July 25, 2014

Understanding The Advantage Rule

Referees apply the Laws of the Game in order to protect the game. However, one of our primar goals should be also to function as football’s servant who is interested in promoting and enhancing the game.  

In order to avoid unnecessary stoppages during a football match, i.e. to provide it with as much fluency as possible, referees have the opportunity to allow play to go on even in the case of fouls and other infringements of the Laws of the Game, if there is a clear benefit for the attacking team whose player has been fouled. This is known as "Playing the Advantage" or just "Applying the Advantage Rule". As we have seen in Brazil, some referees are consistently struggling to appropiately understanding this rule though - and this should be reason enough for looking more into this quite complex topic.

The following thoughts are based on the Laws of the Game, UEFA's Practical Guidelines for Match Officials and, of course, own accents and video research. I hope you'll enjoy and profit from it.


Step 1 concerns the basic perception of whether an advantage comes into question at all. Prerequisite for allowing the play to go on is the likelihood or circumstance that the non-offending team stay…:

1. … in possession of the ball and
2. … in control of the ball.

Staying in possession of the ball is not enough to deem a player having a clear advantage. If e.g. a player is surrounded by opponents, struggling to keep the balance or almost stumbling on the ground, there is no advantage for him even if he still is in possession of the ball.
That’s why criteria no.2 is significantly relevant as well. Any player of the non-offending team, who is in possession of the ball, must be in full control of the ball as well. These criteria must be necessarily fulfilled (even though they are not sufficient!).

Game Advantage vs Ball Advantage

Step 2 demands more cognitive capabilities and match reading. You must develop a feeling for anticipating the action in the game.

By (law-)book, referees should consider several aspects when deciding either to apply an advantage or to stop play (see Law 5):
- the severity of the offense
- the position on the field of play
- the chances of an immediate, promising attack
- the atmosphere of the match

Here you can already see that Step 1 is not sufficient for the weighing-up process whether to apply an advantage or not.

There are two different types of advantages. In the following we will use the terms “Game Advantage” (in UEFA terminology: “Team Benefit”) and “Ball Advantage”.

1) Game Advantage = There will be a clear benefit for the attacking team fouled, if the referee allows play to continue.

Scenarios where clear team benefit often crops up: The attacking team fouled…
- … is about to start a promising counterattack, maybe even with a superior number of players
- … is clearly and dynamically moving towards the opponents’ penalty area
- … has already entered the penalty area
- … has an obvious goal-scoring opportunity
- … etc.

This means (vice-versa): If the referee does not apply the advantage rule despite a clear team benefit, such as one of the scenarios mentioned above, the team will draw a disadvantage from it. 

In this case, apply the advantage rule!

2) Ball Advantage = The non-offending team have no immediate benefit from letting play flow, inspite of being in possession of the ball. A free-kick would be a greater advantage for them.

Scenarios where ball advantage without clear team benefit often crops up: A player has ball, but no game advantage, if he e.g….
- … has played the ball back to his team’s own defensive rows just after the foul
- … has no opportunity to start a counterattack due to a poor position on the pitch
- … finds himself confronted with defenders putting pressure on him
- … etc.

This means: Possession of the ball is not always an advantage. Often times, a free-kick is the bigger advantage, specially considering the intensity and frequency with which teams at the highest level practice free-kicks in their everyday training. The closer an infringement is to the penalty area, the higher are the chances to even score goals from direct free-kicks. This circumstance should be definitely integrated into the referee’s judgment.

In this case, stop the game and do not apply the advantage rule!

How to detect a Team Benefit: Wait & See !

As pointed out, referees are reminded to take into consideration whether staying in possession (and even in control) of the ball really results in an advantage for the attacking team. But how to proceed in order to identify whether this is or is not the case?

Apply the Wait-and-See-Technique! 

This technique is usually used by assistant referees when taking offside or onside decisions but applies for referees as well. 
In many cases, you can relatively quickly see that there is no advantage at all – so the free-kick decision can be taken almost immediately. In other situations though, you should wait and see whether a team benefit comes into existence or not. Based on this evaluation process, either an advantage is played or play is stopped and the free-kick given (see the illustration below).

Communicate your decision appropiately!

Referees are particularly reminded to communicate their decision in a clear way. This involves visible and audible signals.

In the wait-and-see phase, it can be helpful to move your whistle already towards your mouth a) to publicly indicate that you are waiting for a possible team benefit and b) to be quicker with blowing the “delayed whistle” as soon as you recognize that there is no team benefit.

In the decision-process, referees either have to communicate an advantage decision with the appropiate arm gesture and additionally by their voice (shouting “Advantage!” e.g.), so that not only TV spectators but also the players on the field of play are aware that the foul had been seen and not just missed!

If the wait-and-see process results in the perception that there is no clear team benefit which would justify an advantage, the free-kick should be awarded with the Delayed Whistle (i.e. the whistle just comes with slight delay). 

You should use your body language to communicate this delayed whistle efficiently, e.g. 

- … by remaining a bit more static in your posture than usual during the wait-and-see process
- … by then dynamically turning, moving and pointing towards the place of the original infringement and
- … by verbally explaining to the players that you had waited for a possible advantage. 

If you fail to communicate your decision as recommended, players and supporters will hardly understand your decision or, even worse, interpret your delayed decision as a sign of insecurity or influenceability. At times, the way of communicating your decisions as a referee is more important than the quality of the decision taken (key word: impression management).

However, you should not exaggerate the wait-and-see-technique and the delayed whistle – the circumscribed process should be done within a few seconds (round about 3 seconds maximum). 
As soon as a teammate of the player fouled has received the ball and has a clear team benefit, but loses the ball because of his own technical incapability or by facing defenders 5 seconds after the tackle, there is no opportunity to penalize the original foul by using your delayed whistle, as the advantage has already become effective (but was just not used efficiently).

Limitations of Applying the Advantage Rule, even in Team Benefit Situations

You should now have understood the distinction between “Game Advantage”, where an advantage given likely results in a clear team benefit – mostly clearly promising attacks or obvious goal-scoring opportunies –, and “Ball Advantage”, where the non-offending team have no benefit from staying in possession of the ball.

It is however not that easy. The previous theoretical part underlies several practical and game-typical aspects. Not every team benefit situation should automatically result in your decision to play the advantage.

Referees are reminded to weigh up the team benefit with the benefit from keeping the game under control and the players under protection. 

Scenarios where this theory meets praxis are:

1) The offender has committed an offense requiring a yellow card (e.g. stopping a promising attack).
If there is a clear team benefit, i.e. if the non-offending team stays in ball possession and still has a promising attack, referees have the opportunity to apply the advantage rule, coming back to the offender and cautioning him afterwards, i.e. at the next stoppage. 
Important: It is recommended that referees should already indicate that the offender will be cautioned at the next stoppage verbally and/or non-verbally while passing the offender. You should make use of arm gestures to point to the offender and tell him "Next stoppage: Yellow Card!". This will prevent irritation when referees caution a player with e.g. 2 or 3 minutes delay - otherwise it might happen that nobody on the pitch will remember the incident, let alone those off the pitch including fans and the so-called experts on the commentary seats. And this also helps you in "selling" a double yellow card (= 2nd yellow card) in case of a further, bookable offense committed by the same player. By pointing to him during the advantage, everybody can understand the decision since it was clear right from the start of the advantage that the offender would get booked afterwards. 

2) The offender has committed a very reckless foul requiring a yellow card.
In such a case, referees should stop the game unless there is a very clear team benefit from applying the advantage, for example a very significant attacking or goal-scoring opportunity. Otherwise, he should use this opportunity to caution the offender, send a message to the other players by showing immediate presence and to check the safety condition of the player who has been fouled. 
Moreover, stopping play after hard tackles and restraining from playing the advantage can also prevent violent conducts such as retaliation. Referees, who demonstrate immediate presence at the centre of attention and quickly caution the offender, will have to cope with less cases of retaliation or frustration than those who leave these situations going on in their back while applying the advantage rule.

3) The offender has committed any offense which requires his 2nd yellow card or an offense which requires a direct red card, so that he has to be dismissed from the field of play.
In these cases, referees should not apply the advantage rule unless there is a clear goal-scoring opportunity. This guarantees an adequate card showing procedure and prevents the offender from significantly taking part in the following action after his 'sending-off-deserving' offense.

4) An offense is committed by a defender inside the penalty area and demands a penalty kick.
Referees are reminded to wait how play develops. Only if there is an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, an advantage should be applied in the penalty area. If a possible advantage obviously fails to materialize, the original offense should be penalized and a penalty kick has to be awarded.

5) An offense is committed in the midfield and the non-offending team is about to start a promising attack. The player fouled has suffered from an injury and stays on the ground.
In such cases, referees should weigh up the benefit for the team to start or continue their promising attack on the one hand with the benefit from stopping the game to allow immediate medical treatment for the player fouled on the other hand. 
Or, in other words: the benefit from protecting the players must outweigh the team benefit in order to stop the game. This depends on every single, individual situation and cannot be generalized. However, referees should be reminded on their duty to deal with head injuries as quickly as possible by stopping play immediately.

This was very much theory and I hope that you have seen that the advantage rule is much more complex than you could think. In the praxis, it looks like that:

Video Clips

This video clip demonstrates the correct application of the advantage rule. The referee waits and sees that there is a clear Team Benefit resulting from letting play flow given the attacking team's dynamic movement towards the opposite penalty area. The referee communicates his decision using the appropiate arm gesture. Assistant referees should be advised to wait with raising their flag for fouls close to their position, too, as nicely done in this clip.

In such cases, apply the advantage!

Contrary to the previous example, here the referee shows no awareness for the clear Team Benefit the non-offending team would draw from an advantage. The referee should allow play to continue and consider to caution the offender at the next stoppage, or at least issue a clear verbal warning when the ball is out of play next time.

In such cases, apply the advantage, you can caution the offender afterwards, too! 

This clip demonstrates an example of "Ball Advantage". While the gesture of the referee is not clear enough, we can assume that he plays an advantage in this situation. The non-offending team stay in control and possession of the ball, but the player fouled has played the ball back to a defender before he receives the tackle from behind. There is no Team Benefit and no Game Advantage, instead of an advantage, the referee should stop play and award a direct free-kick, which would be the bigger advantage for the non-offending team.
In such cases, award the free-kick and do not apply the advantage!

The referee plays a brilliant advantage leading to a winning goal by applying the wait-and-see-technique, i.e. by not whistling too early, and recognizes the Team Benefit from letting play flow. This Team Benefit is not visible at first glance, but demands that you wait and see how play develops. The referee succeeds in reading the behaviour of the Suisse player, i.e. he waits and sees that he wants to get up to his feet quickly, and does not want to stay on the ground, with the purpose to profitably use the superior number of players Switzerland have at that moment. Unfortunately, the referee does not caution the offender afterwards.

Both video clips show that the referee actually well identifies a possible Team Benefit. However, he does not use his delayed whistle properly and only fulfills the wait-part of the wait-and-see-process. He should see that (A) the attacking player quickly loses the ball after his teammate has been fouled and (B) that attacking player #17 is unable to reach the inaccurate pass of his teammate. As soon as (A) the defensive player gets into possession of the ball quickly and (B) it is clear that the ball will cross the sideline before #17 can get it, the referee should return to the original offense and award the free-kick by using the delayed whistle. Specially the first video shows an example where it is absolutely necessary to come back to the offender in any way. A delayed whistle, strong warning or even caution would be the appropiate way to deal with this infringement.

That's how you should use the delayed whistle:

In this situation, the referee correctly deploys the "wait-and-see-technique". At first he tries to play an advantage. As soon as it becomes clear that there is no team benefit for the non-offending team, as the player fouled lost his balance leading to an inaccurate pass to one of his teammates being put under pressure by defenders, the referee correctly returns to the original offense and applies the "delayed whistle".
Pay attention to his body language: his posture becomes more static to indicate that he is monitoring whether there will be a team benefit. Then he dynamically turns and points to the place of the original offense to communicate his decision in a convincing manner. Everybody understands what he has just decided!

This video clip shows a very good advantage procedure. At first, the referee identifies a clear Team Benefit: another attacker has received the ball despite the foul and is moving inside the penalty area, with a good angle to pull off a shot on goal or make a dangerous pass towards teammates. He is not put under pressure and has control of the ball. Therefore, the advantage applied has become effective and there is no need to return to the original offense as the non-offending team has already drawn their benefit from the advantage. The referee well communicates this circumstance via appropiate gestures.
You can argue that he should better award the free-kick considering the extremely good position close to the 16,5m-line. But in doubt, a player in a thus dangerous position in the penalty area should be judged as the bigger advantage.

In this case, the referee allows play to continue and applies an advantage. However, the original offense is a very reckless tackle demanding a yellow card and the immediate attention of the referee. In such cases, referees should definitely stop play unless there is an extremely clear promising attack or obvious goal-scoring opportunity. If this is not the case, like in this video, stop play, quickly caution the offender to set a sign and check the health condition of the player fouled.  

This example demonstrates what is meant by taking into account the "atmosphere of the match". Even though the position on the field of play is not the best, the player fouled is able to get quickly up on his feet and is willing to quickly bring the ball towards the opposite penalty area, where many teammates are waiting for their last chance to equalize. It was the 90+4th minute with a tight scoreline, no need for evitable stoppages! However, the referee should not forget to caution the offender afterwards (not to forget the offender, it is a good approach to repeat his number verbally or in the inner voice: "21. 21. 21.").

Here, the referee recognizes the clear holding offense slightly off the ball and allows play to continue, as a teammate of the player fouled has a very dynamic movement towards the goal so that the team have a very promising attack. For this reason, there is a clear Team Benefit (= Game Advantage). Nonetheless the referee should definitely caution the offender for the clear holding offense at the next stoppage.

New Videos

In this clip, the referee applies the advantage rule instead of awarding an immediate free-kick. This can be done like that. The attacking team stayed in possession of the ball and headed towards the opponents' penalty area with some dynamic, so that the referee can deem this team benefit as a bigger advantage than a free-kick.
What the referee does very well in this clip is the communication of the advantage rule and yellow card given at the next stoppage. He clearly signals the advantage, points into the offender's direction twice and verbally tells him he will be cautioned at the next opportunity. The referee's teammates were aware of this procedure as well - the AAR nicely asked the goalkeeper to wait with executing the goal-kick until the yellow card has been shown and play re-started.
However, you should be reminded that in case of such reckless tackles, it can be sometimes helpful to immediately stop play to send a clear signal to all players.

This video illustrates the criterion "position on the field of play". If the referee had been aware of the severity of the offence, he should have stopped play immediately. The offender should have been sent off with a red card for clearly and violently endangering the safety of an opponent. To be fair with the referee, the severity of the offence was maybe only visible in the slow-motions. But at least a yellow card had to be issued.
Given this scenario and considering the position of the infringement 80 metres away from the opposite goal, with only a few attackers starting to sprint for a possible team benefit, you should definitely stop play. In this case, you should again weigh up the benefit from an immediate reaction, management and approval of medical treatment on the one hand and the potential team benefit on the other hand. The referee took the wrong decision here.

That's it - if you have other suitable videos or points to make, feel free to add them underneath the post.

What You Should Have Learnt 
Take Home Messages

1. The complexity of the Advantage Rule
2. Prerequisites of Applying the Advantage
3. The Distinction between “Goal Advantage” / “Team Benefit” and “Ball Advantage” – staying in ball possession is not enough! Not every advantage is an advantage...
4. The Wait-And-See-Technique to monitor possible Team Benefits
5. The Delayed Whistle and ways to communicate your Advantage / NO Advantage Decisions
6. Limitations of Team Benefit: When Advantages should not be applied
7. How to manage Disciplinary Sanctions in the context of the Advantage Rule


  1. Fantastic post and detail! I might use this to instruct Advantage.

  2. Anonymous17/4/15 21:03

    This post has really helped me understand this otherwise extremely complex rule! The videos are put to good use. Thankyou very much!!


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