FIFA/IFAB is issuing a new set of rewritten rules for soccer with significant new interpretations effective this summer. Most of them make a good deal of sense but there are two rules that independently make sense but are in conflict with each other when we consider the trend in rule and interpretation changes over the past generation. The major rule and interpretation changes before this round were focused on a few themes: dealing with electronics, maximizing revenue opportunities from sponsorship and tilting the run of play towards more goal scoring and offensive opportunities.
The last one is critical. Over the past twenty years, referees have been told to allow for more advantage, to wait and see and to crack down on cynical midfield fouls that disrupt potential attacks. Assistant referees have been told that the interpretation for offsides is tighter and tighter so that balls that miss an offensive player’s body by inches are still legal and play-able balls for the attack. We’ve been told repeatedly that close and ties go to the offense. The objective is to produce a few more attacks and make the defense more cautious in how often and how aggressively they step so that the field is a bit more open.
And now we get two major rule changes.
Elleray: “Part of the law book says when players commit an offside offense, you give a free kick where the offense occurred. The other part of the law book says you give a free kick where the player was when he was in the offside position. So a player can actually move 20 yards from being in an offside position … and it’s only the moment he plays the ball that he is penalized. The law tells you to give the free kick in two different places.
“So in future, the free kick will always be given where he commits the offside offense, even if he’s in his own half, because you cannot be in an offside position in your own half, but you can go back into your own half to commit an offside offense.”
“Where a player commits an offence within his own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offending player should be cautioned [with a yellow card] unless:
– The offence is holding, pulling or pushing OR
– The offending player does not attempt to play the ball OR there is no possibility to play the ball OR
– The offence is one which is punishable by a red card wherever it occurs on the field of play (e.g. SFP, VC).
In all the above circumstances the player should be dismissed [with a red card] from the field of play.”
Why are these rule changes in opposition to each other?
The offside interpretation can allow for a defensive restart on their opponent’s half of the field. That is true. However as a practical basis, the defense may occassionally gain ten to fifteen yards worth of space but they are still in the middle third of the field. The more likely scenario is that a defense is holding a medium to high line and catch a forward offside. The forward touches the ball or becomes actively involved in play thirty yards from goal but the second to last defender was forty five yards from goal at the moment of the last legal attacking touch. Under current rules, the restart is forty five yards from goal. Under the new rule, the restart is thirty yards from goal. The cost of an offside offense goes down so we should see more attackers push forward and risk the flag. This is an offense enabling change.
However the removal of an automatic DOGSO red card is a massive defensively enabling rule change. The cost of cynical fouls that chop an attacker and stop an attack has gone down significantly. A penalty kick is only a 65% chance of goal at the professional level and it varies all over the place at lower levels of play. Smart defenders will accept a yellow card and a penalty kick when they just got beat bad in the box far more readily than they would accept a red card and a penalty kick. The cost of the foul has gone down dramatically.
We’re going to have a lot more tackles that look like this in the box destroying promising attacks: