Of the 17 Fifa laws of the game, the offside (law 11) seems to be the one that gives match officials the most trouble with players, managers, coaches and fans.
And, truth be told, some journalists are not au fait with it either.
So let’s have a look at it and see where the real problem is.
In the beginning, and actually not that long ago, it was a simple process to decide whether or not an attacking player was onside or offside.
Back then, if you were nearer to your opponent’s goal than the ball without two defenders in front of you, you were offside – plain and simple.
The attacking player did not necessarily have to be in control of the ball or even anywhere near the play. In other words, an attacking player could be way out on the right, while the ball was played out to the left, and they would still be declared offside.
I remember Manchester United being knocked out of the FA Cup many years ago because of this very scenario.
Then the powers that be got together and decided that something had to be done. A few ridiculous decisions later, and we have what we have today.
Now, I’m not against change for the better. However, I am against change for the sake of change, and the offside rule change would seem to be one of those occasions when they should have left well alone.
I remember a referee here in Ireland telling me once how to judge offside if one is a linesman or assistant referee, as they are now called. He said, referring to a forward: “If he’s nearly onside, he’s definitely offside.”
These days, you have to be clearly – well, nearly – in front of the second-last defender. And remember, the second-last defender could be the goalkeeper.
It’s important to clarify that because there are still those who believe that it has to be two outfield players – not so.
The goalkeeper is a defender. It’s just that they wear a different coloured shirt so that the referee can see that they’re allowed to handle the ball in their own penalty area.
Didn’t think I’d have to explain that one, but...
It’s also important to point out that today, unlike as mentioned above, it’s not an offence to be in an offside position. You have to be interfering with play, interfering with an opponent or seeking to gain an advantage by being in that position.
Understandably, the new changes and the intervention of the video assistant referee (VAR) have thrown up some interesting angles.
Offside is now determined, sometimes, on the width of a toenail, and even then, the match officials don’t seem to stick to any kind of uniformity.
I was talking to a respected retired journalist recently and he suggested that the VAR guy won’t go against the on-field referee because, at the end of the day, they are not only colleagues, but perhaps also friends. I pointed out to him that the on-field referee has the final say regardless of what the VAR says.
And so the debate continues. I guess that’s football and that’s why we all love it.
Please stay safe and well out there. This pandemic is not over yet. Protect yourselves and your families, and observe all medical and scientific advice. No one is safe until everyone is safe.
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