Anyone who didn’t know it before will now – after the Manchester derby – realize that the current offside law is an absolute bin fire.
I’m sure everyone watching an offside Marcus Rashford bearing down on goal – shepherding the ball, but not touching it – into Bruno Fernandes’ path felt the same way. Even United fans. It was offside and the goal would be ruled out. After all, we’ve got a man with a telly looking at it in a shed, 300 miles away. Are they reading the rulebook while watching? Are they bollocks.
And even if they had been, it’d have been no help. When you read the offside law it seems designed to be as inscrutable and ambiguous as it is possible to be. This is the holy text. Read it and weep.
‘A player in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or touched by a team-mate is only penalized on becoming involved in active play by interfering with play by playing or touching a ball passed or touched by a team-mate, or interfering with an opponent by preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision, or challenging an opponent for the ball or clearly attempting to play a ball which is close when this action impacts on an opponent or making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball.’
Rashford was interfering with play simply by being there but didn’t touch the ball, but did he prevent an opponent from being able to play the ball? Err…possibly. How do we know what could’ve happened? It’s a guess. It’s a riddle. It’s all bullshit. And, like the Bible, there’s something to justify any view you want to hold in there.
But the fact is, the vast majority of us think an offside player shielding a ball into the path of a not offside player, involves gaining an advantage for your team from that player being offside.
The decision on Saturday is especially ironic because the VAR has been ruling out perfectly good goals for micro-offside decisions where the offside player couldn’t possibly have gained any advantage from an elbow, or a shoulder, or a toe being ahead of the ball and yet when a player is running in on goal with the ball at his feet, shielding it from defenders, somehow there’s no advantage being gained in doing that. It makes no sense.
If the law is saying that you can be offside in a threatening, offensive position as long as you don’t touch the ball, they are effectively saying that a player who doesn’t touch the ball has no effect on the play and that only the player with the ball is affecting play. That is palpable nonsense and simply not true.
If they are going to keep applying this interpretation, teams need to start getting loads of players ahead of the ball, making decoy runs to distract the defence, in order to open space for an onside player with the ball.
What has happened to the idea of preventing the gaining of an advantage from being offside, which was the raison d’etre behind the offside law when it was first introduced in 1883? If that no longer matters, why are the micro offsides being called when no advantage could possibly be gained by a finger being ahead of the ball when it’s played.
They have tied themselves into knots over this, having altered laws of the game in order to try and facilitate the easier use of VAR rather than what is good for the game. The rules used to be very simple and everyone knew what they were, but looking at the wording of rule 11 is like trying to decipher some sort of gnomic aphorism.
It must be written more clearly because right now, the law is an assent.