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Without rules, no game humans have invented throughout our time on Earth would be fun.
The same applies to soccer; if it were a lawless game, with no guidelines and regulations, not many of us would enjoy it. Offside is just one of the rules that make soccer the greatest game in the world. But what exactly is offside in soccer?
Offside is one of the fundamental laws of soccer. It states that a player has found themselves in an offside position if they are in the opponent’s half of the field, with one of their body parts, apart from their hands and arms, closer to the opponent’s goal line than they are to the ball and the second-last opponent.
Seems straightforward? Hold on to your hats: Diving deeper into the offside rules, as we are about to with this article, a worrying amount of confusion might arouse among readers.
No worries, by the time you’ve read through the article, the complex subject of offside rules in soccer will become clear as day. Without further ado, let’s explore the whats, whys, and ifs of soccer offside rules:
What is the meaning of offside in soccer?
Being offside in soccer means that the attacker has found themselves in a position that is not in line with the second-last defender and that they are closer to the opponent’s goal line than they are to the ball.
Getting caught in an offside offense warrants an indirect free kick for the opposing side. As you’ll learn in this text, there’s a difference between being in an offside position and an offside offense.
Here’s an interesting piece of information: Soccer is not the only sport that bothers its players and viewers with this rule; offsides also exist in other sports, such as rugby and hockey.
Why is there an offside in soccer?
The offside rules have been first established in 1863, and for a good reason. Before these rules existed, soccer was a much less dynamic, and incomparably less strategic sport.
The early days of soccer were a period that a modern soccer fan would not understand nor appreciate. There was just one way to play the game: score more goals.
No defensive strategies, no attacking ones, and no mercy. As fun as this might seem at the first glance, in a more professional, modern, environment, this isn’t an acceptable way of playing soccer.
Here are some of the positive things that introducing the offside rule to soccer brings to the game, the players, and us as viewers:
1. The offside rule preserves the integrity of the game
One might argue that if there weren’t for offside rules, the game of soccer would not be where it is today.
If the players on the field were allowed to run at their own will, there would be no need for defenders. Every team would just run attackers to score as many goals as possible.
The amount of strategic thought that’s put into every soccer match is immense, and we can confidently say that this aspect would be neglected if there were no offside rules.
Soccer wouldn’t be able to evolve to the point where it’s now without this rule.
2. The offside rule ensures that attackers don’t gain an unfair advantage
Once upon a time, before the offside rule was introduced to soccer, defenders had to stay back with the goalkeeper, making sure that no attacker sneaks by and waits for the ball to reach him.
If they dared to step upfront on the field, the goal was inevitable. With the offside rule in place, defenders can freely join the action and participate in attacks, to a certain degree, without the worry that an opposing player might take advantage of the gap in the defense.
3. The offside rule protects the goalkeepers from scrutiny
Let’s imagine the world without the offside rule once again; the defense would be non-existent, meaning that the goalkeepers would be under even more pressure than they are today.
They would constantly be exposed to 1v1 scenarios against attackers, and they would lose most of the time. That’s not fun for anyone involved.
Returning to reality, we know that goalkeepers are commonly the most hated person on the field. No matter how well they play, one slip-up, and we despise them.
That’s one of the reasons why the offside is good for the game – it serves as a means of protecting the goalkeepers from angry fans.
4. The offside rule encouraged players to become better
The existence of the offside rule ensured that all of the players on the field need to remain aware of their positioning at all times.
Before the rule was introduced, the plays were hectic and they lacked any sense of strategy and soccer knowledge. With the introduction of this rule, the players needed to adapt and evolve with the game.
This led to them becoming faster, more agile, and more intelligent in their play than ever before. With years and each new generation of soccer players, all of these positive attributes have been pushed and encouraged to grow further.
5. The offside rule made soccer fun to watch
Here’s another arguable statement: the offside rule is what made soccer the most popular sport in the world.
Without this rule, the game would be a goal-scoring fiesta that would become boring after a single match, causing us to never watch soccer again.
The players would also be less athletic and fun to watch, as there would, probably, be less display of skill for us to observe.
Without the strategies that were implemented due to offside rules, there would be no plays that make us either scream at the TV or remain speechless. Without offside, there would be no soccer.
What is the new offside rule?
Developing from 1863, offside has had a lot of “new rule periods”.
First, the rules stated that, in order to stay onside, players had to have at least 3 players, including the goalkeeper, in front of them.
Then, the rule was changed to have two players, including the keeper, ahead. Finally, the officials agreed that staying onside requires the attacker to remain level with the second-last player on the opposing team.
The newest rule that has been added to the already confusing list of offside rules changes how the referees view attackers that are standing closer to the opponent’s goal line than both the soccer ball and the second-last opponent on the field.
According to this new rule, it is not an offense for a player to be in an offside position, as long as they fulfill some basic requirements. Here’s what those requirements are:
- The attacker is not considered to be in the offside position as long as they don’t interfere with play.
- The attacker is not considered to be in the offside position as long as they don’t interfere with an opponent.
- The attacker is not considered to be in the offside position as long as they don’t gain an advantage from being in that position.
As long as the attacker sticks to these requirements and doesn’t break any of them, the offside call won’t be made by the main referee or the assistants.
The new offside rules also state that starting from the 2020-21 soccer season, the assistant referees are advised not to make the offside call until the play that can lead to a goal passes.
Once the play has passed, regardless of whether the player scored or missed, the assistant raises their flag, signaling the potential offside violation. If there was a goal, the VAR technology is used to review the play for offside.
Before this rule, any player who found themselves closer to the opponent’s goal line than to the ball and the second-last defender was considered to be in an offside position, regardless of their impact on the game.
Some soccer experts, such as Arsene Wenger, advocated for further change within the official offside rulebook.
Wenger proposes that no offside should be ruled when an attacker has the parts of their body that can score a goal in line with the last defender, even when the attacker’s other body parts are in front of that line.
The FA and FIFA have agreed to implement this new idea into their rulebook, as it makes a lot of sense.
Offside rule FIFA
FIFA and the FA are the ones that determine the rules of the game of soccer, for the most part. Here is a comprehensive list of the official FIFA soccer rules that will, hopefully, help you understand offside better:
1. Offside position – When is an attacker in offside?
First and foremost, FIFA underlines that being in an offside position isn’t an offense. A soccer player is in an offside position if any part of their head, body, or feet is in the opponent’s half of the field while any part of their head, body, or feet is also nearer to the opposing team’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.
As the players aren’t allowed to use their hands and arms to score, these body parts are not considered in an offside position ruling, even for goalkeepers.
Also, if they are in line with the second-last opponent or the last two opponents, a player is not considered to be in an offside position.
2. Offside offense – When does the flag go up?
While they are not in violation of the offside rules, an offside positioned player can cause the offside flag to raise by getting involved in active play.
This involves affecting the game by playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate, as well as interfering with an opponent in a way that obstructs their line of vision and prevents them from playing the ball that’s coming to them.
Other instances of interfering with an opponent can also cause the offside offense whistle to go off on those who are in an offside position: challenging an opponent for the ball, attempting to play the ball that is close when this move can clearly affect an opponent, as well as making a move that clearly affects an opponents ability to play the ball are all considered to be a cause for calling an offside offense.
An attacker also mustn’t gain an advantage while being in an offside position, unless they want that position to turn into an offside offense.
These advantages include the ball rebounding off the goalpost, crossbar, an opponent, or even a match official. The ball that has been deliberately saved by an opponent also counts as an advantage.
If the ball hasn’t been saved but comes from a defender, the attacker in an offside position can play it and they will not be in an offside offense, as this is not considered an advantage.
A ball that is going into the goal or very close to it and is stopped, or attempted to stop, by a defender is considered “saved”.
To conclude this section, here are some intriguing situations when the referees and assistant referees can call an offside or a foul:
- An offside offense is called when a player in an offside position gets in the way of an opposing player and interferes with their movement towards the ball, unless the officials decide that the first player affected the opponent’s progress along the way, leading to a foul.
- An offside offense is not called if a player who is in an offside position moves towards the ball with intention of playing it and gets fouled before he reaches the ball. The same happens if the offside-positioned player challenges an opponent for the ball and gets fouled.
- Offside is called when an offense is committed on a player who is in an offside position and plays the ball or challenges an opponent for it, as the offside occurred first.
Still, seems complicated? You can read on to clear out the confusion; pay special attention to the last section of this article.
3. Offenses and sanctions – What are the penalties for offside?
In case an offside offense is called, the match official awards an indirect free kick at the spot of the offense occurrence.
Seems easy enough, doesn’t it? Once a player steps off the field is when the complicated part of the sanctions comes in:
When a defender steps off the pitch without permission from the match officials, he is considered to be on the goal line or the touchline for offside purposes until the next game stop or until their team plays the ball towards the center of the field and outside of their own penalty area.
When an attacking player steps off the pitch and enters the game from the goal line before a game stop or before the opposing team plays the ball towards the center and outside of their penalty area, he will be considered to be on the goal line for offside purposes.
As with all offside rules, this one is tricky and difficult to understand. You can find some of the most common sources of confusion answered at the end of this text.
Soccer offside rule exceptions
There aren’t many offside offense rule exceptions in soccer. In fact, there are only three. Before looking at them, we must underline, once again, that being in an offside position and being in an offside offense are not the same.
Here are the occasions that FIFA lists as being exempt from the offside rules:
- An offside offense is not called when a player in an offside position receives the ball directly from a goal kick.
- An offside offense is not called when a player in an offside position receives the ball directly from a throw-in.
- An offside offense is not called when a player in an offside position receives the ball directly from a corner kick.
This exceptions rule might be the only straightforward, easy-to-understand rule in soccer that has to do with offsides.
Related Offside in Soccer questions
Offside is a rule and a concept that many of us have a hard time grasping. Even after reading all of the offside-related opinions and facts from above, some questions still linger.
Let’s find out the answers to some of the most common offside confusions:
Can you be offside if you don’t touch the ball?
When a soccer player is off position and interferes with the game in any way, even while not touching the ball, he/she will be called offside.
This means that the player can’t gain an unfair advantage by staying too far ahead on the field. If they’re not influencing the play, then the referee, in most cases, will choose not to call offside.
Can you be offside if off the pitch?
According to the FA’s Law 11, a defending player who steps off the pitch without permission from the referee will be considered to be on the goal or the touchline for the purposes of offside.
If the attacking player steps off the pitch, he is considered to be inactive, therefore not in the offside position. Once that player steps back onto the pitch, the offside call can be made by the referee.
Can you be offside in your own half?
A player cannot be offside in their own half. According to the official rule book, a player is considered to be offside only when they are on the attacking half of the field, nearer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opposing player.
Can you be offside from a throw-in?
Once again referring to the FA’s Law 11 on offside, we can see that there’s no offside offense if a player receives the ball directly from a throw-in.
There are some other exceptions to the offside rule, and these include the ball coming from a corner kick or a goal kick.
Can you be offside in the 6-yard box?
The official offside rules and exceptions apply to the 6-yard box: If the attacker receives the ball directly from a goal-kick, a throw-in, or a corner kick, there’s no offside, even in the 6-yard box.
If the ball comes from active play, the offside is called for attackers who are in an offside position within the 6-yard box and try to interfere with the play.
Can you be offside from a goal kick out of hands?
As mentioned in the previous question, there’s no offside violation if the ball comes from a goal kick.
When the ball comes from a punt or a kick from the goalkeeper after he catches the ball, an attacking player can be considered to be offside if they interfere with play in any way or gain any kind of game advantage by being in that position.
Can you be offside if the ball comes off a defender?
If one of the offside conditions is met, a ball that comes off a defender can lead to an offside call.
This means that if an attacking player is in front of the ball and the second-last opponent, and gains an advantage from being in that position, offside is called. The same principle applies if the ball comes off a goalpost, crossbar, or defender.
Can you be offside from a backward pass?
In case the receiving player is in an offside position, the direction of the pass does not make a difference in the call – an offside will be called for both the forward and backward passes to players who can potentially gain an advantage from being in front of the ball and the second-last defender.
Offside rule when past last defender
Sometimes in soccer, we can see players passing the ball to each other even after going past the last defender on the field.
These passes are legitimate, as long as the pass is made to the player that is not in front of the ball.
Remember, both of the conditions for offside need to be met in order for the referee to call this offense; attackers must stay closer both to the ball and the second-last defender than they are to the opponent’s goal line.
What player does not count as a defender for the offside rule in soccer?
All of the players on the field, including the goalkeeper, count as defenders. When it comes to offside rules, the goalkeeper is usually, but not necessarily, considered the last defender.
The next defender closest to their own goal line is, obviously, considered the second-last defender.
Offside rule when the goalkeeper is out
The goalkeeper doesn’t always have to be the last defender on the field.
However, the rules remain the same even when the goalkeeper decides to take a stroll down the pitch: in order to stay onside, the attacker can’t interfere with the play if their head, body, or feet are in the opponent’s half are closer to the opponent’s goal line than the ball and the second-last defender, regardless of the fact who those last defenders are.
Being a work in progress and developing for more than one and a half centuries, offside rules are far from being simple and easy to comprehend, not to mention follow.
Everyone struggles with these rules, from players and referees to us as fans of the game. With this article, our mission was to try and bring the difficult concept to the average soccer viewer, as well as explain it in more detail for the hard-core fans – not an easy task, we must admit.
We hope that we’ve, at least partly, succeeded in that mission. Maybe the rules will get easier in the next 160 years, along with our job.