It’s time to scrap the offside rule.
In the Premier League season 2019/20, VAR was supposed to take care of the incorrect offside decisions that plagued previous seasons.
- Officials were told to delay marginal offside decisions where there was a clear and obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
- Play was allowed to continue until the current phase of play ended (i.e. a goal was scored, ball went out of play, a foul occurred etc.)
- The linesman then flagged the offside, and VAR was brought into play to check the call – if it could benefit the defending side.
- If a goal was scored, VAR reviewed the initial (and subsequent) incidents
In the Premier League thus far, 28 goals have been overturned after VAR reviewed them for offside. 8 goals have been awarded when incorrect offside decisions were overturned. Arsenal have benefitted twice from VAR offside decisions:
Game: Man United (A; Sept. 30)
Incident: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal, originally ruled out for offside, overturned on review, 58th minute – FOR
Game: West Ham (H; March 7)
Incident: Alexandre Lacazette goal allowed after incorrect offside against Mesut Ozil, 78th minute – FOR
They have also had one goal disallowed:
Game: Brighton (H; Dec. 5)
Incident: David Luiz goal disallowed for offside, 63rd minute – AGAINST
I don’t have a problem with the actual HawkEye system. In fact, the technology FIFA uses is pretty remarkable, as can be seen in this 2018 video:
- Each Premier League grounds is calibrated pre-season – meaning the ground is mapped and then recreated virtually on the VAR system.
- A grid of lines parallel to the goal-line is used to generate two lines – one showing the scoring part of the attacker furthest from his own goal, and the other showing the scoring part of the defender closest to his own goal
- These lines are then compared, and if the attacker’s line is closer to the defender’s goal than the defender’s, then the attacker is ruled offside.
- Lines perpendicular to the plane of the pitch are generated to fine-tune these lines, where the parallel lines are not sufficient.
- Five camera angles are used by VAR official(s) to provide even more accuracy, especially in cases where body parts are obscured.
What I do have a problem with, is how long it took for VAR to reach its decision in a vast number of cases.
Even for TV viewers, the time it took VAR officials to choose between the bootlace, fingertip or the nose-hair of offensive players seemed inordinately long. For fans at the stadium, these interminable pauses in action completely ruined the live experience – especially considering the fact that (unlike in other sports, where VAR is used to great effect: cricket, rugby, tennis…) the VAR review was not shown on stadium screens. (Supposedly because some stadia still don’t have screens – although one might argue that FIFA and the FA have never been fond of transparency – they don’t supply an audio feed of what is being discussed either, and all stadia have tannoy systems…)
The guiding principle of VAR is that it is supposed to be “clear and obvious”. If a decision takes a number of minutes, then it is patently not either…
As Lukas Brud (General Secretary, IFAB) puts it:
Looking at one camera angle is one thing – but looking at 15, trying to find something that was potentially not even there… this was not the idea of the VAR principle.
I’m not sure this is what the FA imagined would happen when they introduced VAR. Do they have regrets? Are they looking for a way out – in the same way a self-excluding punter might look for a list of casinos not on gamstop?
I also have a problem with the fact that, for offside decisions, VAR uses the footage from the broadcast cameras, which film match events at a framerate of 50 frames per second (fps). This means that each frame is .02 seconds apart.
This might not seem like a lot – but considering that Aubemayang’s top recorded speed while playing for Arsenal is 21.74 mph (9.72 meters per second), that means that the fastest footballer on the planet has moved 19.44cm in the time it took to film one frame.
That’s a margin of error of 20cm.
Consider too, the speed of a leg swinging to kick the ball: the moment that the foot makes contact with the ball is when the pass is deemed to have been made (and the frame is frozen), but the actual contact could have occurred 0.01s earlier (or later) – leading again to a margin of error that doesn’t seem to be included in the final calculation.
Note too, that the defending player is probably moving in the opposite direction, further muddying the waters.
If VAR is to be taken seriously, these margins of error should be included in the decision, and graphically portrayed by varying the thickness of the attacker and defender lines, and only if there is clear distance between them, with the attacker’s line closer to the defender’s goal. should offside be ruled.
This would make those tedious, time-consuming, ultra-fine VAR decisions a lot shorter – or, more likely, unnecessary. That is, until there wiss a call for higher framerates and better technology. (At which point it’s worth noting that even at 500 fps, the margin of error would be 2cm for an Aubameyang full-tilt offside call…)
Modifying Offside Rule
Arséne Wenger has suggested flipping the offside rule to benefit the attacker, so that if any scoring part of the attacker is level with or behind the defender, then he should not be ruled offside. Many pundits have, however, pointed out how hard this would be to officiate. As it stands, linesmen (or -women) are trained to judge the leading part of the attacker (usually the head or shoulder) relative to the lagging part (usually the foot or heel) of the defender.
Under Wenger’s proposed rule – the official is most likely to have to judge the relative positions of the feet of the two players – having to make super-fast calls by looking at a muddle of socks and boots.
Up until 1990, field hockey had an identical Offside Rule to football. However, the governing body decided that the game was moving too quickly for offside decisions to be called accurately, and they made the bold decision to scrap the offside rule completely.
Far from ruining the game – it opened it up, making it more competitive, and bringing a slew of new tactics into play.
How Scrapping The Rule Might Affect Football
One might imagine a situation where the striker just camps out in the opposition’s goal mouth, while his defence bombs forward a barrage of long-balls. This hasn’t happened in hockey, however, since long balls are less successful, and a great way of giving away possession. And having the ball in your possession is a fairly standard way of guaranteeing your opponent can’t score…
It is likely that the game would automatically be “wide open” or “spread” from kickoff – (positive) terms often used by commentators to describe that period in the match where both teams are battling for goals, where they have abandoned ‘parking the bus’ or putting all players behind the ball.
Yes – there are tactics that have been developed to ‘compress’ play and allow technically proficient teams to ‘dominate’ possession – generally with tiki-taka to-ing and fro-ing across the pitch, or swinging around the goal-mouth trying to find gaps in a low defensive block…
Similarly, defensive units have found success by moving as a unit, holding a high line, and trying to nullify counter-attacks by laying offside ‘traps’. These tactics would go – but would that be a bad thing? And what about attackers idling back from an offside position, only to be blown up when the ball is played upfield once again. Or silly short corners that sputter out when players lose concentration.
I, personally, would love to see how scrapping the rule would open up the game, in the way that allowing the full use of the entire pitch could only do…
One thing that would change for sure is that there would be far less stopping and starting. And way lot less staring at a VAR screen while a bunch of incompetent officials waste our time dissecting blurred images with their pixel-perfect tools.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
- Premier League explains how VAR adjudicates offside calls.
- How VAR decisions have affected every Premier League club
- Fixing offside and VAR using design
Paul Hepker (aka invinciblog/batmandela) recently returned to South Africa after a 16-year stint in Hollywood, where he plied his trade as a film and TV composer. He adopted Arsenal in the mid-80′s, and if it doesn’t start behaving soon he’s going to send it to boarding school.
As an ardent Gunner propagandist – he has contributed a number of tongue-in-cheeky images to the Goonerverse – one of which is bound to get him into trouble at some point.