Lessons from Swansea’s off-side goal

Many football mangers seem happy to admit that they are not clear on the offside law. Harry Rednapp said on television a little while ago, ‘I don’t understand the offside law anymore’. Reading’s recently departed manager Brian McDermot, said much the same when he talked to Reading referees at one of their meetings. Michael Laudrup, manager of Swansea City, however, thinks he knows it sufficiently well to criticise the referee and his assistant when they disallowed what would have been an equalising goal against West Bromwich Albion. In his post match interview he said, ‘I know that after the game we have two, three, four times to see things and then we can decide and that the referee has one or two seconds, But what happened, its against the rules. How on earth can you disallow a goal when the ball comes from an opponent and in this case two opponents? It’s like giving an offside off a throw-in’. Michael Laudrup certainly got several things right. First, you can’t be offside from a throw-in of course but this incident highlights an interesting area of offside. It is also true that the referee only gets one look at the incident to make a decision while we can take several looks, often at different angles before we make up our minds. In this case, it was the assistant referee whose indication of offside to the referee uncharacteristically riled Laudrup. It must be remembered that the key moment in offside is when the ball is played by a team mate to a player in an offside position. This is not necessarily the time the flag will go up or the whistle blown but it is something the officials have to keep in their mind. In the Swansea/West Bromwich game, the situation was that a Swansea player, Roland Lamah, was in an offside position near the West Bromwich goal. Of course being in an offside position is not an offence; it only becomes one if that player plays the ball or interferes with an opponent which is why the assistant has to wait. What happened was that the ball was played across the penalty area to a position in front of goal but a little way out. Another Swansea player and West Brom defender Gareth McAuley both stretched to play the ball. The assistant referee, out on the touchline, thought it was the Swansea player who had got the touch. By consulting the replay however, it was clear that it was McAuley who touched it last. The ball went on to hit goalkeeper Ben Foster who was out of his goal and lying on the ground, before rebounding to the feet of Lamah who promptly put it in the back of the net. Had the ball deflected off McAuley rather than him deliberately kicking it, the fact that he was the last player to touch it would not have been relevant; a deflection does not negate a player being offside. If however, he had kicked the ball and it deflected from the other Swansea player to Lamah, even hitting Foster on the way, Lamah would have been rightly been given offside. It may seem unfair but deflection only works one way. However as we saw, McAuley desperately tried to clear the ball but only succeeded in kicking it, for it to rebound off his own goalkeeper to Lamah. So Michael’s Laudrup does have a case against the goal being disallowed. His assertion however that a player cannot be offside if the ball last touches an opponent is not correct if that last touch is a deflection of a team mate’s pass. This is what the assistant referee thought had happened from his one and only chance to see it.

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