Law 11 – A “Wait and See” Approach

So, this happened in a high level competition match in Spain, about three levels below La Liga:

35 yd to the goal, one player is slightly offside. He’s sent a long ball from the left wing, he runs towards the ball, he shows clear signs to play the ball, and I raise the flag for offside. All of a sudden he fools us all, lets the ball through between his legs, an onside teammate takes it, runs towards the goal, and scores the equaliser.

In a later clarification, the referee above noted that no defenders were within 5 yards of the attacker.

Under the old guidelines of Law 11 (pre-2016), this action was correct – flag the player as offside – Gorgeous and Stuff.

Under the new guidelines from USSF, IFAB, and FIFA, this is incorrect. Referees are to take a “wait and see” approach:

  • If there is obviously no other teammate of the offside-positioned player running up for the ball, then go ahead and flag as offside.
  • However, if there is one, do not flag and WAIT AND SEE what develops.

We have to remember that a player in the offside position that does NOT touch the ball and does NOT interfere with the opponent’s ability to play the ball – in this case, dummying the ball with no opponents within 5 yards as stated earlier – has not committed an offside offense.

The idea that “he made himself part of the play,” or “he intended to deceive the opponent” is NOT, repeat NOT, correct understanding of Law 11. Deception is not a requirement for consideration of Law 11 – Law 11 does not say “deceiving an opponent”, only “interfering with an opponent”.

Being part of the play is ONLY a requirement if the attacker has interfered with the defender’s ability to play the ball – ie. shielding, impeding, obstructing goalkeeper line of sight, or challenging the defender for the ball (other offenses that fall into Law 12 are to be penalized that way).

Remember also that “gaining an advantage” (as some have quoted as their reasoning for offside) is ONLY in the context of a deflection or rebound from a deliberate save – this particular point is spelled out in the Practical Guidelines for Referees.

The changes are nuanced, so we must be more consistent with the approach. It will take time to replace old habits with the new.