Always Slightly Confusing Offside Law.

In the 28th minute of the Manchester United v. Newcastle match that took place on December 26, 2012, Newcastle’s fullback Danny Simpson drove a ball from the upper corner of Manchester United’s penalty area toward his teammate Papiss Cissé. At the time of the shot, Cissé was clearly closer to the goal than the second to last Manchester United defender Jonny Evans and therefore was in an offside position. Both players were at the top of the goal area but out of the line of sight of Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea who could clearly see the shot hurdling toward him. As Evans attempted to turn and face the field to have a better chance of clearing the incoming ball, he appeared to slip on the wet pitch and went down to the ground. While Evans was falling to the ground, the ball ricocheted off his foot and into the goal without ever making its way to the intended target, Cissé.

FIFA Assistant Referee Jake Collin signaled for offside and indicated that the goal be disallowed. Before pointing to the center circle, FIFA Referee Mike Dean spotted his assistant’s offside signal and sprinted to him to discuss the situation. Because being in an offside position by and of itself is not an infringement, the two officials had to decide whether Cissé interfered with an opponent at the time the shot/cross was taken and thus disadvantageously affected Evans and/or De Gea. After a brief discussion, the referee Mike Dean overruled his assistant and pointed to the center circle for a kickoff. Both club managers were up in arms about this crucial match call but each at different times and for obviously different reasons. (see the video below)

As noted above, in their pertinent part, the Laws of the Game state that “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 an opponent.” The IFAB’s interpretations further clarify that in the context of Law 11 – Offside, “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 movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.”

In weighing the two sides of the call, Manchester United could claim that Cissé interfered with Evans and/or De Gea and the goal should have been disallowed, because Cisse influenced Evans’ and/or De Gea’s decisions and positioning on the field. For example, Evans could have timed his tracking run better and De Gea could have focused more on Simpson’s shot rather than Cissé and/or Cissé’s run inside the penalty area. On the other hand, Newcastle could counter by claiming that Cissé was not an immediate threat to De Gea as he was well marked by Evans and that he did not interfere with Evans because he was behind him. Moreover, Evans’ fall was caused by a wet surface which is simply part of the game. Therefore, Cisse did not interfere with either Evans or De Gea and the goal was properly awarded.

Where does one draw the line? Match commentator, Ian Darke, described this as the “always slightly confusing offside law.” What factors are there to consider in this instance? Could the striker really interfere with the player if he had no chance of making contact with the ball? Could you ever call interference if the striker is behind the defender and the ball simply ricochets into the goal? Could the goalkeeper’s line of vision be somewhat obstructed and not trigger the interference call? And how could have the referee crew handled the situation better or more efficiently? Do you think that Dean understood and knew what he was getting himself into when he reversed his assistant’s call? Did the players, managers, and audience view the refereeing crew’s authority (ability?) differently for the remainder of the match?

Please let us know what you think. Share your answers and your offside horror stories. Let’s clear up Ian Darke’s description of Law 11 with analysis and critique.

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