC Milan) to wonder why it took so long for Peter Crouch to make an appearance.