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How Have Premier League Goalkeeper Rules Evolved Over Time?

Football is always evolving and adapting itself to the new needs of the world.

That’s the reason why its rules have been changing over time. While some antique guidelines have been totally excluded now, others have been added, making it look like a completely different game from what it was originally designed to look like.

Some major rule changes directly affected the way goalkeepers play nowadays. If we have got to witness modern-playing keepers such as Manuel Neuer, it is due to the fact that these goalkeepers have had to adapt themselves to some rules that evolved over time.

That’s exactly what we are going to be discussing throughout this article: why and how goalkeeper rules evolved, with the major focus on our beloved Premier League.

Back Passes Toward The Goalkeeper

Anti-game tactics have always been used in football for diverse reasons. The most common one was simply the fact that players wanted to waste time in order to win games with ease.

Backpasses were perhaps the most common time-wasting tactic, and it involved a defender or virtually any player on the pitch passing the football backward to the goalie, who could pick it up with his hands.

This is different from what we see nowadays, where keepers are only allowed to pick the ball up if it was backpassed from a defender’s head, chest, thigh, or knee. In a not-so-far-away past, keepers were actually allowed to pick the ball up even if it was directly backpassed from a teammate’s feet.

There were games in the 1980s where defenders teamed up with their goalies in order to waste as many minutes as they could by backpassing it to their number ones, who would pick it up with their hands and then pass it back to the same defender, who would then repeat it all over again.

It wasn’t uncommon to see a midfielder having the possession in the final third and then backpassing it to the keeper. The keeper would pick it up and expend as many seconds – and even minutes – as they could.

This, obviously, was making the game look boring. There were teams who, immediately after opening the scoring, would start this game of cat and mouse with opposing attackers. Teams would eventually end up winning tournaments based on this anti-game strategy.

It all changed back in 1992, when FIFA changed its rules and completely outlawed the backpass from a defender’s feet, making it harder to waste time like that, as they would have to pass it back to the keeper from any other legal part of his body, which is pretty much how we know the game today.

It is important to note that the intention of the pass counts here as if the ball simply deflected off a defender’s foot and went to the keeper’s range. The keeper can pick it up, as it was an unintentional backpass.

The change had a major impact on the brand new Premier League – which was also founded in 1992 – once keepers who attempted to repeat their tactics from the past would allow the opposing team to have an indirect free kick from within the box.

As we stated in the intro, the backpass rule was a turning point for the new generation of goalkeepers, who went from being horrendous with their feet to exceptionally good passers, just like Man City’s Ederson and Liverpool’s Alisson Becker.

Back in 1992, just like today, people were also complaining about the new rule, saying that “the game has gone” and other similar things. Nowadays, though, we see that it actually helped to improve the quality of the game, and you can compare it yourself by using your search engines and looking for backpasses in games prior to 1992.

Goal kicks 

Modern PL keepers also had to adapt in some ways to changes in the law of the game. In 2019, there were some minor changes regarding goal kicks. Differently from the backpass rule, which involved other players besides the keepers, goal kicks are almost always taken by the goalkeepers themselves, with the exception of injuries.

Prior to 2019, goal kicks only stayed if the football was passed to someone standing outside of the taker’s box at the moment of the pass. If an opposing striker intercepted a short goal kick inside the area and scored, the goal couldn’t stand. If the football was passed to a defender standing inside the box, the goal kick needed to be retaken.

However, with the laws introduced in 2019, goal kicks may as well be passed to defenders inside the area, and strikers are also allowed to score from them in case they intercept it.

This change won’t have major impacts on the Premier league standings but has changed the way teams behave, as they can begin their creation from way behind. This could give slight advantages to PL teams who have defenders with good passes.


Also in 2019, we saw some minor changes to how goalkeepers behave on the pitch when it comes to penalties. This certainly made keepers’ lives harder, as they need to keep at least one foot on the goal line when jumping to attempt to save the pen.

If a keeper is caught with his two feet outside the line and he saves the penalty, it can be retaken by the opposing taker.

This was already a recommendation from FIFA, but the PL made it official from now on, as now they have extra ways of checking whether keepers will maintain their foot on the line.

VAR & Goal Line Technology

These extra ways certainly have everything to do with technology. Although the introduction of VAR (video assistant referee) and the goal line technology are not properly rules, they have indirectly impacted how PL goalkeepers play during the games.

The VAR may be used to check whether the keeper had respected the new penalty rules or not. In case he hasn’t, the VAR is certainly going to advise the referee to retake the pen, and, in case the keeper doesn’t respect it again, the referee may book him, as well.

The goal line technology can award opposing team goals in case the ball completely goes over the line. Prior to the goal line technology, some goals that shouldn’t stay would stay and vice versa. This has everything to do with the keeper, as they could try to outwit referees using their bodies to block the vision, or their hand to parry away shots that went in by just a few inches.

With this new technology, each ball has a microchip attached to it, and in case it goes in, it will immediately warn the referee, who will point to the midfield, confirming the goal.

These are essentially the goalkeeper rules that have changed and evolved over time in the PL and the world. Which one do you think has had the biggest impact on how we watch the game nowadays?

Article title: How Have Premier League Goalkeeper Rules Evolved Over Time?

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