We have all been there. Sitting in the pub, or in a restaurant and having a little chat about football when it happens. Someone asks the question, to which all those who think they know the rule relish…”So can some please explain the offside rule?” Out come the pepper and salt shakers, glasses, any other condiments which can be found at any point in order to recreate an odd looking football pitch, where a pint of the local bitter is now playing the role of a centre back.
Now take a look at the goal which was scored in the always-feisty Premier League clash between Liverpool-Manchester United on Sunday afternoon, where Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge managed to get the smallest nick of the ball, guiding it past the Red Devils’ defence and the flailing arms of David de Gea. At the time, there was much debate as to whether the goal was offside or not however replays did show the English striker to have just about got onside by the time Daniel Agger got his head on the ball from the corner.
At the time the corner was struck, Sturridge was in the Man Utd goal, behind every single player on the pitch, however this is not an infringement on play as it is not possible to be offside directly from a corner. Sturridge as a result was not deemed to have caused any offence, and thus by managing to return to the defensive line by the time the ball had reached the head of his team mate, he had committed no wrong doing.
This is where there is certainly a need to re-evaluate the rules of the mysterious offside rule, as there is such a grey area surrounding individual issues within the labyrinth of complications and exceptions that exist when it comes to whether a player is either on or offside.
We have seen many poor decisions by officials over the years, some simply down to having misjudged the precise second a ball was played, thus having either missed the offside, or given it unduly. However there have also been cases where an offside decision has been given on a player not attempting to get the ball, as they are deemed to have interfered with play. It is certainly an issue that needs clarification, as there is very little consistency on decisions such as these.
The one made on Sunday afternoon was correct to the rules that are currently in place, however on any other given day, Sturridge could have been deemed to have obstructed play, and as a result had the goal disallowed.
Granted, better training of officials is one route that could be taken in order to tackle this issue, however the current system in place will certainly make it difficult, as there are many complications that go hand in hand with this. As a result, FIFA could also consider an adjustment to the offside rule.
I say this expecting some outrage, however I’m not appealing for a complete overhaul of the system, but merely more clarity on the situations in which an offside decision may be given. For example the difference between when a player may be deemed to have actively impeded play whilst being in an offside position, and thus allow the decision to be given, compared to when an opponent player is in an offside position, however not affecting the run of play thus allowing for the game to continue.
It may well be argued that by trying to change the offside rule, it will only be taking steps backwards due to the world-wide training which would need to be introduced and taken, and as a results we would see a period of mass confusion and incorrect decisions anyway as the officials try and become accustomed to the updated rules. However, as mentioned earlier it would not have to be any dramatic overhauls, and perhaps this change could take place over the summer break, allowing for any small changes being introduced to be properly learnt.
Times are changing in football at present. Goal-line technology is being introduced, however controversies will still be impossible to eradicate, and none more so than those related to the offside rule. Newspapers will always criticise, as will fans, and whilst this can be justified by simply ludicrous refereeing decisions, there will be occasions where it is simply the confusing nature of the rule which leads to the eventual incorrect decision, if it is indeed incorrect.
The offside rule will always lead to controversy with the current system in place, and it is the next aspect in football that needs to be addressed. There are too may complications within the rules that do and don’t judge a player to have been in an offside position, and I can guarantee that we will see several dubious decisions over the course of this season, and many to come unless something is done to give clarity to all aspects of the game.