Last spring, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) — the group responsible for soccer’s rules — tweaked the offside rule. In principle, the rule (Law 11) remains the same, but the board wanted the interpretation of “gaining an advantage in being in [an offside] position” to be clarified.
Here’s the full section of Law 11, as if concerns defining an offside violation:
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
And here’s the clarification, from UEFA’s website:
In the context of Law 11 on offside, the following definitions (changes in bold) now apply to the above:
- “interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or challenging an opponent for the ball
- “gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball
- that rebounds or is deflected to him off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent having been in an offside position
- that rebounds, is deflected or is played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent having been in an offside position
In addition, from this season: “A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage.”
It might take a couple of reads, but on paper, it ultimately makes sense. The IFAB’s trying to be more precise as to what is (and what is not) gaining an advantage.
In practice, however, this means something new for UEFA’s referees, meaning the offside rule was a point of focus when officials met for summer instruction in Nyon. The governing body’s chief refereeing officer, Pierluigi Collina, was on hand to make sure the new interpretations were hammered home:
“This course [was] very focused on offside, as it’s important to have the assistant referees attuned to the new interpretation and to the new text of Law 11. Offside is such an important thing that it deserves to be carefully dealt with.
“The main things to be considered now with offsides, in assessing the position of a player as interfering with an opponent, [involve] clearly obstructing the line of vision of an opponent and challenging the opponent for the ball. So these are the two criteria to be assessed in order to deem a player who is in an offside position as punishable.
“Gaining an advantage from being in an offside position … now the assistant referees and the referees should consider the nature of the play of the defender, because if the defender made a deliberate play, the outcome of the play doesn’t matter – with the exception of a ‘save’ – and so being in an offside position and gaining an advantage from being in an offside position is not an offence any more.”
In other words, there are fewer ways the defense can be bailed out by the offside rule. A player may be in an offside position, but don’t expect the flag to go up if your carelessness backpass gives him the ball.
It’s all pretty esoteric stuff, and for most of your soccer-viewing life, these interpretations will be irrelevant. But if you’re in a bar today and somebody says Stefan Keißling should be whistled offside after Rio Ferdinand plays the ball back to him, you’ll know what to do.