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Question Number: 22860

Law 11 - Offside 2/23/2010

RE: Classic Under 16

Mark of Greensboro, NC USA asks...

This question is a follow up to question 22852

I very much would like to thank Joe McHugh, Gary Voshol, Michelle Maloney, and Dennis Wickham for their informed, insightful, and thoughtful responses to my question. Your answers make perfect sense and clearly back up the decision of the official in the match that I referenced.

I would like to say, however, that coaches, like referees, spend a great deal of time understanding and dissecting the Game. We too, have a vested interest in making sure the Game is played honestly, fairly, and with integrity. I think what my question, as well as your answers, points out, is that Law 11 is not the easiest Law to understand and interpret, even for experienced players/coaches/spectators. This particular nuance in Law 11 (that my question pertained to... specifically, coming back from an offsides position into YOUR team's half of the field in order to play the ball) seems to still have a grey area within it.

All of your interpretations were spot on and made perfect sense... because quite clearly referees are taught (and FIFA has adopted) the fact that no matter what else happens, if you are in an offsides position at the time the ball is played, all is else is mute.

My issue was that Law 11 also says you cannot be offsides in your half of the field... and if you come back from an offsides position ONTO YOUR HALF of the field (where offsides isn't possible) then that's that. However, as you all pointed out, clearly FIFA does not interpret it like that.

I have to say, one of you pointed out that defenders would be ignoring someone in an offsides position and therefore an offensive player could gain a clear advantage by being offsides and then coming back to play the ball. I would agree with you wholeheartedly if the play was taking place in the opponents half of the field. But the mere fact that a player is running 'away' from their opponents goal, some 10-20 yards into their own half of the field in order to challenge for a ball... 1) there's no advantage there, and 2) this rule seems to penalize the player in this circumstance.

However, now that I have a more thorough understanding of Law 11, I will coach my players accordingly. Thank you all for your valuable input and knowledge... and again, thank you for helping to make our Game what it is.

Answer provided by Referee Debbie Hoelscher

I enjoy very much working with my colleagues and I know they appreciate your kind words.

The offside (notice there is no 's' because there is only one side to be off) Law 11 is actually a very simple Law that has been over complicated. If you keep in mind WHERE the attacker was WHEN the teammate last touched or played the ball, and HOW that position affected the play, then it doesn't matter where he is when he gets the ball. His position matters, not where he was when he got the ball.

Additionally, 'gains an advantage' has specific definitions. This is not the same 'advantage' that is given when a referee sees a foul, but has determined that the team who has just been fouled would be better off if he allows play to continue: gives an 'advantage.' Gaining an advantage from an offside position is a totally different concept and does not equate.

Soccer is a multi-directional and multi-dimensional game. Just because one isn't moving towards a goal doesn't mean that they are not getting a benefit from their movement. If a player, who was in the offside position at the time the ball was touched or played by their teammate, then runs on to their own half of the field to play the ball, are they not cheating?

It has been determined by Law 11 that players cannot interfere with play, their opponent or gain an advantage because they were in an illegal position from the start. That they have run onto their own half of the field does suddenly provide amnesty to them. They cannot be involved in that play. Period. The moment they try, they must be judged to have infringed on the LOTG.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Coach Mark
Thank you for your kind comments.
Possession of the ball is always a huge advantage no matter the location. Teams pass the ball all the back to the goalkeeper to maintain possession. So clearly if a player, having been in an offside position, gains possession of the ball in his own half that is an advantage. It is not up to referees to decide the level of advantage and that does not come into it. Say in the next instant the player in this situation kicks the ball unchallenged 30 yards over the top off the defenders for a team mate to run on to. Is that not an advantage?. I go back to my comment about marking and challenging and a player not being able to use an offside position for the purpose of avoiding same. You will see in many professional games players clearly standing in an offside position before a free kick is taken. Timing here is everything and the player has to get to an onside position before the ball is kicked in order to play the ball. The reason he does this is to prevent close marking and to move to a position just before the kick is taken where he perhaps will not be closely marked or indeed get a 'jump' on an opponent as it were. He also knows that defenders would prefer to keep the opponent and the ball in view at the same time. Another reason can be to be unmarked in a 'second phase' scenario and in that case he does not even have to move if defenders place him in an onside position for the next phase of play.
When you say that a player cannot be offside in their own half that is indeed correct and many player use the half way line as their method of staying onside in these situations. Remember here that the player committed the offside infraction in the opponents half not his own half. He only met the condition of 'interfering with play' when he touched the ball in his own half.
For those of us that are around the game long enough will know that historically this was flagged offside in most instances as soon as the ball was kicked, without the player in the offside position even touching the ball at all. The player had to show zero interest not to be flagged. Some raised their hands above their head, others put a knee on the ground, others just turned away from the ball. FIFA has tried over the years to limit the ways players can be offside and this was one of them. "Interfering with play" is now a key requirement not just position. It has however made some forwards lazy in coming back 'onside' knowing that they will not be called for offside and introducing the scenarios previously mentioned.
As regards grey areas this is not one of them. There is a grey area about distraction in "interfering with an opponent" but certainly not with interfering with play or "gaining an advantage by being in that position" as both require contact of the ball.
The referee's duty is to implement Law 11 as set down by FIFA and when players become involved in active play by meeting one of the three criteria they should be penalised, having met the condition of being in an offside position when the ball was played by a team mate.

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Answer provided by Referee Gary Voshol

Coach, we appreciate your comments. Too bad the game doesn't allow time for scholarly discussions like this, isn't it? It would greatly reduce the frustrations of all involved. Part of the joy of working as a panelist on this site is when we can see that 'Ah Ha!' light bulb go on, whether it be a fellow referee, a coach, a player or a parent/spectator.

You said, 'My issue was that Law 11 also says you cannot be offsides in your half of the field...' Law 11 actually says, 'A player is not in an offside position if: ? he is in his own half of the field of play or ...' The key once again is that word 'position'. Far too few people differentiate between the offside position and the offside offense. Even referees sometimes fail to make such a distinction, which is why IFAB has to continually issue updates and guidance on the subject. Hopefully most referees are beyond the old misinterpretations where if a player in an offside position as much as twitched she was called offside.

We will agree that many times a player who runs back into his own half, or back into a crowd of opponents, to get to the ball receives little benefit by his position. (Although I concur with Ref McHugh's assessment that possession of the ball is often a big advantage to the player or team.) But sometimes a player who is caught in a 'classic' offside call also doesn't benefit much from his position - for example, a ball may be passed to a player deep in a corner who was in an offside position, when the player has no where to go with the ball anyway.

I might suggest that you take an introductory referee course. Even if you have no time to regularly ref games, the insights you get from the instruction on the Laws can help you in your coaching. If you can referee several games a season, you will gain even more knowledge - most of refereeing is on the job training.

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Answer provided by Referee Michelle Maloney

Thank you very much for writing us back. It is nice to know our answers can be of some assistance, and we appreciate the feedback immensely.

While referees do have some wiggle room when it comes to enforcing the Laws, we can't break them or ignore them. Ignoring the player who having been in an offside position and who then gets involved in play is not acceptable.

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Answer provided by Referee Keith Contarino

Thanks for the kind words coach. That said, I'd suggest you look at the answers one more time as there is no grey area here and there is no FIFA interpretation here either. You are correct that Law 11 causes confusion but that confusion rests in the fact that non-referees do not distinguish between offside position and an offside offence.

Law 11 is crystal clear with no interpretation needed: a player is not in an offside POSITION:

A player is not in an offside position if:
? he is in his own half of the field of play or
? he is level with the second-last opponent or
? he is level with the last two opponents. You can also add here even with or behind the ball.

Yet you still are insisting that 'offside(s) isn't possible' when a player is in his own half of the field of play. When you say offside(s) (drop the s) you mean an offside offense but Law 11 doesn't say that at all.
You also seem to be insisting that Law 11 only deals with one team somehow gaining an advantage. Again, not true and it's not an interpretation:

A player in an offside position is only penalised 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

An offside offence involves TWO things
1. the player must at the time the ball is played or touched by a teammate be in offside POSITION
2. He must become INVOLVED IN ACTIVE PLAY.

Law 11 does NOT say a player MUST gain an advantage. If he does gain an advantage he is penalized but only because gaining an advantage is one of the THREE methods of becoming involved in active play. A player that comes from an offside position to an onside position and plays the ball is interfering with play and it doesn't matter where on the field he runs to an onside position he still can't play the ball. Running into his own half isn't the only way he can go to an onside position. Any time he runs to a position where he is no longer nearer the opposing goal line than both the second to last opponent and the ball, he is in an onside position

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