New guidance for referees on offside decisions

In the last couple of weeks we have published four articles about referees… 

Within these articles we have published facts and opinions which combine to cause us to worry once again about how fair refereeing will be this year.

But, as Walter reveals below, there is another twist, contained in new IFAB guidelines issued to referees…


New guidance on offside decisions

By Walter Broeckx.

Don’t worry, the laws of the games themselves haven’t changed this summer. That is something that is usually done when there is a world cup or sometimes when there is a European championship being played.

But each year we do get some extra guidelines on how to apply certain rules. We then get updated at our local FA headquarters on these new guidelines so that all the refs know about it and more importantly can apply it on the field.

This summer the IFAB has given some extra guidelines for offside decisions. The IFAB is the committee that is responsible for the laws of the games in FIFA. It is a very important committee as it is the one that will keep video refereeing away from the game or will allow it in the future. So they have a big power on what will happen and how things will happen.

On the FIFA website (yes we will even dig deep in the sewer for Untold when needed) this is written on the IFAB:

The IFAB consists of representatives from the UK’s four football associations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and four representatives from FIFA. Each member enjoys the same voting rights, with a three-quarters majority required for a motion to be passed.”

So the UK representatives have the complete power one could say, and this is because the first football rule book was written in England, and adopted throughout Great Britain.

But that’s not what I want to write about in this article. But good to know and keep in mind when video refereeing becomes the subject of their meetings.

Now the extra guidelines for offside decisions:

A player in an offside position shall be penalised if he:

1. Clearly attempts to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an opponent


2. Makes an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball

Let’s explain it.

1. Clearly attempts to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an opponent

In the first guidance there are 3 things that should be judged by the assistants (in a split second). Did the player in an offside position attempt to play the ball, was that ball close to him and did it impact an opponent?

The guidance is saying that all the 3 things should be answered with a yes and then the flag has to be raised by the assistant and an offside decision has to be given against the attacker.

If one of the elements is answered with a no then there is no punishable offside decision.

For instance a shot goes towards goal and a player is standing in an offside position close to the keeper. The ball goes by just past the attacker and ends up in the goal. We then have to see if the player tried to play the ball.

If he sticks out his foot then he tries to play the ball and it is a yes. But if he just stands there as a statue he doesn’t attempt to play the ball and it is a no and no offside decision. If the ball goes at the other end of the goal a few meters away from him it is more obvious that he isn’t active in the play of course.

But it also has to impact an opponent. Imagine the same shot and the keeper trying to play the ball, it is obvious that his action will have an impact on the keeper who suddenly is no longer sure about where the ball will end up. If the attacking player wasn’t there the keeper would know where the shot will end up and can dive for it. But with the player in front of him this suddenly becomes uncertain as he might divert the ball in to another direction and therefore the keeper hesitates to make a dive.

Last season we had a goal from West Ham disallowed when Song had a shot from outside the penalty area. Two West Ham players were in an offside position and one of them tried to flick the ball but he missed it. But he was close to the ball, tried to play the ball and by doing this impacted the keeper and so it was correct to cancel the goal. I said so at the time. Many pundits (who usually don’t know the laws and the guidance) disagreed.

2.  Makes an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball

The second guidance is a bit more difficult to see at times. It has two aspects that one has to keep in mind.

There has to be an obvious action and impact before the assistant can raise his flag. An obvious action is when a player decides to chase a ball coming from an offside position. When that player decides to go after the ball after first doing nothing then he has to be called back if his action has an impact on the opponent.

Having an impact on the opponent is what we could call ‘putting pressure on him’ so that he has more difficulties in getting the ball to a team mate or even lose the ball.

An example of this is when a ball is played over the top, the striker who was offside knows it and first does nothing. The ref lets the match continue but then when the defender picks up the ball close to his own goal line the striker goes chasing him and the defender gives a bad pass because of the pressure, or even loses the ball. At that moment the assistant has to raise his flag.

But this can also apply to another situation and for this I will give a link to a short clip from the match Arsenal – Liverpool from two seasons ago (I think). Where an Arsenal defender is impeded by a Liverpool player who came back from an offside position.

This also is an punishable offside decisions but not so clear cut for most fans in the stands. And the most difficult one to spot for the assistants.  If in the video shown the Liverpool players had just stood still it would not have been offside as he then made no obvious action.

But these are the guidances that we have to apply and that have been made more clearer now by IFAB. Let’s hope that all the referees and assistants apply them in the same way for all the teams involved. That is all we ask and want.

By the way there are more videos about this subject if you click on the link I have given with examples on how it should be done.


15 Replies to “New guidance for referees on offside decisions”

  1. Sounds like an accident waiting to happen to me.

    You’ll probably disagree but it seems to me it is still wide open to interpretation. Well let me put it this way, whether it is or not, it WILL be wide open to interpretation.

    Let me ask a few questions.

    Who will judge whether the assistant/referee has made the correct call?

    A) PGMOL.

    B) The assessor.

    C) The Media.

    I think we all know the answer to that.

    How well do we think the media will understand these guidelines?

    A) Very well.

    B) Quite well.

    C) Not at all.

    Hmmmmm. I wonder?

    Will The media make there judgements based on:

    A) The relevant laws of the game?

    B) The length of the grass?

    C) The team it affects?

    Nope I’m really struggling here.

    The more complicated the rule the easier it is to manipulate.

    As I say, sounds like an accident waiting to happen, and guess who’ll be on the wrong end of more of these ‘accidents’ than most?

  2. The answers to your questions sounds like a former great rock and roll band : CCC 😉 or better 🙁

  3. Attacker carrying the ball in on one wing. Another attacking player in an offside position on the other side of the centerline, takes up a position near the far post and 6 yard line, facing away from the ball. Attacking player shoots ball, bouncing it off the player in the offside position and scores with a bank shot.

    As the player is facing away from the ball, they have no idea when the ball is going to hit them.

  4. Walter,

    These guidelines will be impossible to determine in an instant and will be of no use whatsoever to those trying to follow them. They are not distinct or measurable and are far too open to interpretation so will cause confusion.

    If an ‘offside’ forward stands still but prevents a goalkeeper from getting to the ball who would be deemed to have committed a foul when the keeper pushes the forward out of the way?

  5. if a player in the offside position tries to obstruct the vision of a goalkeeper when he is defending a direct freekick or simply trying to save a shot directed towards goal will that be cause enough for a whistle?

  6. Walter

    “Last season we had a goal from West Ham disallowed when Song had a shot from outside the penalty area. Two West Ham players were in an offside position and one of them tried to flick the ball but he missed it. But he was close to the ball, tried to play the ball and by doing this impacted the keeper and so it was correct to cancel the goal. I said so at the time. Many pundits (who usually don’t know the laws and the guidance) disagreed.”

    It’s only a matter of conjecture on my part, but I would strongly suggest that if you got 10 Sky pundits to judge this, and a few other of these types of calls, separately, without consultation, there is no way they would all come up with the same decision.

    I would suggest that would be the same for Referees, and this don’t forget would be with time and replays.

    How the f**k we can expect the referees to get it right in real time is beyond me.

    As for the pundits getting it right??

    Well, we all know they’re always right because what they say IS the law.

  7. The ability of the referee or linesman to judge whether a player is actually interfering with play,trying to gain an unfair advantage or distracting an opponent is usually determined by watching the important players when a shot is taken. Since an official can no longer judge intent, then they must judge behaviour and outcome.
    As Walter correctly describes, regardless of the outcome, IF a player is judged to have attempted to participate in the play, whether successful or not or tried to confuse/distract/disorient his opponent or tried to cheat by pretending to not have seen a goal-scoring opportunity (as in Gord’s excellent example)then according to the IFAB recommendations, this/these player(s)are guilty of infringing the offside law.
    I am sure Walter will agree that we referees and linesmen become quite adept at making a split-second assessment of the above conditions and accurately deciding whether the law was infringed or not. There will certainly be moments where it is unclear ( our view was blocked, we were not well positioned, we could not get the referees attention, etc.)but for the most part we have 2 pairs of eyes (maybe 3)watching for this type of infringement and we usually get it right. We (the assistants) can signal an offside position but it is always the referee who gives offside so there is a built in safety zone in the law that permits consultation and discussion before a final decision is rendered. Once video replays are authorized, the entire process becomes much simpler as the ability to get close to the actual play from multiple angles is invaluable.

  8. OMGArsenal

    Thanks for thinking my example was useful. For me, the player taking up such a position and stance is trying to cheat the system. Would a caution for unsportsmanlike conduct be appropriate as well?

  9. That’s ridiculous. Intent should be irrelevant in an offside rule. If your actions, intentional or otherwise, adversely affect the opponent while you’re in an offside position, you shall be called offside.

  10. I think I never mentioned intent in my article and yes it is irrelevant to offside decisions. Actions however do matter.

    To give an answer and an example about the results of these guidelines I can look back at the save from Cech after the free kick from Oscar.
    The free kick where Ivanovic posted himself in front of Cech for a while.
    I think but I am not 100% sure that at some point Taylor came up to him and told him that if he would position himself in front of the keeper like that he would be called offside. Anyway he said something to Ivanovic who then went away from Cech and posted himself with the rest of the players.

    I think this question came up in the comments sections and there is the answer.

  11. As OMG said assistant-referees do (or should) constantly evaluate the attackers positions and keep them more or less in mind when the ball goes forward. Even a player who is seemingly not involved at all when the pass is made can become involved without that the ball is being touched by another player. Having a bit of a photographic memory (as I have for a bit) can be very useful.
    A high level of concentration is also needed and I think most assistants can do this because of their training each match.

    But it isn’t simple at all. Just as with handballs. I think a ref has to answer 5 questions (deliberate? ball to hand? hand to ball? hand natural position? distance?) in his head before he can give a handball. The other solution could be to give a handball whenever the ball touches a hand of an outfield player a bit like in hockey when a foul is given whenever a player touches it with his feet and in hockey it doesn’t matter if it is deliberate or not and no need to answer 5 questions. Simpler rules and less problems as everyone accepts that it is the law to not touch it with your foot and if you do it is a foul. And no discussions with the ref.

  12. Another string to the bow of corruption! Laws should not be open to interpretation. Simplicity is key – as is corruption! A complex Law is open to corruption.

    The term ‘deliberate’ is a farce in football. What is a player doing on the pitch if not deliberately active & interfering with play? The handball Law has nothing to do with position of hand. The ball has to be deliberately handled to be a handball. Walters any contact hand & ball makes winning penalties easy. Guidance to referees means the the Law is not fit for purpose.

    Imagine if there was a guidance to Judges for Statute Law! A case would take forever because the guidance would take a lifetime. Precedent has taken care of that.

    In football only Simple Laws can make the game easier to officiate & difficult to corrupt.

  13. AS Menace (among others) says, rules should not be open to interpretation for obvious reasons. The whole of the ball crosses the line or doesn’t cross the line…simple.

    We all know damned well that a rule that is open to interpretation will go in favour of the home team 9 times out of 10 at Old Trafford and to the opposition 9 times out of 10 when playing against us.


  14. jambug 🙂
    “The more complicated the rule the easier it is to manipulate.”

    Menace 🙂
    “The term ‘deliberate’ is a farce in football. What is a player doing on the pitch if not deliberately active & interfering with play? ”

    We can only wait and see how it is implemented by the refs. Do they understand it or are they in the dark?

    Maybe all this meant to inject a certain randomness into football, instead of having the best team winning all the time? Who knows(can perceive) the thought processes of those making the rules anyway?

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