January 18, 2014

What "deliberately playing the ball" means

Last July, football's lawmakers of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) have approved an alteration of Law 11 dealing with offside. Several guidelines and exemplary videos were necessarily given to the national associations and referee panels in order to instruct referees and particularly assistant referees properly in a worldwide dimension. This blog tried to make the changes comprehensibly explained as well. But how did the officials put the new guidelines into praxis? In many situations, the new offside rule was well applied by the assistant referees at the highest level. But some mistakes were and are still being made, also on UEFA level, which shows that this topic demands continuous attention. The following two videos are again supposed to emphasize and internalize a specific form of the new offside rule.

Tarik Ongun taking a correct offside position © The Third Team

Offside means being closer to the goal-line than the second last defender (some other restrictions do not have to be mentioned in this specific analysis). Some criteria is needed to be checked when raising the flag for offside:

Interfering with... (old version)
- “interfering with play” means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate.
- “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 movement or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.

Interfering with... (new version)
- “interfering with play” means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate.
- “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 movement or challenging an opponent for the ball.

Gaining an advantage (old version)
- “Gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goal post or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position.
Gaining an advantage (new version)
- “Gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball…
  • - That rebounds or is deflected to him off the goal post, 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.
  • - 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.

I am going to analyze a situation that occurred in the Champions League match between Olympique Marseille and SSC Napoli. Please go to video minute 28:15 if this automatically starting link does not work appropiately.

Because of the low quality of the video, you can find screenshots (first move in the rows and then in the columns) edited with different colors that will be used in the analysis here:

As you have hopefully seen in either the video or the screenshots, the blue team (Napoli) have started a very promising attack on Marseille's goal. A defensive player has made a long pass into the direction of two attackers (#9 and #14), who had been about to move apart from their defending opponents respectively. The attempt was stopped by an offside flag of assistant referee 1.

First question: Was one of the attackers or were even both of them in an offside position in the sense of being closer to the goal-line than the second last defender?
No. The first screenshot shows that both attackers #9 and especially #14 were in an onside position, while their team-mate touched the ball to pass it. The screenshots naturally withhold the high pace of the action. Some parts of a second after the pass had been executed, the attacker at the bottom of the screenshot (Higuaín) was closer to the goal-line than the second last defender. Our analysis could end here, as the flag was undoubtfully wrong. But in this case there would not be any added value..

Second question: Let's imagine that #9 had been slightly closer to the goal-line than the second last defender. #14 was obviously onside for almost a metre. Would the flag have been correct in this scenario?
Maybe. It depends on the interpretation of the referee and assistant referee. Even if #9 had been in an offside position, one would have had to gauge whether he was interfering with play or an opponent at all. The green marked attacker had been far away from getting the ball but then moved towards the bouncing ball. Having recognized that his team-mate #14 would have a better chance to get and process the ball and maybe even score a goal than himself, he stopped his run and did not interfere with play. Dries Mertens (#14) took the ball and would have appeared freely in front of the goalkeeper. #9 neither touched the ball nor was in an absolute playing distance. There was more than a metre between him and the ball. He did not challenge an opponent for the ball either. The only opportunity to justify an offside flag would be a clear obstruction of the opponents' line of vision. The goalkeeper was surely not influenced by #9, but maybe the defender (white jersey) who was closest to the two attackers. One can have different ideas about this matter, personally, I think that #9 did not interfere with any opponent despite his original movement towards the ball. But this alone is not enough for active offside any longer. So, with a better wait-and-see technique, the assistant referee could have recognized that #9 would not interfere with play, would not interfere with an opponent and did not gain an advantage from being in that position in the sense of Law 11. However, the most decisive circumstance is still to come now:

Third question: Was offside possible in this situation at all?
No. The defensive player surrounded by a red circle in the second screenshot had touched the ball before the attacker could receive it. The ball being touched by a defender during a pass does however not necessarily mean that offside is impossible. Only if the defender makes a deliberate save (commonly interpreted as blocking a shot on goal) or if the touch occurs unwittingly, i.e. if the ball reaches an attacker after a deflection from a defender, the offside rule is still effective. The attacker(s) receiving the ball from a deliberate save or deflection, while being closer to the goal-line than the second last defender, are to be deemed as punishable of "active" offside.
In the situation presented, this was however not the case. The assistant referees have to grasp the intention of the defender. The defender did not deflect the ball in this case. He actively moved towards the ball and carted out a foot in order to deliberately play the ball. This mere fact precludes offside, regardless whether the defender succeeds in clearing the ball by deliberately playing it or not. #9 and #14 could have been 10 metres closer to the goal-line than the second last defender, it would not have changed anything; due to the defender deliberately playing the ball, they would have been in a legal position.
At this point, it becomes obvious that the new offside rule really differs from the old rule, where the distinction between a deflection and a defender really playing the ball was not that much stressed. Turkish assistant referee Bahattin Duran got an onside position wrong, which is an acceptable and comprehensible mistake. The bigger area to think about and to worry about rather is that he furthermore failed to apply the new offside rule properly. Apparently, this rule requires more clarification at UEFA seminars and needs more internalization in the assistant referees' minds that were used to deem players as punishable of offside in different scenarios for quite a long time. In the concrete case, referee Cüneyt Çakır could have overruled his assistant referee by recognizing that the deliberate action of the defender excluded an offside flag. Thus, it is also a matter of teamwork to prepare better for such situations.

Renato Faverani perfectly interpreted the new rule © The Third Team

Please also check another situation where the new offside rule was perfectly applied by assistant referee Renato Faverani (maybe upon teamwork with Tagliavento) in the Champions League match between Schalke 04 and FC Basel (0:55 video minute):

In addition, there was an incident in the Italian Cup Round of 16 in Napoli, which can function as a paramount example of how the new offside rule works as well (the decision concerned the question of whether an attacker challenged an opponent for the ball or not):


  1. Anonymous20/1/14 14:26

    Some remarks (I am surprised that nobody has discussed this article till now because it is worthy of discussion).
    First situation: I mostly agree with Niclas's evaluation with one exception. For me it has no sense to mention line of vision. This term is primarilly connected with obstructing line of vision of goalkeeper (to be in offside position close to goalkeeper and prevent him to see the ball when attacker shoots on goal).
    Second situation: IMO, attacking player was not in offside position when his teammate touched the ball. So again, we probably discuss only hypothesis - what if the attacker was in offside position, was it the deliberate pass from defender? (Yes, it was, of course.)
    Third situation has nothing to do with the explanation of some terms in connection with apllying of the Law XI. from July 2013. Attacking player was olny in offside position and he was not actively involved in play. He neither influenced the play nor opponent and he did not gain any advantage from his position. Correct decision of assistent refferee is let the play on and before July 2013, correct decicion should have been the same. But very bizarre situation, indeed.
    Best regards.

    1. Thanks for your feedback P.L.
      You are right about the line of vision. I discussed this situation with some referee friends and they mentioned this as an argument for raising the flag. That's why I called this an area for discussion, even though I am convinced that the attacker #9 did not interfere with an opponent in any way.

      Second situation: this video is confusing. Better quality and a TV offside line show that it was no hypothesis but a tight offside position: http://www.uploadarea.de/files/97vl7tgfs8aehay2xa6m8i8mg.jpg

      Third situation: We can argue whether he did not gain an advantage from being in this position before July 2013. This video is specially important though to make clear where challenging an opponent for the ball ends. We know UEFA's definition of playing distance (max. 1,5 m). So this is no example to show what has generally changed since July 2013, but rather illustrates one component of the current version of Law 11.

    2. Anonymous20/1/14 21:30

      @ Niclas: I was aware of quality of the video in the second situation. If only offside - onside position was in question I (as observer) would have been supported onside decision of AR. Very tight situation and I am not for 100% convinced that it was offside position.
      @ Chefren: I am glad that I contributed to discussion in Italy. :)

    3. You are right, usually it should be decided in favour the attacker (and in the end also in favour of the AR in tight situations). In this case the attacker was only offside with one small step. Anyway I was happy that there was any potentially positive situation at all at this evening - you surely remember what Faverani's colleague did on the other sideline.

    4. Thank you very much for this article, it is really an excellent example with different scenarios to discuss. I agree with your conclusions except that in video 1 I did not see the white player "deliberately playing", but rather "deliberately saving" the ball, or at least attempting to do that. To me, his move indicates he wanted to block the ball and no matter how skilled he was he could not play it.
      Contrary to video 1, the video 2 is an example of "deliberate playing" where due to lack of skills, ball ends with the forward player.
      From my point of view, decision to amend the offside rule was good, however there is a thin gray zone on deliberate save/play which has to be defined much better for the sake of uniformed application of the rule. There also might be a precise explanation of the two term that I am not aware of and would highly appreciate if you could share it with me/us.
      Another issue worth discussing on this blog is deliberate save/play by the goal keepers?

    5. Thanks Shearer, I am going to find some more footage on this matter as proposed by you. Video no.1 is definitely a deliberate play in the sense of UEFA's instructions. A deliberate save is rather defined as blocking a shot on goal by a defender / goalkeeper. You should not take deliberate play literally - it does not necessarily mean that the defender really played the ball (which might suggest something like a controlled pass), but that he deliberate went for the ball and changed its direction by touching it. So it is wrong to reduce deliberate play on a succeeded pass and to argue with the player's skills. Only the intention to go for the ball is decisive (while showing no intention to go for the ball is a deflection facilitating offside).

    6. Thank you Niclas, this explanation changed my opinion on this. Regardless of that, I would still argue "the intention to go for the ball is decisive" and will refer to it as soon as I run into an example.

    7. Take these examples as further explanations of deliberate play:

    8. Niclas, I would like to have your opinion on this situation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnUz6mQzgEE 05:00min.
      1. The referee should have awarded penalty kick and a red card.
      2. In the light of discussion above, if defender used his head (instead of arm) the assistant referee and the whole referee team, should have considered it as intentional play and not intentional save,therefore no offside there, right?
      Thank you for your effort.

  2. I can add some remarks about Insigne goal, after the post written by P. L.
    Here in Italy there is now a controversial discussion about this goal. It was officially evaluated as correct decision (of course) by AIA. Nevetheless, there is a disagreement just about the statament written by P. L. above in this post. Indeed, some people think that it was a legal goal even in the last season, prior to the changes of the rule. Other people say that, until the last June, it was a goal to be disallowed. One could say that everything is related to the WAIT and SEE technique and therefore for this reason, this never became an active offside position, since Higuain did nothing.

    1. Did You see the AR raise his flag /at least partially/? I could not find a vid about it. However if he did raise his flag then it was quite missleading for the players. Could You comment on this pls?

    2. Yes, he did that, but just for a while.
      This was the reason for which the players were furious, anyway at the end the final decision is up to the referee, of course, so players can be only partially excused. They know that they must play always until the whistle.

      Video from the stands:
      not the best quality anyway about at 12:00 you can see the gesture by assistant, raising for a while the flag

    3. This is an excellent example where the WAIT and SEE technique/rule must have been applied/respected, nowadays and before July 2013. Good thing for the assistant referee was his change of mind did not interfere with the play and players moves (no matter how furious they were afterwards).

    4. Thx for Your answers!

  3. This is a brilliant post Niclas

  4. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!agilebusinessvalue.com |


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