During the International Football Association Board (IFAB) Annual General Meeting in Edinburgh on March 2, 2013, IFAB considered a number of proposals to amend the Laws of the Game. Among the proposals considered were changes to Law 11 – Offside that were submitted for IFAB’s consideration by FIFA. In particular, FIFA wanted to discuss how to clarify and eliminate confusion “regarding what is meant by rebound, deflection and when the ball has been deliberately saved.” In the opinion of FIFA, the wording of Law 11 was not precise enough and left “too much room for interpretation.”
Ultimately, in its Circular No. 1362, IFAB announced that it approved the various instructions, directives and amendments to the Laws of the Game, including those related to Law 11 – Offside. These changes became effective July 1, 2013.
Importantly, however, the new directives did not actually change the wording of Law 11 – Offside. Under the old and the new Law 11, “a player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:
- interfering with play or
- interfering with an opponent or
- gaining an advantage by being in that position”
Rather, IFAB effected changes to Law 11 by re-defining two crucial terms: “interfering with an opponent” and “gaining an advantage by being in that position.” For comparison, the old and the new Law 11 definitions of the two terms are shown below:
During the press conference with the media that was held after the new amendments to the Laws of the Game were approved, IFAB stated that Law 11 was particularly technical and difficult for referees and agreed to provide additional training material such as video clips in order to provide for greater consistency and clarity as to how Law 11 should be applied. We were able to obtain these instructional videos and will refer to them below as we discuss the new amendments to Law 11.
I. INTERFERING WITH AN OPPONENT
Under a new definition, “interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or challenging an opponent for the ball. A quick comparison with the old definition reveals that IFAB decided to remove movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent from this definition. While IFAB did not provide any additional guidance why it decided to remove these phrases from the definition of “interfering with an opponent”, we take this decision for what it is; that is, as an instruction to referees to no longer call offside when players make movements or gestures that deceive or distract their opponents.
Consequently, as an example, if a player in an offside position looks to receive the ball but then deliberately makes a dummy by letting it pass between his legs in order to fool his opponent, and his teammate - who was not in an offside position when the ball was kicked - receives it, no offside offense was committed under current definitions and/or interpretations of Law 11. Provided, however, that he is not clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision nor challenging the opponent for the ball.
Under IFAB’s current definition of “interfering with an opponent”, there are two ways by which a player can be found to interfere with an opponent. First, a player can interfere with an opponent by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision and thereby preventing him/her from playing or being able to play the ball. Second, a player can interfere with an opponent by challenging an opponent for the ball and thereby preventing him/her from playing or being able to play the ball.
Our discussion will focus on the challenging of an opponent term. In this regard, particularly instructive here is the Video No. 3 (below). Blue 16 is in an offside position and clearly is trying to get to the ball. However, White 2 gets to the ball first by sliding and unfortunately kicking it to his own goal. IFAB’s explanation to the Video No. 3 states that because Blue 16 “does not prevent the opponent (White 2) from playing or being able to play the ball … he is not challenging an opponent (White 2) for the ball.” Therefore, no offside offense was committed. In other words, even though Blue 16 was in an offside position and he was actively pursuing the ball, which incidentally might have compelled White 2 to go after the ball, because Blue 16 was well behind White 2, he was not preventing White 2 from playing or being able to play the ball. In short, he was not challenging White 2 for the ball and therefore no offside offense was committed.
Under the old definitions of Law 11, Blue 16 could have been reasonably considered by the referee as making “movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent” and be penalized for being in an offside position. After all, what caused White No. 2 to make the difficult sliding tackle were the movements (i.e. running) of Blue 16 that “distracted” him from making a safer play. In other words, the old Law 11 left open to referee’s interpretation whether an offside offense was committed. Under the new definition of “interfering with an opponent,” and based on the example in Video No. 3, such movements or gestures, without more, can no longer result in a player being penalized for being in an offside position. We believe that Law 11 requires either physical interference or very close proximity to the player being challenged.
By contrast, IFAB explained that in the Videos no 1. and 2 (see below), because players in offside positions were running toward the ball preventing their opponents from playing or being able to play the ball, they had to be penalized for being in offside positions. As you watch the two videos, please note that the two attacking players appear either to actually make contact with their opponent (Video 2, White 7) or nearly doing so (Video 1, GK). Under IFAB’s interpretations of “interfering with an opponent”, the conduct of the two players constituted “challenging an opponent for the ball.” Accordingly, the two players in the Videos No. 1 and 2 were properly penalized for being in offside positions.
II. GAINING AN ADVANTAGE
The definition of “gaining an advantage” has seen the most of the changes. The “gaining advantage” clause was divided into two sections. Under both sections, a player in an offside position is considered as “gaining an advantage” when the ball “rebounds” and/or “deflects” to him. In the context of Law 11, we believe that the terms “rebound” and “deflection” mean that the either a player’s contact with the ball is accidental, instinctive or the ball and its trajectory, is not controlled by the player. Thus, any miskicked or uncontrollably misdirected ball should also be considered as deflected. Particularly instructive here is the Video No. 7 (below).
As explained by FIFA, “the shot by a teammate (blue 18) is deflected by an opponent (red/white 35) to attacker (blue 7) who is penalized for touching or playing the ball having previously been in an offside position.” The video shows that even though Red/White 35 is attempting to clear the ball, he horribly miskicks/misdirects it to an opponent Blue 7 behind him. In other words, Red/White 35’s contact with the ball was not controlled. Under Law 11, such miskicked/misdirected or uncontrolled contact with the ball is to be considered a deflection and any player in an offside position receiving the ball under such circumstances must be penalized for being in an offside position.
Contrast the situation in the Video No. 7 (above) to the one presented in the Video No. 8 (below).
FIFA’s explanation for the Video No. 8 states that “White 20 in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent (blue/red 21), who deliberately plays the ball, is not considered to have gained an advantage” and therefore no offside offense was committed. The difference between the Video No. 7 and the Video No. 8 is that Blue/Red 21 in the Video No. 8 deliberately plays the ball. He does not miskick or uncontrollably misdirects it. Rather, he deliberately and, in a controlled manner, directs the ball into the penalty area where White 20 receives it. Under Law 11, when a player in an offside position receives the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball, he is not considered to have gained an advantage. Therefore, White 20 was not penalized for being in an offside position.
Under the new definitions of Law 11, “gaining an advantage” by being in that position also means playing a ball that “is played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent having been in an offside position.”
The term “deliberate save” is a brand new term. We believe that it implies that the played ball must have been goal-bound. Under most common and acceptable statistical definitions, a “save” occurs only when a goalkeeper -- or a player -- prevents the ball from going into the goal. For example, NCAA awards a save to a goalkeeper:
“only if shot otherwise would have gone into the goal. A goalkeeper can be credited with a save without catching the ball. If the goalkeeper blocks the ball or punches it wide or over the goal, that goalkeeper can be credited with a save, provided the ball would have otherwise gone into the goal. To receive a save, the play must be a shot on goal.”
In fact, the Video No. 5 appears to confirm this understanding of the term “save.” (see video below).
In that video, yellow 4 is in an offside position. As explained by FIFA, “he is penalized for playing or touching the ball that is played to him from a deliberate save by the goalkeeper having been in an offside position when the ball was last touched or is played by a teammate.” The goalkeeper’s save came after he parried away a shot that would have otherwise gone into the goal. Therefore, if the ball is not goal-bound, it cannot be saved. Any deliberate play of the ball to an opponent in a “non-save” situation will not result in an offside offense.
Remember, however, that in non-save situations you must determine whether the ball was “deflected” or “rebounded.” If it was, an offside offense was committed.
Given these new directives, we are flabbergasted by a recent guidance issued by U.S. Soccer. In their instructional video commentary on the new Laws of the Game, U.S. Soccer advised referees to continue “implementing Law 11 not any differently than in the past” (see video below).
While it may be true that in most game situations, application of Law 11 will not be any different than in the past, there will be scenarios where referees, according to IFAB’s new directives, will be required to make decisions different than those in the past (see the Video No. 3 and the “dummy” example above).
For a related discussion on this topic, visit our Referee Forum