Offside Distraction by Another Word

Mostly this season I have written about the changes following the re-write of the Laws of the Game, but I would like to turn to one change to the offside Law that was made a couple of seasons ago and which I don’t feel has been completely understood.

Prior to season 2014/15, there was an interpretation saying that a player in an offside position should be penalised if ‘he made a gesture or movement that, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent’. The International FA Board didn’t like that, presumably because it relied on the referee having to decide whether the opponent was distracted or deceived, so the clause was removed.

However, some countries and football federations opposed this move and threatened to introduce their own offside clause. This was dynamite. The whole purpose of the IFAB Laws is that they are the same where ever in the world the game is played. The IFAB beat a hasty retreat and although it wasn’t put before the annual law meeting for agreement, quickly issued a new clause. This said that an offside player should be penalised for ‘making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the opponent’s ability to play the ball’.

But what does that mean? I raise this now, because a couple of weeks ago there was a clear example in the Everton v Crystal Palace match. Palace’s James McArthur was in an offside position in front of the goal, when team mate, Damien Delaney, headed the ball across the goal and into the far corner of the net. McArthur didn’t obstruct the goalkeeper’s view or touch the ball but he attempted to head it. The goalkeeper didn’t know whether to dive to try and save the cross, or wait to see if McArthur was successful in heading the ball. In other words he was distracted by McArthur’s action.

Referee Jon Moss, after discussion with his assistant referee, correctly gave an indirect free kick for offside.

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