Following on from my previous article where I discussed a radical change to the offside law and why it is necessary, I’ll add further to my reasoning today. The optical problems for the officials that I referred to is not the end of the story. Assistant referees have to remember that it is not an offence in itself for a player to be in an offside position. A player is in an offside position if any part of his head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half, and any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent, but at the same time he has to disregard the hands and arms of all players, including the goalkeepers.
The linesman should only then penalise the player in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or touched by a team-mate when he becomes involved in active play. This could mean interfering with play by playing the ball itself, or interfering with an opponent by preventing the opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by obstructing his line of vision, or challenging the opponent for the ball, or clearly attempting to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on his opponent, or making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of the opponent to play the ball.
Are you still with me because there is more to consider yet! This player in the offside position should also be penalised if he is gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent when it has rebounded, or been deflected off the woodwork, or an opponent. Offside should also be penalised when the ball has been deliberately saved by an opponent. A save is when a player stops a ball which is going into or very close to the goal with any part of the body except the hands (unless the goalkeeper within the penalty area). But, a player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save by any opponent) is not considered to have gained an advantage.
You probably think I am making all this up, but I am doing my best to interpret the rules and governance as provided in the IFAB Laws of the Game relating to offside for 2016-17. And I haven’t even finished yet! There are other considerations relating to both defending and attacking players leaving the field of play deliberately without permission. I won’t go into this in too much detail as I find it extremely hard to follow.
My proposal is simple, though. Firstly, I’d like to see the offside rule confined to the eighteen yards at each end of the pitch. I’m afraid I just cannot see the point of half of the pitch being involved. You cannot be considered to be goal hanging just inside your opponents’ half. I wonder if anybody anywhere has asked the question as to why we have persisted with offside in this great expanse for so many years?
Yes, they continue to tinker with the concept of interference, and active involvement, but it only serves to confuse the issue in a game that is generally very simple to understand. The introduction of this change would also have the benefit of stretching the game over a wider area rather than the players bunching up as they do as a result of the current offside law.
The assistant referees would still have to make the decisions that they do now, but surely it will be far simpler for them to do so if they only have the eighteen yard line to the goal line to worry about. But I then propose to take it further. To improve the accuracy of offside decisions at the higher levels of the game, then we must begin to use video technology.
Perhaps it needs to be introduced a little at a time, with extensive trials to ensure it is helping to improve the accuracy of key decision making in the game. So, for example, as a first step, when a goal is scored and there is a suspicion of offside the technology could be used to check the validity of the goal. Assistant referees must be encouraged not to raise their flag unless they are fairly certain of offside. The benefit of the doubt should always be given to the attacker. Video replays would only be necessary if a goal is subsequently scored.
It won’t be perfect but we will have greater accuracy and consistency than currently exists. Hazard was only slightly offside when he headed the ball in from Ramires cross in the Chelsea game at Upton Park in March 2015, but the replay showed within seconds that he was offside. In this example, at the moment the ball hit the net from Hazard’s header the referee would be asking the video referee “is there any reason to disallow the goal, for example for offside?” As we saw within seconds on Sky, the reply would be “yes he was offside, disallow the goal”. It wouldn’t hold up the game, the Chelsea players would still have been in the celebration process. Even if the referee had not asked the question, the video referee could have told him that the goal was offside.
If you haven’t read enough of my arguments and want to know more, then there are a number of frequently asked questions on the FA website to baffle you even further. But I’d like to think that the change suggested would improve the game. At the very least I’d like to see it tried out. It makes sense to me. What are the arguments against trying it? But will it be tried? Of course not, because the change is too radical. But should it? Of course it should.
The complexity of the other supplementary situations that I describe in this article must also be addressed. I remember once that it used to be a straightforward question “is the player in an offside position interfering with play?” If you added this to the 18 yard offside rule change, then surely it would be simpler for us all to understand.