The offside law has long been under the scrutiny of many a football pundit. Ever since we have been forced to suffer the new interpretation laws introduced by FIFA to promote more goals and flowing football there have been far too many controversial moments to analyse and dissect and it appears that one referee's opinion can vastly differ from the next.
Let’s take this weekend’s Premiership as an example.
The offside controversy started with Tom Huddlestone’s winning goal for Tottenham at Fulham. With William Gallas in an offside position the big debate here was, was he interfering with play?
Following on from that Mikel Arteta struck for Everton past a suspiciously offside-looking Yakubu, again the same question applied. These two goals were allowed. Finally, the same day, Gary Taylor-Fletcher scored for Blackpool. He and Blackpool however were not so fortunate, with the assistant referee adjudging the offside Elliot Grandin to this time be interfering with play.
Firstly let’s consider the offside law:
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
Now let’s consider the examples from this weekend.
Firstly William Gallas was certainly in an offside position. What the officials have to decide is if he was interfering with play in any of the aforementioned ways.
Gallas made an attempt to play the ball, he was not directly in the line of sight between the ball and the goalkeeper but he was close enough to be within Mark Schwarzer’s vision. Initially of course the goal was disallowed but upon consultation between the officials they overturned this decision and allowed the goal.
This was, in this writer’s opinion, a mistake. Although Gallas did not touch the ball and he was not blocking Schwarzer’s view, he has made a clear attempt to touch the ball and is therefore surely attempting to be active. This attempt alone is surely enough to cast doubt in Schwarzer’s mind as to where the final path of the ball may be. In my mind Gallas is interfering with an opponent and certainly active. No goal.
Secondly we can examine Everton’s second goal against Liverpool. Mikel Arteta strikes the ball through a crowded box into the back of the net. Yakubu is positioned directly in front of Pepe Reina, clearly blocking his view of the ball and is therefore active and again interfering with an opponent. This one is much more cut and dry. No goal.
Finally Blackpool’s disallowed goal against Manchester City is a lot tougher to dissect. In this case the ball is played over the top of an advancing City defence into space for either Elliot Grandin or Gary Taylor-Fletcher to run onto. Grandin, in an offside position makes an attempt to control the ball but misses it. Taylor-Fletcher runs onto the ball from an onside position and scores past Joe Hart.
Many have argued that like Gallas, because Grandin does not touch the ball, he is not therefore active and not therefore interfering with play. This is where I think there is the greatest scope for interpretation and why the job of adjudging a player offside is almost impossible for the officials in the modern game.
At this point I should probably inform you that this writer is a centre halve by trade so my opinion comes from experience and also that of a defender. For me Grandin is still interfering with play despite not touching the ball. I would go as far to say that even if he had not made an attempt to play the ball he would still be interfering with play.
Let me explain. Defending is an art. It is not just a case of dealing with the ball when it is played towards you. It is all about positioning, reading the play and working as a unit.
In this example the Manchester City defence has expertly pushed up with the intention of playing Grandin offside. One might say they have done their job. Taylor-Fletcher has profited from this by stealing a march on the City defence and running into the subsequent space. For this reasoning Grandin was interfering with an opponent or opponents, is offside and the decision this time was correct. No goal.
For me, my position is dictated by where I anticipate the ball to be played and where the forwards are on the pitch, even if they are in offside positions. If the defence steps up to play a striker offside, said striker must surely be interfering with play. His position has influenced the defence to move up. He is interfering with play because the defence has moved out of position to create the offside. If another player then profits from this then of course, as a defender I consider the "non-active" striker to be active and therefore offside. It is irrelevant as to where the player who actually picked up the ball was standing.
There are too many decisions such as these going one way one week and another way the next. There is just no consistency. It is time for a review of the law.
Of course we cannot just go back to the black and white, offside is offside. Yes, it would make it easier for the officials but it would also make for some very irrational decisions. We cannot also go to video for every decision as this would take far too long.
Assistant referees are leaning far too much on the side of the forward at the moment and maybe a little more leniency towards the defence and their job should be applied. For the part of the striker, how hard can it be to stay onside? For the defence the art of playing offside has become a great deal harder.