Commentary

The mountain and the mouse (Part 2)

When I wrote the first part of this sequel, U.S. Soccer’s president was Carlos Cordeiro, the governing body still did not have a CEO and I could go wherever I like in my free time. Now we have a new U.S. Soccer president, Cindy Parlow Cone, and a new CEO Will Wilson. Just minutes before I sat down to write this article; Williamson County – the Texas county where I live in – issued a “stay home” order. I have been voluntarily quarantining myself for the past 10 days anyway. Most of the sports activities around the globe, including the 2020 Olympic Games and Euro 2020, have either been postponed indefinitely in most cases or until 2021. I personally think that this pandemic will linger on with ups and downs until a proper vaccine or a medication is developed. So we will have less daily or current topics to write about. But every crisis opens up a window of opportunity. It will create a window of opportunity for the new presidency and administration of U.S. Soccer without any USMNT or USWNT games to worry about in the near future. Maybe I will talk about this issue next time. 

There is also a window of opportunity for IFAB to reconsider some of the changes that they put in the backburner. For example, IFAB said – with reference to concussion-induced mandatory substitutions – “FIFA indicated a strong interest in having trials at the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Games football tournament in July 2020, with other competitions also being able to take part in the trials”.  Well, those tournaments are postponed for at least a year now, so here is a window of opportunity for IFAB to develop a solution instead of to ignore or to procrastinate the problem.

Same is true for offside decisions with the use of the VAR system. Currently most VAR applications – the only exception I know is MLS citing inadequate camera angles – use software developed to determine whether a player is an offside position using the LETTER of the Law 11. Being in an offside position is an objective decision based on the letter of the Law. (It is true there is a subjective criteria when it comes interfering with an opponent which is a very subjective decision.) So is whether the whole of the ball passes over one of the boundary lines or whether a foul is committed by a defender is inside the penalty area or not. Nowadays, the movement of the goalkeeper during a penalty kick is also judged objectively. Well, with the inclusion of mistaken identity that is it, the rest of the domain of the VAR protocol is for subjective decisions. 

In some leagues, the Goal Line Technology (GLT) is also being used alongside the VAR. So in those games where GLT is used a goal or no goal decision is reached with one centimeter only, no one object to that decision. Even in games when the GLT is not being utilized if there is a clear side view camera angle nobody objects to a decision based on one centimeter only. 

So what is this fuss about offside decisions measured by a centimeter or so made by VAR using software? First of all goal/no goal decisions are once-in-a-blue-moon decisions. They are very rare and hence it is not in the epicenter of discussions. Also a goal/ o goal decision with the GLT takes a second to decide even without the GLT it takes at most 10-15 seconds to decide with the correct camera angle by VAR. 

The offside decisions are far more often and because of the use of software where the VAR/AVAR has to find the exact location to draw the lines; one for the defender and one for the attacker with their part of the body except the hand/arm that is closest to the goal line. This is time consuming. If after the jubilation of a goal if you disallow a goal after two minutes of deliberation with VAR based on a couple of centimeters of offside, then that is a very difficult decision to sell. 

So there are two solutions circulating around for making this kind of calls more marketable. One is to draw thicker lines so that the width lines will absorb offside calls based on a few centimeters.  This doesn’t look like a complete and radical solution but rather a “band aid” solution. First of all, what width of a line would satisfy everyone? One centimeter, two centimeters, three centimeters… Well, I personally this is not a sane solution to the problem. 

A “sane” solution should be 

  1. Fast
  2. Satisfies the letter of the Law, 
  3. Satisfies the VAR protocol 
  4. Restores  -as David Elleray said - more benefit to attacking football.

I have two recommendations. The first one is simple but difficult to implement. Get rid of the software. Well, that is easier said than done if you look at the potential business repercussions. When a goal scored, the VAR/AVAR will stop the frame when the ball is kicked last and see whether the decision made on the field is correct without drawing lines. If there is no obvious and clear error let the decision on the field stand. Since the ARs in games where VAR is used are instructed not to put the flag up on doubtful cases until the ball is out of play, this solution fulfills all the four requirements of the “sane” solution. Actually, that is what MLS does, so there is already a precedent. 

The other one requires that the Law 11 to be changed. This change will definitely benefit attacking soccer/football but I am not sure as long as the lines drawn by the software is used it will be faster.

If you look at the history of the Laws of the Game (LOTG) originally the game was played like rugby – no forward passes were allowed. Then they decided that if there are more than three players or more between the ball and the goal line the player will not be offside. 

Later on which is the basis of today’s Law 11, the number of players were reduced to 2. In the 1980’s Law 11 read as follows: 

A player in an offside position if he is nearer to his opponent’s goal line than the ball, unless ….there are at least two of his opponents nearer than their own goal-line than he is.” )I apologize for the sexist wording but that is how it was then.) So a player who was level with second last defender was considered to be in an offside position. 

Later on IFAB decided to promote attacking soccer/football and allowed players to be onside when they are level with the second-last defender.

Today Law 11 says

A player is in an offside position if:

• any part of the head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half (excluding the

halfway line) and

• any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than

both the ball and the second-last opponent

The hands and arms of all players, including the goalkeepers, are not

considered.

A player is not in an offside position if level with the:

• second-last opponent or

• last two opponents. “  

This is the letter of the Law that dictates how VAR/AVAR draws those infamous lines one in red the other in blue. Based on those lines, a player could be onside or offside by a centimeter or even less. (For the purposes of clarity, I am avoiding the argument about frames per second, etc.)

How about if we rewrite the Law so that an attacking player is only in an offside position if the attacking player clears completely from being level with the second-last opponent. That is if the attacking player’s head, body or feet clearly clears the head, body or feet of the second-last defender then the player is an offside position. IFAB can easily phrase what I mean. This change coupled with no use of software like MLS does will check all the four boxes mentioned above.

We will see what happens in the months to come…

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) is the former Secretary General and the Chief Soccer Officer of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, TX.

8 comments about "The mountain and the mouse (Part 2)".
  1. beautiful game, March 28, 2020 at 10:15 a.m.

    Ahmet, I believe that using the the term "clear daylight between opposing players" is the solution as your article suggests. That and the recent unintentional handball rule must be addressed now. The latter is a total farce. Otherwise, the game will continue to suffer. 

  2. Kent James replied, March 28, 2020 at 5:57 p.m.

    Agreed, on both points.  Space between the torsos of the two players is clear and (relatively) easy to see, and it favors the attacking team. As to handling, players should not be penalized for having arms, only if they use them to try to cheat.

  3. Doug Broadie, March 28, 2020 at 2:16 p.m.

    I alway thought that making the law read, "If any part of the attacking players's body is in line the the 2nd to last defender, except for the hands and arms, the player is judged to be onsides."  I think that 1/2 of Luis Suarez offsides would be judged onsides.  Remember that the intent of the rule was to keep cherry pickers from standing next to goal and score easy goals.

    Another law change that needs to happen is handballs.  Going back to the intent of the original law, it was to stop the "INTENTIONAL" handling of the balls in play.  As an international referee explained on an old referee's list, "There are very FEW (intentional) handballs in the game of football".  The way that VAR and football in general in giving penalties for handball are far our of propotion to other MAJOR fouls commited in the box that are not called.  Such as holding, shoving, kicking that are not called, but easily viewable on VAR.

    I'll get down off my soapbox now.
    Doug Broadie

  4. James Madison, March 28, 2020 at 4:51 p.m.

    The first of your solutions is the better, i.e., more in line with the spirit of the game and also in line with the concept of VAR, which is to reverse CR decisions only in the event of "clear and obvious error." Whether a player is cheating by playing when off the player's side should be left primarily to the judgment of the officials who are there to prevent and, if necesary, punish cheating.

  5. Mike Lynch, March 28, 2020 at 5:45 p.m.

    Amen for clear daylight between the players. Easy and rapid to adjudicate. Advantage to attacker. Problem solved!

  6. R2 Dad, March 29, 2020 at 1:54 a.m.

    I think the changes IFAB introduced in the spring of 2019 ahead of the champions league final and womens world cup have only made the interpretation more difficult instead of easier. The EPL misteps have compounded the perception that VAR is the problem, topping this all off with their completely inappropriate application of "Clear and Obvious". 
    What is clear is that VAR has crushed the atmosphere in the grounds the past couple of seasons, and that's a crime.
    Good column, AG, very much agree with your points.

  7. Paul Cox, March 30, 2020 at 10:36 a.m.

    There is a problem with "clear daylight between players"; the camera angle issue is still in play.

    If the camera isn't perfectly in line and perpendicular with the 2LD (second to last defender), then a PIAOP (player in an offside position) can *appear* to be onside when really they aren't, or appear to be offside when really they are.

    Personally, I don't mind this anyway. It would likely lead to many fewer goals being called back, for lack of "clear" evidence (ie, clear daylight between the attacker and 2LD). I like goals. I prefer a 5-4 game to a 1-0, as a fan anyway. (As a referee, I just want one where the players aren't punching each other, and the soccer moms aren't too drunk and obnoxious from their Starbucks cups full of wine.

    Whether the game would accept that type of advantage being given to attackers, though, I don't know.

    I do think that there's something we could try that might help with the VAR-offside controversy.

    I think a change in mechanics of the AR would help. Right now, in a game with VAR when the AR perceives an offside offsense has occurred, but it's so close they're not positive, they're instructed to use their comm system to let the center referee know there's offside but they're letting it play out in case they're wrong and there's a goal.

    I contend the AR should stop dead in their tracks... but not raise the flag. Let play continue. It would be a way for everyone to instantly see that it's a "close call" and if a goal is scored, and everyone looks to the sideline to see what the AR is doing, and they see them standing there like a statue upfield at where the offsense was perceived... the celebrations won't start. 

    If it was correct, and there was offside, then the attacking team doesn't celebrate but they also don't feel hard done by. If it was wrong, and it was a good goal, then they can do the usual stuff.

    And more importantly, everyone in the stadium and everyone at home would know immediately and instantly that the play is going to be under review.


  8. Doug Broadie, April 18, 2020 at 7:20 p.m.

    I still say too much weight is given to the handball, especially in the box, as opposed to other fouls, such as grabbing, kicking, pulling which are rarely called, especially by VAR.  My other change to the handball law would be to make it non-serious foul and give an indirect kick, except when it stops a ball from going in the goal.

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