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The Offside Rule of Football (Soccer)

A passionate Football (Soccer) fan who is into the sport as both a player, a fan, and in the future, a coach.

Debate on Liverpool Fc's Sadio Mane's goal against West Ham United Fc in the English Premier League.

Debate on Liverpool Fc's Sadio Mane's goal against West Ham United Fc in the English Premier League.

What's an Offside Rule?

To begin, the offside rule, which is codified as Law 11 of the Laws of the Game, is one of the most important rules in football. This law has existed for over 150 years, which is almost as long as the sport itself.

A player is only offside if any of their body parts, except their hands and arms, are in the opponent's half of the field and closer to the opponent's goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent (this is usually the goalkeeper).

This partially addresses why there are three referees on the field at once and one on the sidelines; each match requires four officials. One is the match referee, two are the linesmen (more on that later), and one controls substitutions and time.

Linesman waving the offside flag sign during a match.

Linesman waving the offside flag sign during a match.

Roles of a Linesman

A linesman's job is to advise the referees if the ball has gone out of play for a throw, if the attacking team has been caught offside, or if the ball has gone out of play for a corner and whether it has gone out for a goal kick.

In some circumstances, linesmen are critical in advising the referee on player fouls. They also assist in determining whether the ball had crossed the goal line prior to the introduction of goal-line technology.

In the event of an illness or injury, a linesman may be called upon to replace the match referee. A fourth official would be called upon to replace that linesman.

Offsides, it ain't easy to explain, but you know it when you see it.

— Unknown

Juan Mata of Manchester United who was in the offside position prior to a pass to the player.

Juan Mata of Manchester United who was in the offside position prior to a pass to the player.

Does the Offense Start From Position or the Pass?

A player is only offside when the pass is played to him/her, according to Law 11 of the Laws of the Game. When an attacking player is behind the second-last defender and closest to the opponent's goal, they are considered to be offside. But what is the difference between an offside offense and an offside position?

Offside Position

Being in the offside position is not an offense. A player is in this position when their head, torso, or feet is in the opponent's half and closest to the opponent's goal line while they're the furthest from the ball and the second-last defender.

Hands and arms on the line are not regarded as offside for all players, and it is not an offside position if the player is on the same level as the last two opponents.

Offside Offense

An offside offense is only determined when the attacking player is deemed to be in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or passed to by a teammate. To keep it simple and sweet, the offside offense only applies to attacking players who gained a significant advantage over the defending team prior to a teammate's pass.

However, it is not an offside offense if a player receives the ball directly from the opponent's goal-kick, a throw-in, or a corner kick.

Here's a 3-minute video explaining how the offside rule works

An example of an offside rule being enforced during Tottenham vs Arsenal in the English Premier League.

An example of an offside rule being enforced during Tottenham vs Arsenal in the English Premier League.

Significance of the Offside Rule

When a player is declared offside and the game is stopped, the defending team is awarded an indirect free-kick from the position of the offside. Offside is not deemed a foul or a violation of the rules.

The offside rule is a crucial rule in the game because it prevents attackers from receiving the ball behind defenders, denying them a tremendous advantage in scoring a goal. In other words, it benefits the defending team.

Despite the fact that this restriction helps the defending team, clubs have developed well-timed passes and methods to circumvent the offside rule.

Offsides, on the other hand, is one of the most difficult judgments for linesmen and referees to make. It can be a matter of centimeters or inches, and it is crucial in matches since it affects whether the game can continue or if a goal should stand. As such, many controversies and misjudgments have arisen from the enforcement of the offside rule.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) determining an offside during Euro's match between Finland & Belgium.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) determining an offside during Euro's match between Finland & Belgium.

Examples of Crucial Offside Decisions

Here are some offside calls that made an impact on the match.

Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspurs, 2018/2019 UEFA Champions League quarter-final

Tottenham was ahead 4-3 before Raheem Sterling scored what was the crucial goal for Manchester City, hoping to keep their Champions League run alive. However, the goal was ruled offside by Video Assistant Referee (VAR) as Sergio Aguero received the ball and passed to Bernardo Silva, who was in an offside position.

Cameroon vs England, 2019 Women's World Cup

A goal was disallowed for Cameroon during the round of 16 match-ups between Cameroon and England. Ajara Nchout's goal was ruled out for offside through VAR review, which showed that Nchout was offside by a back boot.

Norwich FC vs Tottenham Hotspurs, 2019/2020 Premier League

Norwich FC was already 1-0 against Tottenham Hotspurs when Norwich's Temmu Pukki extended their lead to 2-0 before being ruled as offside by VAR. The significance here was that the player was ruled offside because of his armpit. The match ended 1-1, with Tottenham pulling one goal back to draw the game.

The most difficult to call in soccer: Offside a video from Major League Soccer.

Diogo Jota of Liverpool Fc had a goal ruled offside as his elbow crossed the line.

Diogo Jota of Liverpool Fc had a goal ruled offside as his elbow crossed the line.

Does the Offside Rule Kill the Sport?

The offside rule is beneficial to prevent teams from having a significant advantage over their opponents while benefitting the defending teams from having a numerical disadvantage. Yes, the numbers do not lie, offside rules definitely benefit defenders.

However, since the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), which was supposed to make offside decisions easier to call, there has been a problem where decisions were made in an unusual manner. For instance, the offside position only occurs when the attacking player's head, torso, and legs are away from the second-last player. One of the examples above showed that there were misjudgments, like when Norwich's Temmu Pukki was offside because of his armpit.

The good news is that VAR rule changes are on the way from FIFA. Hopefully, this will make the game more enjoyable to watch.

© 2021 Nigel Koay Talks Football

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