Offside rule in soccer

Frequently misunderstood rule in football or soccer as decisions rest on an individual's interpretation of the law.

Definition of the offside rule

Illustration of the offside rule in soccer

Offside is Law 11 in association football, it is the most frequently revised rule, as minor changes to the regulations can have dramatic effects on the character of matches.

Offside is defined as: An attacking player is flagged offside by the assistant soccer referee if there is only one defending player between the player and the goal line at the time the ball is played in. The player should be in active play if the offside offense is to be called.

The offside rule explained

The main football rules state that there must be at least two defending players between the attacking player and the goal line. The goal keeper is normally considered the last defender, though it should not be mistaken that the goal keeper is always the last defender.

From another view, a player who is nearer to the opponent’s goal line than the second last opponent and the ball is in an offside position. The opposing team is awarded an indirect free kick at the spot the offside offense is called. A player who stands level with the second last or with the last two opponents is not offside.

Moreover, the player has to be actively involved in play at that moment. Therefore, a player can be in an offside position but has not committed the offside offense as the player is not affecting the progress of the game.

How the offside rule works

An assistant referee flag signal for offsideThe player has to be in the offside position when a team mate plays in the ball. The offense can only be committed in the opponent’s half. Thus, one can be in an offside position anywhere from the halfway line but not in their half.

An offside is only penalized if the player is actively involved in play. If in the opinion of the assistant referee the player is interfering with play or gains an advantage by being in that position or interferes with an opponent, then it is definitely an offside offense.

The rule is rather subjective in the sense that the decision to flag an offside offense lies with the assistant referees. It is a challenge for the officials as the positions keep shifting throughout the game. Besides, the attacking players frequently try to stay even with the next-to-last defender when intending to make a run once the ball is played through.

The offside rule is intended to prevent players from sticking around the opponent’s goal waiting for the team mates to deliver the balls probably through long balls. Though, it is imperative to note that the attacking player cannot be offside if the ball is between him and the goal line.

Another aspect that makes the offside rule rather confusing at times is that when a player who is offside moves to an on-side position to receive a pass that had been made prior to the move, the player is termed to have been offside.

However, there are times when a player is in an offside position but it is not an offense. This is observed as the ball is played directly when the play is being restarted through a goal kick, corners kick or throw-in.

The Offside trap

Defenders at times move forward in order to force an opponent to get into an offside position in case the ball is played in. This is referred to as the offside trap and it leaves the goal keeper is the only player between the opponent and the goal line. However, things may go wrong and end up costing the defenders if they are not keen while playing this trick.