Sport

New referees, ‘pioneering’ kits and Robin Hood: Premier League is back

1) The five subs rule

Sold at the time as a short-term Covid welfare measure, it was never going to be permanent – because a permanent change would favour the rich clubs, and that’s not what the Premier League is about. So here we are then, two years later, with a new permanent five subs rule – up to five changes made at three points in the game, plus half-time, from nine options on the bench. Backers say it brings England into line with other top leagues and is a neater answer to player fatigue than cutting the (lucrative) fixture list; critics say it means more talent hoarding and fewer shocks – with big clubs having an in-play safety net if they go behind to a minnow. One obvious upside, though: fewer antsy press conferences devoted to the subject.

2) New match officials

Mike Dean, Kevin Friend, Jon Moss and Martin Atkinson are gone, giving more game-time to last year’s intake, Jarred Gillett, John Brooks, Michael Salisbury and Tony Harrington. The EFL referee Tom Bramall steps up, as do the assistants Natalie Aspinall, Nick Greenhalgh and Steve Meredith. Also benefiting from the changes is @therealMikedean, US hip hop producer and Kanye collaborator, who can spend less time facing down haters on Twitter: “I’m not a reff”; “wrong mike dean”; “soccer is wack”; “I AM NOT A SOCCER REFF U LIMEY … DO YOUR RESEARCH.”

3) A new rhythm

Six weeks wintering in Qatar mean a different flow to the season: the earliest ever Premier League start (5 August, beating 1999’s 7 August), no international break in October but one in September, a Boxing Day resumption but no traditional 28/29 December game, more midweek action and, excluding Covid delays, the latest ever last day of the season (28 May). Then there’s a June FA Cup final.

4) A new official ball

Nike unveiled the new Nike Premier League Flight in June, made of 37% synthetic leather and 63% PR fluff. “The Premier League Flight features Aerowsculpt technology, All Conditions Control (ACC) technology and 3D-printed ink overlay which fine-tunes ball flight.” That means it has a pattern. Yours for £124.95.

5) Big news for keepers

A sluggish sort of summer for lawmakers. This year’s Ifab updates: a) only referees, not mascots, can toss coins; b) keepers are allowed to handle the ball in their area (Ifab say this clarification will help referees avoid “misinterpreting” the handball law); and c) keepers facing a penalty must have “at least part of one foot touching, or in line with, or behind, the goal line”. Most energy, though, went into answering something that’s been niggling the panel since Eric Cantona flew over the McDonalds board in 1995: how would that game have restarted had the ball been in play? 27 years on, an answer: a player leaving the field to welly “an outside agent” is penalised by an indirect free-kick to the opposition “for leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission”.

Illustration by Mark Long for online version of piece entitled "Out with the old … Some of the changes to prepare for this season" that appeared in the Guardian Sport 2022/23 Premier League Supplement
Illustration: Mark Long

6) Some choice new kits

Among this season’s sharpest: Liverpool’s iridescent migraine aura away kit inspired by the “city’s pioneering role in the ’90s dance scene”; Southampton’s teal, aqua and gold docks-themed outfit which, say the club, “pushes boundaries of creativity and bravery”; Tottenham’s kids’ wetsuit design, “offering pro-level inspiration on the field or in the stands”; and Newcastle’s two new looks: a home kit, “iconic black and white inspired by the past, built for the future, honouring the club’s 130-year history”; and an away kit, white and green, honouring the Saudi regime.

7) A debut mascot

There’s a top-flight bow for Robin Hood, Forest’s mascot since 2018 – successor to Sherwood Bear, who oversaw their 1999 relegation. Forest say Robin has “a global fan base of billions of people in every corner of the world” and adds “experience and leadership to match days”. Also this year, top-flight returns for Cherry Bear at Bournemouth and Fulham’s Billy the Badger, who was sent off by referee Chris Foy in 2011 for delaying a restart by dancing.

8) Managers on the edge

Jesse Marsch saved Leeds last season with quotes from Gandhi, JFK and Mother Teresa. “I have 52 excerpts of books that I give players when I want to reach them and then hundreds of quotes. I love quotes, I love learning from people of the past, sports figures, historical figures, whoever. The key is learning which messages to use at the right time, to motivate our collective mentality.” He’s 13-2 in the sack race.

9) And a reassuring constant

Jeff Stelling, still on Soccer Saturday after dropping his plan to retire. But it’s over for Chris Kamara, who’s now busy podcasting, hosting Cash in the Attic and tweeting Jeff-based politics memes. He’s also, say bookmakers, a solid bet for a place on this year’s I’m a Celebrity – as is another much-loved football figure with time on his hands: Mike Dean, 6-1 at Ladbrokes.

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