Saturday, 20 Apr 2024

How Long Can a Goalkeeper Hold the Ball?

how long can a goalkeeper hold the ball

If you’ve ever played FIFA or watched a football match, you’ve probably wondered how long a goalkeeper can hold onto the ball. It’s a common scenario: the keeper has the ball in hand, but no passing options. As the seconds tick away, you start to wonder if there’s a time limit. Well, the answer is yes – and it’s not as straightforward as you might think.

The Law

Believe it or not, there is an official rule governing how long a goalkeeper can hold onto the ball. According to the IFAB (International Football Association Board) rulebook ‘Laws of the Game 2022-23’ under ‘Law 12’, the goalkeeper can only control the ball with their hand or arm for a maximum of six seconds before releasing it. If they exceed this time limit, the opposing team is awarded an indirect free kick.

The six-second rule is designed to maintain the pace of the game and prevent time-wasting by the leading team. It’s a fair rule that ensures the excitement remains high, especially during critical moments. However, in practice, enforcing this rule is not as straightforward as it seems.

Effectiveness and Implementation of the Rule

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Research conducted in the German Bundesliga, the top flight of German football, revealed that the six-second rule is violated in a significant number of situations. In fact, over one-third of ball-in-hand situations should have resulted in an indirect free kick for the opposing team. Surprisingly, not a single booking was made for time-wasting in these instances.

Referees often use their discretion when it comes to minor infringements of the rules. The unwritten ’18th Law of Common Sense’ allows them to judge situations with a fairer attitude. However, this discretion can lead to inconsistencies and varying levels of punishment. Additionally, accurate timekeeping through a wristwatch is challenging for referees in the heat of the moment.

While VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology could provide accurate time measurements, it would slow down the game, which goes against the purpose of the rule. As a result, the six-second rule remains largely unenforceable, especially in the fast-paced modern game.

Why Has the Law Not Been Phased out of the Game?


Despite its shortcomings, the six-second rule serves a purpose. It allows referees to book goalkeepers for flagrant violations of the rule, thereby discouraging excessive time-wasting. However, some situations, like the one Liverpool faced in their Europa League campaign, call for a revision of the rule.

In that match, Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, held onto the ball for over twenty seconds, well beyond the six-second limit. The referee’s intervention resulted in an indirect free kick for the opposing team, ultimately impacting the outcome of the game. While the referee’s decision was justified, it sparked controversy among fans.

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Revising the rule presents challenges, as defining a more specific time limit would be difficult without compromising the speed and flow of the game. Referees rely on their knowledge of the rules and their awareness of the game’s dynamics to make on-the-spot decisions. Ignoring minor infringements of the six-second rule allows the game to flow smoothly without disrupting the rhythm.

In the end, if the rule isn’t seen as broken, there’s no need to fix it. Despite its flaws, the six-second rule remains an integral part of the game, contributing to its dynamics and strategic elements.


Q: Does the six-second rule apply to all levels of football?
A: Yes, the six-second rule applies to association football globally, except for eight sovereign states that are not yet recognized by FIFA.

Q: How is the time limit of six seconds measured?
A: Referees rely on their judgment and discretion to determine if a goalkeeper has held onto the ball for an excessive amount of time.

Q: Are there any other rules related to time-wasting in football?
A: Yes, there are various rules and regulations in place to prevent time-wasting, such as yellow cards for deliberate delays during throw-ins or goal kicks.

Q: Can the six-second rule be revised in the future?
A: It’s possible, but any revision would need to consider the impact on the speed and flow of the game.


The six-second rule is a unique aspect of football that adds strategic elements to the game. While its implementation and enforcement may be challenging, it remains an important rule to prevent excessive time-wasting by goalkeepers. So next time you watch a match, keep an eye on how long the goalkeeper holds onto the ball and appreciate the delicate balance between maintaining the pace of the game and fair play. For more football-related insights, visit Pesstatsdatabase.

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