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Question Number: 34140

Law 11 - Offside 3/3/2021

RE: Travel Under 18

John M Corcoran of Newport News, VA United States asks...

Red Player A is in an offsides position. Red player B attempts to play the ball to him. Defender A jumps and attempts to head the ball, the ball deflects off his head. Instead of going forward the ball goes to Red Player A still in the offside position. Is that an offsides call or because the defender played the ball, he is not offsides.


If the ball was on the ground and Defender A tried to clear the ball and miss hit it and the ball went to Red Player A, would he be offsides? Doesn't it have to be a deliberate pass back that would negate the offsides?

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi John
Thanks for the question
In both the scenarios you present it is not offside if a defender deliberately plays the ball which goes to an attacker in an offside position.
Law 11 tells us that "A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball, including by deliberate handball, is not considered to have gained an advantage, unless it was a deliberate save by any opponent"
Have a look at this video
White 19 deliberately plays the ball which resets the offside so the goal was good. In the absence of the deliberate play by White 19 it would have been called offside.
Here is another one and as the Red defender played the ball it was also a reset
The pundits get it right in that the Red defender's action was a deliberate play albeit poorly executed which is a reset. If it was a header the same would apply.
You can hear the referee and the assistant discussing it as the AR could not see the touch by the Red defender although he knows the kicking action was a deliberate action. VAR and the referee confirms that it was deliberately *played* hence no offside and a penalty kick was awarded.
Now there is a question on what constitutes a deliberate play as distinct from a deflection or a rebound. Some advise the following as making a play deliberate
The opponent goes to play the ball which is a deliberate action
The opponent has time and choices.
The opponent has control of his actions which is not an outcome of the action
There is distance and space between the pass and the opponent playing the ball.
As to a deflection in many ways is the opposite off all of the above which is
The ball hits an opponent who does not move any/all of his/her body towards the ball.
The opponent has no time nor choices
The opponent has no control of the action.
There is limited distance between the pass and the opponent
In both videos the defenders met those deliberate play conditions as distinct from a ball that rebounds or deflects off an opponent or a save which is not a reset.
Now at grassroots level there is a larger responsibility on the referee to look for the "deliberate play" not just an assistant referee. Too often referees abdicate responsibility totally to assistants which for the majority of time will be okay yet there will be times when it is not the best decision.
Have a look at this video
The AR flags for offside yet the referee sees that the ball was deliberately played by a Green defender and he correctly waved down the AR flag which happened instantly. Greens protest that it was offside due to the erroneous flag yet it could not be as the ball was last deliberately played by Green. Had Blue kicked the ball which hit Green and rebounded to the PIOP then that would not have been a reset.
BTW I doubt it was offside in the first place as it looks to me that a Green defender was playing the supposed PIOP onside plus IMO the referee should have dealt with the after much better including the dissent by Green 4 towards the AR.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi John,
the LOTG tells us that if a defender DELIBERATELY plays the ball it will RESET any ATTACKING offside positional restriction.

Based on how you worded your examples!
On the header, it begins with a deliberate jump up towards the ball. NO offside play-on!
On the ball on the ground, it's a swing and a directional miss-kick NO offside play-on!

There is no excuse if that deliberate play is performed poorly, we do not reward mistakes, however, there are exceptions with some room to reconsider, a ball can skim off the head or be directed into the feet o at the body and be bobbled depending on circumstances.

One exception is IF the ball is -DEFLECTED- off the defender, in there was little more to it than an instinctive flinch-type reaction, creating body-to-ball contact, it is not considered as a RESET because in the opinion of the official the ball was NOT deliberately played because there was insufficient control exhibited due to erratic ball flight, high speed, little time to react only instinctive reflex so no good choices

There is also a 2nd exception if the DELIBERATE action involves a DELIBERATE save, preventing a possible goal or shot into the goal it is also not considered as a RESET because in the opinion of the official the ball was deliberately played as a necessary attempt to make stop a shot into or at goal so in effect, its TREATED as a rebound like a ball ricocheting off the post or crossbar where it would qualify as gaining an advantage should a PIOP get to it.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi John,
The answers to your questions hinge on the definitions of the words "deflect" and "deliberate."

In fact, your first example provides the classic example of the conundrum often posed to referees by the way the law is worded. You describe the way the ball comes off the defender's head as a deflection and the law says a ball that deflects of an opponent does not reset offside. However you also say that the defender attempts to play the ball which implies a certain level of deliberation. So which is it - a deflection or a deliberate play? The trouble is that the two are not absolutely, 100% mutually exclusive. As your description shows, a player can be attempting to play the ball and the way the ball comes off them can still be described as a deflection.

It's interesting that before the more recent wording came in about a "deliberate play" it was always the case that a play by a defender was seen as a reset of offside but since there was no definition specified in the law, referees were freer to decide what kind of play would reset offside - and what kind wouldn't.

A term that was often informally used by referees was "control" and so to use the current wording as a model, many referees would only consider offside to be reset if there was "a controlled play" by a defender, rather than a "deliberate play." Obviously that small change could make a relatively large difference in interpretation.

Not having been party to the IFAB's discussion, I can't say for sure whether they may have considered using "controlled" instead of "deliberate" but I suspect that if they did, they may have rejected it on the basis of it being too "defender-friendly" and more likely to let defenders off the hook.

However it could be argued that just using a literal definition of "deliberate" goes too far in the other direction and unfairly penalises defenders in certain cases (probably a minority of them, but still).

In fact there was a set of guidelines in circulation that seemed to partly reflect that thinking, and provided a much lower bar for deciding that something was a deflection. This was actually in an official FIFA (and UEFA) document although I have to say that the IFAB have never taken it on or published it, so it could arguably be seen as outdated.

It gave the following definitions:

Deliberate Play: Player moving towards the ball, The ball is expected, A deliberate act, Enough time to play, Balanced and ready to play, The ball is properly played
Deflection: Ball moving towards the player, Finds the ball coming against him, An instinctive reaction attempt to play the ball, Not enough time to play the ball, Has to find his balance first, The ball deflects from the player

Again, some actions could fall partly within both sets of criteria so they don't exactly provide a crystal clear definition either.

Anyway, to get back to your two examples, I may be taking a rather old-fashioned view of things but I think the first would be the more likely of the two to fall under the definition of a deflection (especially if using the FIFA/UEFA guidelines quoted above) and the second is much more likely to be seen as a deliberate play.

Having said that, in today's environment I suspect both would probably be seen as a deliberate play although ultimately, both would still be subject to the referee's best judgement.

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