Your Letters & Pictures

'The right call', by Ref. Vangelis July 2006
July 5

Dear Ref. Vangelis,

Playing with shoe laces untied is very dangerous. For a team, making the throw-in very fast could be a good way of taking the opponent team out of balance. If the Referee stops to permit the tying of shoe laces, the ‘magic moment’ is gone because in the meantime the opponent team has already come back and set a good defensive formation. How do you manage this situation in which something good has to be done, without damaging the opponent team?

Coach Gianni

Answer:Last week we discussed the possibility that the referee allowed the throw in to take place and gave the attacking team the opportunity to capitalize on the “magic moment”.

Certainly most professional and other players at high levels will appreciate this approach since the acceptable risk for injury is much higher than the amateur games.

This week we will discuss the second choice which is to address the situation immediately and ask the player who is about to take the throw in to wait. This approach should be followed at any amateur level game and certainly must be enforced at a youth level game. Obviously at a lower level of competition, safety is more important that anything else.

Let’s take a look at law 4.

Law 4 under “Safety” states that: “A player must not use equipment or wear anything which is dangerous to himself or another player”. As we can see from Law 4, the safety of all players is a very important factor in soccer. Certainly this is true at all levels of play as we have seen at the World Cup this year.

So based on the statement in the scenario given above, “playing with shoe laces untied is very dangerous”, the referee must address the situation and the player must correct the problem.
The referee can simply let the “magic moment” pass and ask the player who takes the throw in to wait a moment. It should not take more than a few seconds for the player to tie his shoe laces.

Usually both sides appreciate it when the referee stops the game momentarily for safety reasons.
In such a case and at a lower level game, it is not wise to allow the game to continue while one of the players is incapacitated or forced out of the game by the referee. A few years ago at an exhibition game played as part of a referee clinic, a similar situation took place.

Here is what happened:
It was an U19 youth game between a German team, which was traveling through the USA, and a top team from California. The German team lost the game 1-0. The only goal was scored at a time when one of the key German players was forced by the referee to put on his shoe that came off a few seconds before. The ball was out of play and a throw in was awarded to the Californian team. At that moment the referee “insisted” that the German player find his lost shoe and put it on. The German player at once obeyed the referee’s instructions, found his shoe and was putting it on. During this brief few moment, a Californian player, seeing what was happening, took advantage of the situation and started the game by taking the throw in quickly. None of the German players moved, expecting the referee to call the ball back. The referee allowed the game to proceed and a goal was scored. Needless to say the German team protested and a couple of yellow cards were issued as well as a red one for foul language. It was the consensus of all the top officials present at the clinic as well as the instructors that all of this could have been avoided if the referee had simply asked the Californian player to wait.

In all my years of experience both as a player and as a referee I have found that most times everyone will cooperate fully and even appreciate someone who takes a few brief moments to address an issue which has to do with the safety of a player. As we have seen in the World cup thus far, one of FIFA’s primary concerns is the safety of players. And such must be the case with all of us.


Ref Vangelis

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July 12

Dear Ref. Vangelis,

At the game today of my U15 Girls, they were really good in putting the opponent forwards in offside. The first time, my heart almost stopped when, 4 opponents, in off-side for 10 yards, where left to continue playing until they touched the ball. When from the border of the field I was a 'little' upset about this way of interpreting the rule, the referee told me that it's the new FIFA law. When I asked: "if the opponents don't touch the ball, letting the ball keep rolling toward our goal, WHEN WILL MY DEFENDERS KNOW, THAT THE PLAY WILL BE STOPPED?" No answer. When will my keeper know that the referee will blow the whistle so there is no reason to come out and jump on the feet of the opponents and risk a 50% sure possibility of getting injured?

There was no answer either!

So I ask you, to illuminate us. When will the play be stopped if the opponents don't touch the ball? If my defenders, seeing that the play is not stopped, run back, at a certain moment they will put the opponents back in play. At this point, when they finally touch the ball, back in an INSIDE POSITION, will the referee finally blow the whistle?

I don't want to appear rude, but, doesn't this seem a little too stupid? Please don't take me wrong.

Coach Gianni

Answer: As you describe the incident above with all 4 opponents running starting from an offside position, the referee does not have to wait for one of the players to touch the ball to call the offside. You are right; it would be silly and a waste of precious time to do so. Especially would this be true when a defender is involved or about to get involved with any of the attackers in an attempt to stop them. In such a case the referee must prevent the altercation by calling the offside right away.

About a year ago on the first Sunday in July of 2005 I had the same feeling as you did. One of my assistant referees did what you described that happened to you today. He waited for the offside player to get into position of the ball before he raised the flag to indicate the offense.
I had suspected that a player was in an offside position. I looked at the AR immediately for a signal; there was none and we played on. As soon as this player touched the ball, the AR flag came up indicating an offside. To make things worse, the player at his touching the ball scored also a goal. What a mess. As you can imagine, it took us a few minutes to sort things out.

Apparently this incident was immediately after FIFA introduced a clarification in the law of the game on offside. However this was not the correct interpretation of the offside law and what FIFA was attempting to do. In addition, this incident happened midseason at a league in the Bay Area.
The bylaws of the league specify that all changes to the Law of the games implemented by FIFA each year will go into effect at the beginning of the following season instead of applying into the middle for the season. The reason for this is to avoid any confusion among players and referees. This is certainly a very wise decision for obvious reasons. Needless to say, I instructed the AR to call the offside the way I knew the law to be and not according to the way he interpreted it.

That same night as I was watching an international game at home, I noticed that the AR’s were calling the offside the same way. Yes, exactly as the AR in the game I officiated that morning. The AR’s allowed the offside player to run and waited until the ball was touched by that player before they called the offside. Even the commentators were discussing the “new” offside law.

What was going on? This didn’t make any sense. Was I missing something? It turned out that the confusion lasted about a month and finally it was clarified by FIFA circular 987 and by the US Soccer Federation. I am very sorry to hear that there are still referees out there, a year later, who are still calling the offside incorrectly.

Next week we will take a look at Law 11 and explain how this confusion came about.

Ref Vangelis
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July 19

Dear Ref. Vangelis,

At the game today of my U15 Girls, they were really good in putting the opponent forwards in offside. The first time, my heart almost stopped when, 4 opponents, in off-side for 10 yards, where left to continue playing until they touched the ball. When from the border of the field I was a 'little' upset about this way of interpreting the rule, the referee told me that it's the new FIFA law. When I asked: "if the opponents don't touch the ball, letting the ball keep rolling toward our goal, WHEN WILL MY DEFENDERS KNOW, THAT THE PLAY WILL BE STOPPED?" No answer. When will my keeper know that the referee will blow the whistle so there is no reason to come out and jump on the feet of the opponents and risk a 50% sure possibility of getting injured? There was no answer either!

Last week you promised to discuss Law offside with us. Can you please do so?

Coach Gianni

Answer: As I mentioned last week the way you describe the incident above, with all 4 opponents running starting from an offside position, the referee does not have to wait for one of the players to touch the ball to call the offside. You are right; it would be silly and a waste of precious time to do so.

Now let’s take a look at Law 11 and explain how this confusion came about.
Law 11 starts by stating that “It is not an offense in itself to be in an offside position”. This is a very important statement in the law of the game on offside. It is something that people, including some referees, some coaches and most defending players for obvious reasons tend to forget.

The law goes on to explain when offside position becomes an offense. It states that: “A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

Interfering with play, or
Interfering with an opponent, or
Gaining an advantage by being in that position.

Last year in an attempt to further clarify (please note: “clarify” not change) involvement in active play, IFAB introduced the following decision:

The definitions of elements of involvement in active play are as follows:

Interfering with play means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate.
Interfering with an opponent means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.
Gaining an advantage by being in that position means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position.
So, as we can see from the first point listed above, FIFA attempted to have the AR’s wait until a clear participation was taking place such as “playing or touching the ball” before they raised the flag and called the offside. However, this was not called as intended and caused a lot of confusion.

I want to emphasize again that this was not a change to the law on offside but it was an attempt to clarify “involvement in active play” as far as the offside law is concerned. This was because in many cases the offside was not called the proper way and the element “It is not an offense in itself to be in an offside position” was often forgotten.

Next week we will discuss the proper interpretation of law 11 and the position of FIFA and USSF on offside.

Ref Vangelis
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July 26

Dear Ref. Vangelis,

What is the proper interpretation of law 11 and the position of FIFA and USSF on “involved in active play” during an offside situation?

Coach Gianni

Answer: When the clarification of the offside law was introduced in July of 2005, the US Soccer Federation gave the following advice to referees:

USSF Advice to Referees: These definitions (referring to the IFBA Decision 2, clarifying active play) first appeared in print in Questions and Answers on the Laws of the Game (2004) and have been extensively discussed. They clarify but do not change the accepted approach to offside and the specific issue of involvement in active play. Referees are reminded that the reference to “playing or touching the ball” does not mean that an offside infraction cannot be called until an attacker in an offside position actually touches the ball.

As we can see from the USSF Advice to Referees listed above, two things were being emphasized. First, there was no change to the law of the game on offside but it was simply clarifying the proper calling of the offside law. Second, a referee does not have to wait until the ball is actually touched to call an offside.

Soon after this was published, FIFA came up with circular # 987 clarifying its position on the interpretation of the law and USSF followed up with the following position:

Re: Law 11 – Offside

IFAB advice on the application of Law 11, Decision 2
Date: August 24, 2005


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The International Football Association Board (IFAB) revised Law 11(Offside) effective 1 July 2005 by, among other things, incorporating definitions of what it means to “interfere with play,” interfere with an opponent,” and “gain an advantage by being in an offside position.” The USSF Advice to Referees section of Memorandum 2005 ended its discussion of the addition of these three definitions by noting:

Referees are reminded that the reference to “playing or touching the ball” does not mean that an offside infraction cannot be called until an attacker in an offside position actually touches the ball.

Because of recent developments which appear to focus on “touching the ball,” there has been some confusion about the above statement. “Touching the ball” is not a requirement for calling an offside violation if the attacker is interfering with an opponent by making a movement or gesture which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts that opponent. What the International Board has recently emphasized is that, in the unlikely event an attacker in an offside position is not challenged by any opponent, the attacker should not be ruled offside unless and until the attacker physically touches the ball.
This emphasis is both simple and easily implemented:

• An attacker in an offside position who is not challenged by any opponent and not competing for the ball with a teammate coming from an onside position who could, in the opinion of the officiating team, get to the ball first, should not be ruled offside for interfering with play or gaining an advantage unless that attacker actually touches the ball. In a close race between an onside and an offside attacker, it would be necessary to see which player touches the ball before deciding if an offside offense has occurred.

• An attacker in an offside position whose gestures or movements, in the opinion of the officiating team, cause an opponent to challenge for the ball, has interfered with an opponent and should be ruled offside whether the attacker touches the ball or not. The International Board issued a Circular on August 17, 2005, which reaffirmed the above approach. As the Board stated (emphasis added): “A player in an offside position may be penalized before playing or touching the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, no other teammate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball. Further, if an opponent becomes involved in the play and if, in the opinion of the referee, there is potential for physical contact, the player in the offside position shall be penalized for interfering with an opponent.”

Finally, the Board confirmed the requirement that the indirect free kick restart for an offside offense is taken “from the initial place where the player was adjudged to be in an offside position.”

All referees, instructors, and assessors should review these guidelines carefully. It is important that officials understand and handle the offside offense in a correct, consistent, and realistic manner. Personal interpretations which differ from the approach outlined here can only cause confusion and hard feelings on the part of players, team officials, and spectators.

USSF will shortly distribute to the state associations and place on its website a PowerPoint presentation incorporating this clarification.

Ref Vangelis








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Posted on 27 Aug 2006 by coachgianni
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