Premier League make major rule change over ball boys and girls as they look to clamp down on teams trying to gain advantages after several incidents this season


Ball boys and girls will no longer be able to hand balls directly to players in Premier League matches as the top flight looks to clamp down on teams gaining advantages in this way after several incidents this season.

Tensions spilled over in a recent FA Cup match and Coventry manager Mark Robins was branded ‘disgusting’ for taunting a ball boy at Molineux. The youngster had been taking masses of time to return the ball to Coventry players when home side Wolves were winning.

The incident shone a national spotlight on how teams have been using ball assistants to gain an edge – or put the away team at a disadvantage. Elite clubs such as Manchester City and Liverpool have given direct instructions to kids in the past to make them ‘part of the game plan’.

Ball assistants are no longer allowed to have direct contact with players and must instead place balls on 14 plastic cones placed at strategic points around the pitch. Two balls will be behind each goal and five along each long side – players must take a new ball from one of them.

The Premier League has confirmed plans to alter the use of ball boys and girls in matches

The Premier League has confirmed plans to alter the use of ball boys and girls in matches

The change comes shortly after Coventry boss Mark Robins was branded 'disgusting' for celebrating in the face of a young Wolves ball boy who had previously been time-wasting

The change comes shortly after Coventry boss Mark Robins was branded ‘disgusting’ for celebrating in the face of a young Wolves ball boy who had previously been time-wasting

Robins ran out of his technical area and celebrated in the face of a Wolves ball boy after his side's late winner

Robins ran out of his technical area and celebrated in the face of a Wolves ball boy after his side’s late winner

Mail Sport understands the Robins incident was not the direct reason for change but was a trigger for change alongside other incidents where home teams have gained advantages. The League sees those advantages as unfair and believe these changes will lead to consistency.

The role of ball assistants will now be to retrieve loose balls and place them on the vacant cones. Where possible, assistants – often taken from the clubs’ academy teams – will be required to sit behind LED advertising boards and not interfere from the pitch perimeter.

In the 2019 Champions League semi-final, young ball boy Oakley Cannonier quickly returned a ball to Trent Alexander-Arnold for a corner which resulted in a Liverpool goal while Barcelona’s backs were turned and retreating into a defensive possession.

Liverpool staffers coached the ball boys before the game, which is a common practice up and down the country. Many clubs have, in effect, asked ball assistants to alter how quickly they return balls based on the score. If the home team was winning, for example, assistants would slow the game down compared to if they needed a goal.

In 2019, a ball boy allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold take a quick corner kick leading to Liverpool's fourth and vital goal in their semi-final comeback against Barcelona

In 2019, a ball boy allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold take a quick corner kick leading to Liverpool’s fourth and vital goal in their semi-final comeback against Barcelona

Similarly, Pep Guardiola delivered a video message to Manchester City ball boys ahead of a crunch clash with Atletico Madrid in 2022, telling them they were integral to the match tactics and asking them to prevent Diego Simeone’s team from slowing the game down at throw-ins.

If those games were in the Premier League, these tactical plans would now effectively be redundant. The top flight will believe this change will not only promote consistency on the touchlines but also protect ball boys from clashes with players, such as Eden Hazard who kicked a 17-year-old in 2013.

The rule changes have been discussed in the past but the League decided to fast-track the new guidelines halfway through a season due to incidents in the past months. This weekend will also see breaks in games for Muslim players to break their fast from Ramadan where necessary.



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