A goalkeeper is any team’s most specialized player in soccer. He can play as an outfield player and handle the ball when within his penalty box.
A goalkeeper was initially allowed to handle the ball anywhere inside his half as long as he didn’t “carry” it. But it’s not the 19th century anymore, and a lot has changed in the game.
Between having an unfair advantage and concerns regarding slowing the game’s pace, the goalkeeper’s privilege of handling the ball shrank as the years passed by.
The latest amendment in these restrictions came in 1997. This new reform allowed a goalie only to handle the ball within his penalty box. Also, instead of two steps or four, the new rule restricts a goalie to only hold on to the ball for six seconds.
If the goalie doesn’t kick, pass, or throw the ball to another player within six seconds of picking it, an indirect freekick is awarded to the opposing side.
This was the first time a countdown was put on a soccer goalie instead of allowing a certain number of steps to carry or hold on to the ball.
How many steps can a goalie take in soccer?
Soccer doesn’t see a lot of goals like most other sports. Teams have to battle tooth and nail before finding an opening and taking a shot at the goal.
Teams, especially when they are winning, will use different tactics to run down the clock. You may think it’s the substitutions that delay the game more than usual. But it was actually the goalies that were worst in slowing the game.
Thanks to the new 6-seconds rule, they don’t have that power anymore. But, to show how soccer goalies manipulated their privilege of handling the ball, here’s a quick rundown of how the rule relating to how many steps a goalie can take has changed over time.
Goalie carrying the ball for two steps
Before 1883, a soccer goalie wasn’t allowed to carry the ball at all. That means he can only pick it up from the ground and throw it to another player while standing his ground.
However, this rule raised many questions and attracted a lot of criticism. If the goalie has to throw the ball to another player, he doesn’t necessarily need to move from his spot.
But if a goalie wants to kick the ball far, it is very natural to take a step or two before releasing the ball into the air and striking it.
So, FIFA introduced a new rule in 1883 that allowed a goalie to take two steps while carrying the ball. It gave a goalie the liberty to kick the ball freely after picking it up.
Goalie carrying the ball for four steps
The second major change in this restriction came in 1931 when the rules allowed a goalie to take four steps instead of two while carrying the ball.
This amendment came after many debates over how the existing rules still restricted a goalie’s ability to switch the momentum and pass the ball to an open teammate.
Yes, a goalie can take a kick well within two steps. However, when a goalie picks up the ball while surrounded by players of both teams, it’s not ideal to kick the ball while being in such close range of other players.
The shot can easily get obstructed and interfere with the intended pass of the keeper. So, to settle this dispute, FIFA enabled a goalie to carry the ball for four steps before releasing it.
Goalie carrying/handling the ball for six seconds
Allowing goalies to take four steps before releasing the ball gave keepers their freedom. But it also led to a major misuse of the privilege granted by FIFA.
A team leading the scoreboard by the second half of the game often tries to waste time to build pressure on the losing side and prevent them from scoring.
The goalies were the pawns playing this dirty game. If you watch any soccer game before the 90s, you’ll clearly see how some goalies misused this privilege.
A goalie would only take three steps, drop the ball to lure an attacker close, and pick the ball up again since he still had one step remaining. This slowed the games immensely and conflicted with fair-play regulations in soccer.
So, it was in 1997 that FIFA decided to exclude the rule allowing a goalie to carry the ball for any number of steps. Instead, they introduced a new time-based restriction.
Ever since, a goalie is only allowed to carry or hold on to the ball for no more than six seconds.
During those six seconds, a goalie is free to take as many steps inside his penalty box as he needs to find the perfect target for the ball.
How the 6-seconds rule has affected the game
The 6-seconds rule has sped up the game’s pace a lot and allowed the goalies to change momentum by bypassing nearby attackers quickly. Also, a goalie can’t waste a lot of time like before by holding on to the ball.
If the goalie fails to release the ball within six seconds of picking it up, the attacking side gets an indirect freekick.
However, it is very rare for a referee to blow his whistle for this foul. Referees generally start counting the time when the goalie stands up with the ball and not when he’s on the ground.
Soccer goalies can carry the ball for six seconds before passing it to another player. During this time, he or she can take as many steps as necessary or stand still at the spot.
However, it wasn’t always this way. Soccer goalies were only allowed to take four or two steps while carrying the ball before.
Thanks to this rule, goalkeepers only have a very minimal amount of time they can eat out of the game. This makes it harder for goalies to frustrate the opponent and the fans too.
Related post: How Far Can a Soccer Goalie Go?
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!