TRICKERY" OR NOT? (revised 11 February 2013)

A defender throws in the ball to a team mate who intentionally heads the ball to the keeper who catches it. Is this allowed or is the team trying to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of Law 12 which would result in an IDFK where the defender headed the ball to the goalkeeper?

Answer (February 10. 2013):
Let’s start off with an excerpt from the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” (2011/2012):

A goalkeeper infringes Law 12 by touching the ball with the hands after receiving it directly from a throw-in taken by a teammate. The goalkeeper is considered to have received the ball directly by playing it in any way (for example, by dribbling the ball with the feet) before touching it with the hands. Referees should take care not to consider as trickery any sequence of play that offers a fair chance for opponents to challenge for the ball before it is handled by the goalkeeper from a throw-in.

NOTE: The goalkeeper may always handle the ball inside his/her own penalty area unless he/she:
• Takes more than 6 seconds while controlling the ball with his/her hands before releasing it from possession
• Regains hand control prior to a touch by another player
• Touches ball with the hands after it comes directly from a throw-in or deliberate kick to the ‘keeper by a teammate
The restart for any of these infringements is an indirect free kick*.

Things have changed since 1992, when FIFA issued Circular 488 on July 24. The sense of the circular was encapsulated in an article in “Fair Play,” a no-longer published USSF referee magazine, in 1998. The article as quoted here has been modified by its author to reflect the change in the way the Laws are numbered (now Arabic numbers rather than Roman numerals) and the replacement in the Laws of “ungentlemanly conduct” by “unsporting behavior.”

What about players who seek to get around the Letter of the Law? In response to numerous queries from around the world, FIFA issued its Circular Number 488 on July 24, 1992. Circular 488 will not appear in the Laws of the Game, but must be known and understood by every referee. Because it directly affects the way in which the referee will treat time wasting, it is worthwhile to quote the Circular at length:

Subject to the terms of Law 12, a player may pass the ball to his own goalkeeper using his head or chest or knee, etc. If, however, in the opinion of the referee, a player uses a deliberate trick in order to circumvent the amendment to Law 12, the player will be guilty of unsporting behavior and will be punished accordingly in terms of Law 12; that is to say, the player will be cautioned and an indirect free-kick will be awarded to the opposing team from the place where the player committed the offense.

Examples of such tricks would include: a player who deliberately flicks the ball with his feet up onto his head in order to head the ball to his goalkeeper; or, a player who kneels down and deliberately pushes the ball to the goalkeeper with his knee, etc.

In such circumstances, it is irrelevant whether the goalkeeper subsequently touches the ball with his hands or not. The offense is committed by the player in attempting to circumvent both the text and the spirit of Law 12, and the referee must only be convinced that this was the player’s motive.

It is obvious from the text of Circular 488 that players who use trickery in an attempt to get around the conditions of the amendment to Law 12 must be dealt with immediately and firmly. The initiator of the trickery must be cautioned for unsporting behavior and the match properly restarted. If the ball was already in play, an indirect free-kick from the spot where the initiator touched—not merely “kicked”—the ball is appropriate. If the ball was out of play, the restart for a violation depends upon how the circumvention began. If the action began from a free-kick or goal-kick that was properly taken, the restart will again be an indirect free-kick from the spot where the initiator of the trickery played it, regardless of whether he took the kick or was further along in the sequence of play. If the goal-kick or free-kick was not properly taken, then the restart must be that goal-kick or free-kick. This could lead to a situation where the offending team has a player cautioned (or sent off for a second cautionable offense), but still retains the ball on the restart.

The Law was rewritten in 1997 to reduce the number of options available to players for wasting time. Playing the ball to one’s goalkeeper was traditionally used as a way of “consuming” time. By the time the Law was rewritten, the practice had become synonymous with time wasting. Normal interplay of the ball among teammates is not a matter of concern to any referee; however, the referee must be concerned with obvious deliberate attempts to circumvent the requirements of the Law. In this case the player using the deliberate trick to circumvent the Law is committing unsporting behavior, for which he must be cautioned and shown the yellow card.

One clue to the correctness of the player’s action is whether it is a natural part of play or is clearly artificial and intended only to circumvent the Law. In such cases, the action is considered misconduct whether it ultimately is touched by the goalkeeper or not.

This would also apply to a ball kicked by a player to a teammate, who then heads the ball to the ‘keeper. In most cases this would be considered to be a part of normal play.

On July 23, 2002, we stated:

If a goal-kick, taken by the goalkeeper, goes to a teammate outside the penalty area, who heads the ball back to the goalie, this does not infringe the requirements of Law 12. The referee must recognize the difference between situations during dynamic play, when opponents are constantly exerting pressure, and events developing from static situations, such as free-kicks, when the opposing team must be at least ten yards from the ball. The referee must always consider the distance between members of opposing teams as well as members of the same team before making the call.

And finally a direct answer to your question:
First, the situation involving a throw-in directly to a goalkeeper by a teammate of the goalkeeper is not an example of the so-called “pass back” to the goalkeeper, it is an entirely separate indirect free kick foul which is listed in Law 12. The only things they have in common is that the action starts with a teammate, followed by the ball going directly to the hands of the goalkeeper, and that it is one of several indirect free kick violations by a goalkeeper designed by the Laws of the Game to discourage instances when, because the ball is being held by the goalkeeper, opponents cannot legally challenge for control.

Second, the “trickery” issue is misconduct, not a foul, and is therefore governed by a different set of requirements (in fact, the misconduct itself is being committed by the teammate, not the goalkeeper, and the goalkeeper does not even need to touch the ball in order for the misconduct to be committed).

Third, as a foul, the “pass back” or the “throw back” offenses are rare; as misconduct, “trickery” is even more uncommon. Whereas the foul only requires the referee to see where the ball came from (kick from a teammate, throw-in by a teammate), the trickery offense requires evaluating what is going on around the play in question and why (in the opinion of the referee) the play was performed this way.

“Ttrickery” should not be considered if the opponents had a fair chance to challenge for the ball. If the referee decides they did not and that is why this sequence was performed, then “trickery” should be considered.