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The offside rule.

I’m going to assume the large majority of football fans know what it is.

What should be done about the offside rule?It’s the bane of Sunday League football and it is used religiously as an excuse as to why your friend’s team lost the game – despite the fact that everyone had five Sambuca’s and did some topless break dancing the night before. We expect poor decisions to be made in amateur football; the appointed officials have basic training and there isn’t even a fraction of the amount of money in the game at amateur level compared to professional league football.

But why is it, year after year, we have to go through the same debate again and scour the fine print in FIFA’s rule book after yet another controversial decision on the biggest stages in World football?

The latest in the long line of high-profile, frustrating and inconsistent decisions came in the recent Newcastle United game against Manchester City, whereby Cheick Tiote’s stunning half volley from outside the area was ruled out for an offside infringement. Yoan Gouffran was deemed by the officials to be active in play in a way that impaired Manchester City players from preventing the goal. As such, the goal was disallowed. Controversy arose from the fact that Gouffran – albeit clearly many yards behind the defensive line – was in no way in Joe Hart’s line of sight or preventing him from making any effort to attempt to save the shot.

Controversial decision: Cheick Tiote's volley v Manchester City

Controversial decision: Cheick Tiote’s volley v Manchester City

Every Manchester City player seemingly accepted the goal, with Joe Hart giving a half-hearted arm-raise appeal that most goalkeepers give as a last resort in hope of sparing their blushes. However, the goal was wiped off based on the testimony of one official placed 30 yards away. Viewing it from one angle. At full speed. The decision caused a huge uproar which was further fuelled when images of Tiote’s only other Newcastle goal resurfaced to reveal similarities between the two situations:

A similar scenario involving Newcastle United's Cheick Tiote

A similar scenario involving Newcastle United’s Cheick Tiote

How is it that one can be given offside whilst the other is a perfectly legitimate goal? Surely both meet the criteria highlighted in scenario 7 as opposed to scenario 6 (below) taken from the FIFA Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees.

Offside Rule Interfering with an opponent - Offside offence

Offside Rule Interfering with an opponent - Not offside offence

That’s black and white. It clearly states that as long as a player in an offside position is not obstructing an opponent or affecting their ability to perform then it is not an offside offence. People will counter-argue that Gouffran was distracting Joe Hart and that his mere presence was enough to prevent him from making an effort to save the shot. Rules dictate that a player can only be flagged for offside when they make a gesture that is deceptive or distracting to an opponent. Joe Hart didn’t make even the slightest bit of effort to save Tiote’s shot and Gouffran’s presence was not the deciding factor on whether he attempted to dive or not. As such, the goal should have been given, Newcastle should have drawn the scores level at 1-1 and the entire match would undoubtedly have had a different outlook.

So why was this not the case? Because of the ambiguity of the situation coupled with human error. When there’s an imaginary ‘offside line’ there is a finite quality to it; a player is either behind that line or he isn’t. But when there are other rules which stipulate that a player can be in an offside position yet not deemed ‘active’ there is a lot of room for interpretation. When there’s room for interpretation, there’s error.
What’s the solution? Eliminate the ambiguity and the ‘human error’ component by use of technology.

Goal-Line Technology

FIFA finally gave the green-light to goal-line technology this season to eliminate the kind of incorrect decisions that England suffered when Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup wasn’t given.

As a matter off fact, FIFA President Sepp Blatter was reluctant to admit the necessity for GLT after this incident. What actually made him publicly demand it was when England were the benefactors of poor officiating in the Euro 2012 match and it was Ukraine who suffered. Make of that what you will.

Accordingly, there are no more debates or outrages about terrible refereeing decisions regarding this matter as the technology offers impartial consistency that a human cannot. Prior to this, the awarding of a goal due to mere millimetres was entrusted to officials who could only rely on split-second information they experienced.

But does that not sound familiar? An offside decision can result in a goal (or lack thereof) due to a difference of mere millimetres that an official is supposed to give an accurate judgement of relying on split-second information. Why has FIFA judged it to be acceptable to use technology for one controversial scenario but not for the other? Personally, I feel it is an insult to the players, coaches, fans and the ethical integrity of the sport as a whole that FIFA and other governing bodies are not making use of all the modern technology that is available in order to ensure that the game is played in the fairest, most consistent conditions possible.

At 78 years old and 58 years old respectively, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini seem to have a genuine phobia of implementing these fancy-schmancy technological ideas in case they catch one of those computer viruses they’ve heard about. Blatter has gone on record as stating that “mistakes are part of the game” whilst Platini opposed the use of any technology because “it’ll never stop”. What deplorable, ill-informed men.

Little mistakes can potentially shape the whole future of a club

One example stems from Borussia Dortmund’s fortunate win over Malaga in the 2012/13 Champions League quarter final. Felipe Santana scored an injury time winner for Dortmund from an offside position which sent Malaga out of the competition. It was a decision that cost Malaga millions financially and left everyone associated with the club feeling utterly robbed.

After this, Malaga were exempt from qualifying for Europe that year as they couldn’t pay their wages on time. The club that finished 4th and 6th in La Liga in the last two seasons currently sits in 14th this year just five points above the relegation zone. The club is in potentially dire circumstances, and this may all have been avoided if it weren’t for the technophobes that are entrusted with the future of football.

I propose to them some simple questions; “how long does it take for a referee to confer with the official who reviews the goal-line technology video when awarding a goal? How long does it take for TV broadcasts to show us whether a decision was correct or not? In comparison, how much time does a team spend protesting a decision they aren’t sure of or that they don’t agree with?” The answer would generally be “more or less the same time”, given a few seconds. If anything, protests over controversial events last even longer than the adjudication over them.

Moreover, players receive bookings for their protests and they carry on the match feeling persecuted without even being afforded the courtesy of knowing for sure whether it was justified. It contributes to a hostile atmosphere which can lead to injuries, suspensions and any other number of things that affect the season as a whole. In a butterfly-effect scenario, let’s assume that one player is booked for protesting a certain offside decision which wasn’t given. This contributes to a suspension later in the season. The player now misses a crucial relegation ‘six-pointer’ which his team goes on to lose. The player’s team gets relegated and many at the club move elsewhere so they can command a better wage. It’s an extrapolation, but it’s not far-fetched to assume that even something as little as an incorrect offside decision can lead to such drastic consequences in the grand scheme of things.

As the Premier League proved in 2011/2012, the season can be decided with one of the last kicks of the season, so it is the duty of the governing body to ensure that everything leading up to that point is fair and consistent for all. Introducing technology – even in the basic forms of video replays that Match of the Day affords us – would go a long way to giving the game some much-needed integrity.

Beating the offside trap

The art of playing and beating the offside trap is a fantastic skill both offensively and defensively. As fans, we appreciate elite players demonstrating their skills and that’s why we pay vast sums of money in season tickets and TV subscription fees. What we are essentially paying for is to see the game being played at a highly skilful level and officiated accordingly.

However, when an offside decision is incorrectly made it negates the skills of the players and the game is stripped down to purely whether the officials are skilled enough or not. As such, we might as well be watching Sunday league football.

I’m not here to disrespect referees or any officials despite what it may come across as; they have a tough job that they can only do to the best of their ability in difficult circumstances. They are humans like the rest of us and no human will ever be correct 100% of the time, let alone in front of crowds of thousands who are giving them torrents of abuse. But my problem is that the governing bodies keep allowing them to be subjected to this repetitive abuse when it could be easily avoided by implementing the simple technological solution I’ve proposed.

One other solution would be to scrap the offside rule altogether. This idea will definitely polarise opinions, but consider how fair it would make the game in terms of consistency. In the very early years of the game before there was a standardised set of rules, the Sheffield Rules decided against an ‘offside’ law in favour of a more entertaining, free-flowing game. This would surely be the case today. More goals would be scored and the game would be end to end. But most importantly, matches would be decided by the ability of the players on the pitch as opposed to the ability of the officials off it.

Purists might argue that it isn’t skilful and it’s not what football is about. To those, I offer this response regarding the tactics employed by those playing the Sheffield Rules football roughly 150 years ago:

One of the first positions to develop within the code was referred to as the kick through.[73] The position was unique to the Sheffield game and developed because of the lack of an offside rule. The job of the man playing in the kick through position was to remain near to the opposition’s goal and wait for a through ball, a tactic today called cherry picking or goal hanging.[73] By 1871 this position had become modern-day forwards. Cover goals developed in opposition of kick throughs. Despite their name their job was to man mark the kick through.

As you can see, there is an element of strategy behind it. The ‘kick through’ is a role that would require certain characteristics to excel in, as would the ‘cover goal’. How can it be seen as any more basic and archaic than the modern day ‘target man’ where the extent of tactical planning is “hoof it to the big man”?

As I’ve already said, it would undoubtedly make games more entertaining for the paying fans and the impact of poor officiating would be reduced. Officials aren’t just guilty of ‘honest mistakes’; they can also be subconsciously manipulated by fans and players alike. Removing the offside rule altogether simply eliminates this issue altogether.

I’d like to think that my very basic, minimally-thought-out proposals might be noticed and applauded as “ground breaking”. But the truth is that they’re not revolutionary and my ideas aren’t anything that somebody hasn’t thought of way before me. I have no platform to stand on and I will not make a difference. All I can do is point you to somebody that can and implore you to support him: Jérôme Champagne.

Mr. Champagne will be running for FIFA presidency next year, opposing the likes of anti-progress poster-boys, Messrs. Blatter and Platini. He wants to modernise and revolutionise football from the bottom upwards in a diplomatic manner. He has been vocal about his desire to “embrace and develop new ideas like technology”, as well as calling for more female members, more league representatives and more ex-professionals on the FIFA committee. He wrote a 26-page document about how FIFA should be improved entitled “Which FIFA for the 21st Century?” In it he highlighted some amazing key issues that should not have gone overlooked for so long.

“The 7 Governance Challenges for the 21st Century” Jerome Champagne identifies seven challenges for tomorrow’s football.

1. The imbalance between amateur football and professional football
2. The balance between club football and national team football
3. The divide between the European football and football around the world
4. The precarious relationship between players and clubs
5. The relationship of football with money between the need of it and the dangers of its excesses
6. The autonomy of football from political power
7. The excesses of economic deregulation in the economy of football

“The 11 concrete proposals”: Champagne has outlined 11 concrete proposals in order to reform FIFA.

1. Revive the democratic debate within football pyramid
2. Increase even more development programs with new solidarity mechanisms
3. Involve leagues, clubs and players in the decision-making process
4. Restore the role and the centrality of the FAs while clarifying the relations with the confederations
5. Adjust FIFA to the evolutions of today’s world to reflect them better
6. Reshuffle the power responsibilities between the FIFA President, the Executive Committee and the Associations
7. Strengthen FIFA’s governance structures
8. Reform FIFA’s administration
9. Modify the insulation of refereeing debates
10. Define and implement a more comprehensive notion of autonomy
11. Reconnect FIFA with the “people of football”

Seriously, he’s identified pretty much everything wrong with football and he seems genuinely motivated and passionate enough to address it. So please, ignore my ideas, call me an idiot and tell me I shouldn’t be allowed an opinion but don’t let the biggest opportunity for our beautiful game to be fixed pass us by.

What if England get sent packing in Brazil 2014 by a ludicrous offside goal and Sepp Blatter’s response is “mistakes are part of the game”, he’s re-elected and it happens again in Russia 2018? Don’t let that man halt the progress of football any longer. It’s time we had someone competent enough to take responsibility and give the fans worldwide what they deserve. A vote for Jérôme Champagne is a vote for common sense. Spread the word and let’s make football beautiful again.

Originally published at fourfourtweet.co.uk

Post written by Kain Watson (@KainNUFC) for FourFourTweet
Blog: fourfourtweet.co.uk, Twitter: @FourFourTweet

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