Clarifying the offside law

I have to admit that I’m very much a traditionalist when it comes to the offside rule. It used to be oh so simple. Well, as simple as the offside law could ever be; you were either offside or you weren’t.

Notwithstanding that, in this article I will look at the new clarifications of the offside rule introduced by the International FA Board (IFAB).

The off-side rule has become over-complicated by the question as to whether a player was “interfering with play’ and by the even more complex question of what phase of play was the incident in or was a player active or not?

To my mind if a professional footballer isn’t active, they shouldn’t be on the field of play in the first place. Over the years, I’ve seen one or two players who it was sometimes difficult to tell!

The great Bill Shankly once said “If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be.”

The irrepressible Brian Clough had a very similar view, once commenting on the new offside rule: “If any one of my players isn’t interfering with play, they’re not getting paid.”

Leaving that aside, ahead of the 2015-16 season the body responsible for the reviewing the laws of football, the International FA Board (IFAB), has issued new guidance to match officials around the offside law.

The two new points of guidance are an addition to the current interpretation of interfering with an opponent but do not constitute a change in the Laws of the Game.

The additional IFAB guidance

A player in an offside position shall be penalised if he:

1. clearly attempts to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an opponent

OR

2. makes an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball

* see guidance definitions below

1. ‘Clearly attempts to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an opponent’

This has three elements: clearly attempts to play a ball; close to him; and when this action impacts on an opponent and all three of these elements are required for an offside offence to be committed, according to the Premier League’s official website.

Judgement should be based on the physical evidence of the movement and actions of the player in an offside position. Attacking players who clearly attempt to play a ball which is close to them, and in doing so clearly impact on an opponent’s ability to play the ball, should be penalised.

2. ‘Makes an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball’

The second part of the guidance has two elements and both an obvious action and impact are necessary for an offside offence to be penalised.

Match officials will have to consider whether an obvious action by an attacking player in an offside position means that the opponent would need to delay his action to wait and see if the attacking player in an offside position touches or plays the ball, and/or, the opponent’s movement or ball-playing options are clearly restricted by the movement and/or actions of the attacking player in an offside position.

Guidance definitions

“Clearly attempts”: this wording is designed to prevent a player in an offside position who runs towards the ball from quite a long distance being penalised (unless he gets close to the ball)

“Close”: is important so that a player in an offside position is not penalised when the ball goes clearly over his head or clearly in front of him

“Impacts”: applies to an opponent’s ability (or potential) to play the ball and will include situations where an opponent’s movement to play the ball is delayed, hindered or prevented by the offside player

That should all be clear as daylight to the reader now, but on a lighter note, I don’t know why the decision making process was ever taken away from the centre half, especially the ones at Arsenal. It was so very simple to understand back then. Tony Adams only had to stand still, raise his arm in the air and that was it; the on running forward was flagged offside. No confusion, no debate – simples!

It remains to be seen if the clarifications will clear up existing uncertainties or just add further confusion for officials, coaches and fans alike but reading the above carefully, before you set off to watch the start of the new season, is advised in order to ensure you aren’t hurling abuse at the officials for the wrong reasons!

I have to say that I agree with the idea that you can’t just stand in an offside position directly in front of the goalkeeper and get away with it any more. I saw teams suffer because of this a couple of times last season, when a keeper’s line of sight was completely blocked by a loitering forward, who was clearly in an offside position but amazingly not deemed to be either interfering with play or seeking to gain an unfair advantage.

Let the arguments and debates begin in the pubs on Saturday!

Clarifying the offside law

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