For many years now Assistant Referees have been trained to give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker when judging close offside decisions. The standard of the modern AR at the highest level is outstanding.  The offside decision making is ultra precise to the finest margins. What used to be acceptable a few years ago in allowing ARs a tolerance of half a body or even ‘daylight’ is now gone. ARs have become so good that they have become almost their own worst enemies because now they don’t have that allowance, they can work to the strict guidelines of the IFAB Laws of the Game:

Law 11 Offside

It is not an offence to be in an offside position.

A player is in an offside position if:

  • any part of the head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half (excluding the halfway line) and
  • any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent

The hands and arms of all players, including the goalkeepers, are not considered.

A player is not in an offside position if level with the:

  • second-last opponent
  • last two opponents

Offside position in terms of VAR falls into the category of a factual decision.  So there is no requirement for the referee to go to the RRA (Referee Review Area) to check the decision for themselves. It’s easy to assume that factual decisions should always be accepted and subjective decisions are the ones that can cause controversy.  I am an advocate of VAR generally but I am questioning whether VAR’s involvement in very tight offside decisions is good for the game.

This week’s Play of the Week is from Los Angeles FC v Orlando City SC.  We see City’s Sacha Kljestan play a through ball to Justin Meram who crosses the ball to Dom Dwyer who slots the ball home.  AR Jeremy Hanson keeps his flag down.  There are no appeals from the defenders, and following the Orlando celebrations, referee Chris Penso appears like a party pooper when he gives the VAR sign and disallows the goal following ‘factual’ information from the VAR that it was offside.

If we remind ourselves of the IFAB description of the criteria of “Clear Error”.

CLEAR ERROR means:

  • almost everyone who is neutral (whether player, coach, referee, spectator or administrator) agrees the decision is incorrect
  • if the referee (or other match official) saw the incident on a replay they would change the decision

When you look at the clip and the replay showing that it was Meram who was deemed offside in the build up would you:

  • agree that the decision is clearly wrong?
  • change the decision?

Another phrase that the IFAB use frequently is “What would football expect?”

Looking at this offside decision I don’t believe that football would expect offside decisions like this to be given.  Remember the arms of all the players are not considered and even if it can be proved that a minute part of Meram’s body, for example his knee cap or his shoulder, is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent, I don’t believe anyone would expect or want offside to be given. It would actually be damaging for the game!

Another phrase the that IFAB use frequently is “Minimum Interference for Maximum benefit”

I would go so far as to say that in this play (or any other tight offside VAR decisions) we actually have Maximum Interference for Minimum benefit!

Let’s also consider the side effects of this VAR decision.  AR Jeremy Hanson made a great decision by keeping his flag down.  What effect could it have on his confidence for the remainder of the game with him thinking he has made an error?

What about the players’, coaches’ and fans’ perception of him believing he has made an error? Not to mention that Orlando had equalised having been 2-0 down and they eventually lost 4-1.

It reminds me of England v Germany and Frank Lampard’s ball over the line that ironically VAR would have cleared up! And that is where VAR would make a very positive contribution to the game.

What is the solution? With IFAB making Offside position a factual decision, it is too clinical and in the  VOR (Video Operation Room) they have the ability to draw lines across the field.  However these lines run across the pitch and are drawn in line with the player’s feet which is unhelpful if any part of the head or body is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent. Even if this process was perfected would “Football Expect” goals disallowed for part of a player’s knee or big toe in an offside position?

Therefore I propose that the VAR looks at the still frame (see example from this play) and if it is not clear and obvious it is ONSIDE!

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