When Can A Goalkeeper Really Pick Up The Ball? (4 Scenarios Explained)

In football, we have witnessed confusing moments in football where keepers are unable to handle the ball even in their area and instead give into pressure causing a huge error. 

Otherwise, they may flout the Laws of the Game and get penalised for it with an indirect freekick awarded to the opposition team. That begs the question: When can a Goalkeeper actually pick up the ball with his hands?

Here’s what you need to know:

Can a goalkeeper pick up the ball after putting it on the ground?

Goalkeepers are the only members of a football team allowed to use their hands in play. However, they are only allowed this privilege within the penalty box. 

They use their hands to stop shots and prevent goals. Moreover, they also use their hands for distribution.

According to the Laws of the Game, the goalkeeper is not allowed to pick up the ball after previously putting it on the ground for the intention of a goal kick. If such happens, he will be penalised by the referee with an indirect freekick. 

However, if an opponent infringes on the goalkeeper’s distribution from a goal kick, then he is allowed to reposition the ball before playing it upfield. 

Can a goalkeeper pick up the ball after kicking it?

Usually this is not allowed, but it totally depends on the situation. If a goalkeeper kicks the ball and it does not touch another player, he is prohibited from handling the ball meaning he can not pick it up. Therefore, another player must come in contact with the ball after the goalkeeper releases it before he can handle it.

According to the Back Pass rule, goalkeepers must not handle the ball once it is deliberately passed backwards from a teammate via kicking or throw-in. Violating this simple rule results in an indirect free kick. 

This means that a goalkeeper is not allowed to pick up the ball again after receiving a pass from a teammate. Instead, he must play the ball with his feet to redistribute possession to his teammates. 

The Back Pass rule was introduced to make games less dull and prevent keepers from wasting time by picking up the ball instead. Sweeper Keepers became more popular due to this rule.

However, the Back Pass rule can be circumvented by defenders using parts other than their feets to pass back to the goalkeeper. This means a centre-back can head the ball back and the keeper is within the bounds of the law to catch the ball afterwards.

In fact, once the keeper catches the ball, he must not handle it for any more than six seconds. Some goalkeepers might be negligent of this simple rule and concede an indirect freekick. 

In the 2015/16 Europa League season, Simon Mignolet of Liverpool committed this blunder which gave Bordeaux an opportunity to score. Fortunately, Liverpool still won the tie.

Can a goalkeeper dribble the ball back into the penalty box and pick it up?

Goalkeepers are not restricted from dribbling. Depending on the situation where they receive the ball, goalkeepers are allowed to dribble back into their boxes and handle the ball. In fact, there are no restrictions on a goalkeeper’s liberties with the ball at his feet. 

Shot stoppers can get involved in play as much as they want.  

However, once they received the ball via deliberate pass from a teammate, they still cannot handle the ball even after dribbling. On the other hand, if a teammate uses any other part of the body except the feet to pass back or the keeper receives the ball from an opponent, he is allowed to dribble and pick it up. 

Top Goalkeepers are required to keep composure and dribble out of pressure when possible.

Can a goalkeeper pick up a drop ball?

The Drop Ball is a method of restarting play in football games, usually after an interruption. Referees use the drop ball after the game has been interrupted due to any situation besides normal gameplay, misconduct or fouls

In this procedure, the ball is dropped by the referee at the last point where the ball was touched before interruption. Furthermore, players of either side must maintain a distance of 4 metres until the ball touches the ground.

Although there have been many changes to drop ball rules, they used to be more spirited.

However, some drop balls may occur in the penalty box where only goalkeepers are allowed to play the ball instead. According to the Laws of the Game, drop balls in the penalty box occurs when one of the following happened:

  • If the last touch before interruption was in the penalty box
  • If the ball was in the penalty area before play was stopped

In such a situation, the Laws of the Game remain the same. A goalkeeper must play the drop ball with his feet once the play resumes especially if the drop ball occurs in the penalty box. However, he may catch the ball if it is played to him by a member of the opposing team.


Goalkeepers are the backbone of every football team. They hold the fate of their teams by acting as shot stoppers and are heavily involved in distribution from goal kicks. 

However, every top goalkeeper must be aware of the modern football rules to prevent costing their team through an indirect freekick. Therefore, a modern goalkeeper must know when he is allowed to handle the ball and avoid an embarrassing moment. 

You can find out which scenarios can the ball be stolen from a goalkeeper here.

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