September 5, 2014

Offside - Teamwork

One motto of this blog is: TOGETHER EVERYBODY ACHIEVES MORE !

In former times, referee controlled matches and took decisions widely on their own with no real support of the men moving at the sidelines. These linesmen were mainly focussed on deciding whether the ball had crossed the side- or goalline and on taking correct offside decisions.

For a couple of years the role of the assistant referee has become more relevant. He is there to be  take decisions in his area of responsibility and visual control, to take accurate offside decisions, but primarly to be a real support for the referee. This idea of having a flat hierarchy in the referee team and succeeding as a team is relatively new and makes some older assistant referees, who went through the "old school", be confronted with problems of adaption.

However, the conclusion that only the assistant referee is there to help the referee is too easy and unidimensional. The referee is also there to help his assistant referee, and as our partners of Offside Explained correctly point out: good referees know that! This fact counts for offside more than for every other part of the Laws of the Game.


Sometimes the assistant referee is able to make a correct judgement whether an attacker is or is not in an offside position, but has no access to the necessary pieces of information which allow him to interpret whether his offside position becomes punishable by being involved in active play. As you can guess, this depends on the attention and awareness of the referee though, which did not exist in the following example:

CLIP 1 - Missing Teamwork / No Awareness

An attacker is in an offside position at the moment of the header close to the penalty spot. If the header was made by a defender, this would be a case of deliberately playing the ball and the attacker, who scores the goal, would be in a legal position. However, as the header is made by an attacking player, his position is clearly illegal and the goal should be disallowed.
The assistant referee definitely detects the offside position of the goal-scorer. His body posture indicates that. But for him it is impossible to see whether the header has been made by a defender or an attacker. No doubt: He needs the information of the referee or even the additional assistant referee. Both are not concentrated and aware enough though. The referee is poorly positioned and is too far away. He enters the penalty area with a short sprint way too late and is therefore unable to see / remember who has touched the ball last. He is no help for the assistant referee.
In this case the mistake was made in a mixed team between Slovenians and an Italian assistant referee. While the language was definitely no obstacle, this example shows that you need a referee who has got an awareness for offside situations in order to form a functioning team. And you need experienced teams that have prepared or experienced such game scenarios earlier.

Referees should be therefore encouraged to be absolutely informed about and aware of the offside rule and the guidelines. They should develop a feeling for game-scenarios that might be difficult for their team-mates and keep these situations in mind. They should attentively follow play at all times! Otherwise they are no help for their assistant referees.

As long as there is a micro system, referee and assistant referee can use this way of communication for relatively clear cases of offside. The assistant referee should shout "Offside! Offside! Offside!" (and maybe the number of the offender, too) in his micro and the referee can quickly blow his whistle.


But reality tells us that most offsides are not that easy and clear. When there is no immediate impact on the match, e.g. a goal whose legality depends on whether a player must be deemed offside or onside, the micro system should be used. In the World Cup 2014 final, there was such a situation. The assistant referee was able to detect the offside position of an attacker and guessed that he obstructed the goalkeeper's line of vision, but could not be sure about that given his position. He asked the referee for confirmation via micro and, with the aid of smooth co-operation in an experienced referee team, they came to the correct decision:

CLIP 2 - Good Teamwork

At the moment of an attacking player's shot on goal, another white-dressed attacker is moving between the ball and the goalkeeper and clearly obstructs his line of vision. Play must be stopped for offside offence and re-started accordingly.
In this case, the referee read the situation and co-operated well with the assistant referee. Here's what each official was able to judge:

Referee: He is able to detect that the attacker was clearly obstructing the goalkeeper's line of vision.
Assistant Referee: He is able to detect the offside position itself and probably feels that there could be an obstruction of the goalkeeper's line of vision - but from his position, he cannot be 100% sure.

Putting both pieces of information together by the means of co-operation, the correct decision is taken by the referee and his assistant with some time of thinking.


In cases of really unclear or important goals that are scored with the assistant referee having doubts about a possible active offside position, it is recommended for referees to walk out to their assistant referees and the following seven steps of taking an offside decision based on teamwork should be applied:

5)  THINK!

The first three steps basically concern the assistant referee (maybe step 1) is also the referee's duty), steps 4) - 6) are based on teamwork.

1) At first, the offside position of a player who will score a goal is recognized by the assistant referee. He ideally applies the wait-and-see-technique.

2) A goal is scored and the assistant referee has doubts whether the player in an offside position maybe was involved in active play. If he has such doubts, he should NOT make the usual 20-30 m sprint towards the midfield line after the goal but he should stand still as a signal for his doubts. This is called "standing-still-technique". The referee is able to see that his team-mate has doubts and that something is not all right. His alarm bells should ring.

3) If there is a micro system available, the assistant should furthermore ask the referee to come to him to have a calm talk about the situation. The assistant referee should NOT enter the field of play but the referee should walk out to the sideline, calm down the players and ask them to stay some metres away not to influence the conversation. Players, who show blatant dissent by making pressure on the assistant referee or yourself, should be cautioned with a yellow card. But, as goals are often a reason for emotive eruption, you should invest more energy into calming them down and asking them for some patience before immediately sorting out a card.

4) Now you are alone and should discuss and exchange your thoughts, doubts and information.
Who touched the ball last? Did an attacker in offside obstruct the goalkeeper's line of vision? Did he have an impact on the goalkeeper's ability to play the ball?

5) Think. Interpret the information you have exchanged. What was the situation like? Good referees follow play attentively and have a feeling for potentially difficult situations for their assistant referees and can thus contribute to this thinking process. Haste creates waste.

6) Come to a (corporate) decision, either OFFSIDE (NO GOAL) or NO OFFSIDE (GOAL)!

7) Explain your decision! Briefly take one player of each team, ideally both captains, aside and very briefly explain the situation to them. Make clear gestures and be strong and determined in your body language. This will help you, as the referee, to sell your decision-taking process appropiately and will lead to understanding, credibility and acceptance for your decision.

Two examples where this was perfectly applied are placed below:

CLIP 3 - Perfect Teamwork

It is the last matchday of the Bundesliga season and Hoffenheim needs a win to not go down to League 2. Dortmund is having their last attack in the additional time and score the late equalizer:
A shot on goal is pulled off by a yellow-dressed midfielder. One of his team-mates is in an offside position and is clearly attempting to play the ball. After studying the replays multiple times, I even think to have detected a small touch with the ball which very marginally influences the direction and swerve of the ball. The player therefore interferes with play or at least challenges the goalkeeper for the ball.

The referee first allows the goal. His assistant referee is however unsure and stands still. The referee guesses that there is something which is not all right. Due to the immense atmosphere and loudness in the stadium, he is unable to understand his assistant referee, who asks to come to him, via the headset. The referee walks out, they discuss the situation together, exchange their information, think and come to the clear decision: OFFSIDE OFFENCE. The referee well communicates his decision, too.

This is a paramount example which expresses the courage and awareness of the officials involved, and which should outline the importance teamwork can sometimes have, sometimes more, sometimes less obviously.

CLIP 4 - Good Teamwork with an unlucky result

Similar to the previous example, this clip highlights a very good co-operation between the referee and the assistant referee. The assistant referee is able to judge the offside position of the attacker and is probably almost sure that the action of attempting to play the ball had an impact on the goalkeeper's ability to play the ball and could be either deemed as interfering with an opponent or with play.
However, he cannot be 100% sure about the distance between the ball's line (and the goalkeeper's line of vision) and the attacker. If there is enough space between both, the goalkeeper was probably not obstructed or impacted in any way. If the attacker however is very close to the ball's flight path, he has a clear impact on the goalkeeper. The referee is in a good position to confirm that to the assistant referee. Based on a short conversation within the team, the officials correctly interpret the situation.
The referee should however be more careful with asking the protesting players to go away and keep distance to him and his assistant.
Unfortunately, the player has not been in an offside position so that the interpretation becomes irrelevant - although it is of course extremely difficult to see.

However, keep in mind: Don't walk out to your assistant referee in every situation. The doubts must be really strong. Some things can be easily cleared via micro, others not (specially in bigger and louder stadiums this is often impossible!). If you walk out to your assistant referee in a relatively clear situation, this could create hopes among the team that just conceded a goal which will be disappointed soon. This should be avoided. Micro is first, walking out is second (if you have a micro system, of course..).

Teamwork can also include overruling your team-mate. When you, being the referee, are absolutely sure that your assistant referee's offside decision is incorrect, don't hesitate to overrule him. At first glance, this seems to express disagreement within the referee team. However you should consider it as a strength of a functioning team to put all relevant pieces of information together and come to the correct decision. Thank your team-mate for his decision or information, but overrule him for the good of the game. Of course overruled decisions are not ideal, but sometimes they are better than deciding wrongly.

CLIP 5 - Overruling an Offside Flag

The assistant referee raises his flag for offside because, from his position and line of sight, it might seem as if it has been an attacking player who has touched the ball last passing it to his team-mate in an offside position. The referee however well reads and understands the game situation and quickly waives his team-mate's offside flag (not captured by the TV camera) down with a hand gesture. The best thing is that practically nobody on the field of play has recognized this correct overruling.

CLIP 6 - Overruling an Offside Flag

A yellow-dressed attacker in an offside position is receiving the ball from a defender touching it last. The assistant referee is immediately raising his flag for offside. The referee has however correctly seen that the last touch has come from a defender and waives the flag down. The defending players are irritated by that and more or less stop playing. Conflicts and protests are inevitable.

Technically the referee's decision is absolutely in line with the Laws of the Game. It is the referee's whistle and not the assistant referee's flag which stops play. But of course this decision is painful for both the defending team and the match officials themselves.

What the assistant referee could have done better: He should have been more concentrated to follow play and spot who has touched the ball last. If his line of vision is blocked, he should quickly but efficiently consult the referee via micro who has touched the ball last ("Who touched it? Who touched it?"). 

What the referee could have done better: He should have been more empathic for the defending players. He should stay calm and should not over-react. The referee should take the team's captain aside and explain the situation to him. 

What the referee team could have done better: As a referee team you have to be prepared for possible game-scenarios. Communication is vitally important for that. Before a match, you should agree on a corporate communication code you can use via micro. The referee should encourage his assistant referees to co-operate - also in terms of offside decisions.

CLIP 7 - Wrong Overruling

Referees should be encouraged to participate in taking offside decisions. However, this more concerns the information & interpretation areas. Referees should never make judgements about an offside position itself! You are no superstar. Trust your colleague in terms of that. When it comes to interpreting whether a spotted offside position is punishable or not, time has come for you to co-operate. You probably think no referee would dare to overrule his assistant referee and correct his judgement of an offside position. But it happens. Even in UEFA Champions League, as this unbelievable clip shows.

A pass is entering the penalty area. At the moment of the pass, the attacker, who is supposed to receive the ball, is not in an offside position. Furthermore, he is not challenging the defender for the ball as he makes no attempt to play the ball, does not move towards it and has no impact on the defender's ability to play the ball. That's why the assistant referee correctly lets his flag down (at first...).
The referee does not have the attacker in his visual control at the moment of the pass. After the moment of the pass, he is turning around and takes the offside decision himself. He thus overrules the perceptual judgement of his assistant referee, who then raises his flag with much delay and hesitation. 
In short: The referee decides about an offside position of an attacker who is not in his visual field. The assistant referee, who is standing on the 2nd last defender line and has a clear line of vision, is overruled by the referee.

The referee's behaviour is not acceptable and violating the principle of shared responsibilities as well as teamwork. What makes this decision even worse are the circumstances that a) there was no offside position, that b) the attacker did not interfere with an opponent and that c) the defender thus escaped a penalty kick for a clear deliberate handball.

Obviously, the referee here did not have all relevant information to judge this situation. He has to rely on his assistant referee. Together they would have come to the right solution.

This post will stay dynamic, subject to changes, adaptions and additional videos. So you might benefit from having a look into it from time to time! 


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