Raheem Sterling's penalty would not be given under new guidance

Credit: Getty Images

Premier League referees have been ordered not to award the kind of penalty that put England into the European Championship final in a crackdown on “trivial” free-kicks this season.

After last term witnessed a record 125 spot-kicks in the world’s richest league – up 35 per cent on the previous campaign – on-field officials and Video Assistant Referees have been told to “raise the threshold” for giving fouls, including in the box.

Mike Riley, the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), has issued the edict following feedback from clubs, players, managers and supporters groups about how refereeing in the Premier League could be improved this season.

The move should see players no longer penalised for making minimal contact with an opponent, such as when England were awarded a penalty in their Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark after Raheem Sterling went down in the box.

That decision sparked fury among the Danes, with a petition for the match to be replayed attracting more than 30,000 signatures.

Referees will be expected not to point to the spot if there was similar incident in the Premier League this season, with Video Assistant Referees (VARs) also told to recommend any such decision be overturned.

The same would apply to incidents such as when Manchester City were awarded a penalty at Wolverhampton Wanderers two seasons ago after Leander Dendoncker trod on Riyad Mahrez’s foot and when Arsenal were initially given a spot-kick against Everton last term after Richarlison kicked the shin of Dani Ceballos.

How Var has led to increase in penalties

When deciding whether to award free-kicks or penalties, referees will be ordered to consider the degree of contact, the consequence of contact and the motivation of the attacker.

Riley said: “The clear message to us through the survey from all the players was football is about contact. We don’t want the trivial things being penalised.

“So, the principles we established are referees should look for contact and establish clear contact. Then ask themselves the question, ‘Does that contact have a consequence?’ And then ask themselves the question, ‘Has the player used that contact to actually try and win a foul or a penalty’. So it’s not sufficient just to say, ‘Yes, there’s contact’.”

Asked whether this would spell the end to strikers actively looking for penalties, Riley said: “I think that’s the feedback we’ve had from players, both attackers and defenders.

“You want it to be a proper foul that has a consequence, not something that somebody has used the slightest of contact to go over and we’ve given the penalty to reward it.”

Riley sought to assure those who stay on their feet when fouled that they would not be disadvantaged for doing so.

“We made a mistake in a game last season where there was clear contact, the player stayed on his feet, went wide, lost the ball,” he said.

“We should’ve gone back and given the penalty. I think, had we done so, that would have reassured players that that’s our approach, because that’s what it is.”

This season should also spell the end to what Riley branded “toenail” offsides after the Premier League agreed to join other European competitions in drawing thicker lines when using VAR to rule on such incidents.

Riley revealed that had the measure been in place last season, it would have led to 19 fewer goals being ruled out for the infringement.

He added: “It’s the toenails, the noses of players that are offside. They might have been offside last year. Next season, they won’t be.”

Additionally, assistant referees will be ordered to stop keeping their flags down for obvious offside decisions that lead to a goal-scoring opportunity.

Officials will be told to continue doing so for marginal decisions to avoid goals being wrongly ruled out.

The introduction of VAR to the Premier League can hardly have been more controversial, so much so that its smooth and light-touch implementation during Euro 2020 drew widespread acclaim.

Riley admitted the world’s richest league could learn lessons from this summer’s tournament but warned it would not be possible to copy the same approach wholesale.

“Tournament football’s different to all domestic competitions,” he said of the Euros, in which the consequences of being carded or conceding a penalty were more severe than in the Premier League.

“We referee in the way that best suits Premier League football.  But we take the positives out of the Euros.

“Raising the threshold for on field intervention, I think, is a good thing. Making sure that VARs intervene only when we’ve got clear and obvious evidence is another good thing as well.”

Riley has personally come under fire for how VAR has been implemented in the Premier League and he admitted it could be another couple of seasons before it ran as smoothly as he would like.

“When we first talked about VAR, we said it would be a three- to five-year project,” said Riley, who is considering giving public explanations of controversial VAR decisions in future as a way of winning over its critics.

“Rugby was probably seven years before they got to a good place, cricket, probably about the same length of time. Because it takes time to harness the benefits of technology, and it takes time to understand, for each competition, where those levels of intervention lie.”

Four examples of how rule change would impact incidents 
Raheem Sterling for England v Denmark at the Euros, July 7th

What happened: Sterling went down under a challenge by Joakim Maehle. The penalty was awarded by the referee and confirmed by VAR

Credit: Getty Images

What would happen now: The penalty would be over-turned

Sterling for England v Scotland at the Euros, June 18th 

What happened: Sterling went to ground after a challenge by Andy Robertson but the penalty was not given

Sterling is challenged by Andy Robertson

Credit: Getty Images

What would happen now: VAR would confirm the non-award, or over-turn it if it had been given

Dani Ceballos for Arsenal v Everton on April 21st

What happened: Ceballos went down theatrically after minimal contact by Richarlison. The penalty was awarded, but cancelled due to an offside earlier in the move

Dani Ceballos went down easily against Everton

Credit: Getty Images

What would happen now: The penalty would be over-turned if it had been awarded

Riyad Mahrez for Man City v Wolves on Dec 27 2019

What happened: Mahrez went down easily under a challenge from Leander Dendoncker. A goal kick was given before a penalty was awarded after a Var review.

Riyad Mahrez wins a penalty against Wolves

Credit: Getty Images

What would happen now: The penalty would be over-turned