Case Study: Two Pieces of the Puzzle

Case Study # 11-2013
Date 9 Mar 2013
Competition English Premier League
Fixture/Result West Bromwich 2 – 1 Swansea
Referee/Badge Lee Mason, Select Group
At Issue An incorrect offside decision allows us to consider how we might handle a similar situation

Late in this match, Swansea scored what appeared to be an equalizing goal, but it was ruled out for offside.  Replays show that the ball was clearly played by a West Brom defender, making the “goal scorer” not offside.  While the Assistant Referee must’ve been convinced that he saw the ball come off of a Swansea player, this incident gives us the opportunity to analyze how we might deal with a similar situation. If you are the AR and you see #14 receive the ball in an offside position, but you cannot tell who last played it, what are your responsibilities?

First, let’s refer to the USSF Publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” for overall guidance.

11.7 Making The Offside Decision

The assistant referee must not signal simply because a player is in an offside position, but must look for active involvement. In other words, the assistant referee must “wait and see.”  Furthermore, if an assistant referee is in any doubt as to whether a player is in an offside position or if a player in an offside position is actively involved in play, the assistant referee must decide in favor of the attacker and refrain from signaling offside. To phrase it slightly differently: When in doubt, keep the flag down and give the benefit of that doubt to the attacker. The referee, too, must be certain that there is active involvement before deciding for offside.

The Advice is clear and is consistent with the old adage “when in doubt, don’t”.  But this seems less than satisfactory when the AR has his/her view obscured.  Certainly, you can’t put the flag up, that much is clear.  But should you signal for a goal when in fact you couldn’t see who played the ball last and you know that the attacker who scored was in an offside position?

I turned to two former National Referees for advice, and not surprisingly, got contrasting answers.  I choose the term “contrasting” carefully because they were not opposing views by any means.  One followed the guidance of the Advice to Referees and Guide to Procedures diligently, while another took a slightly relaxed view, suggesting that the AR remain at attention, indicating a need to communicate with the referee.  In fact, one referee said ‘there are times when offside is like a puzzle, and the referee and AR each have a piece.’

The bottom line is that there is no absolute guidance for this situation, so Law 18 must prevail.  In any event, I believe all would agree that this scenario should be covered in a thorough pre-game.  I know I will be adding it to mine.

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7 thoughts on “Case Study: Two Pieces of the Puzzle

  1. Per the ATR, the referee has a responsibility here as well. In a situation such as this, the AR raises his flag indicating that the player was in an offside position when he received the ball. That is the communication between the referee and his assistant (conveys much more info than just standing at attention). If the referee believes the ball was played by the defense, he should wave the flag down; “obediently” blowing his whistle is a mistake. BTW, this should be covered in the pre-game.

    Interestingly enough, this happened to me a couple of years ago in a youth game (sorry, no youtube link or still shots to post). AR raised his flag, but I clearly saw the defender play the ball and waved the flag down while saying for all to hear, “Played by the defense.” Saying something aloud wasn’t strictly necessary, but they are kids after all. Was the AR in error? I say “no.” He let me know of a possible offside situation.

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  2. In a situation such as this, the Assistant Referee (AR) cannot raise his flag to indicate an offside offense has occurred if he is not absolutely certain that there is an infraction. While the ATR provides valuable advice on the mechanics appropriate in this case, I believe the practical advice goes a step further beyond simply standing at attention with the flag down at your side. I agree with your colleague’s perspective about these situations being like puzzles.

    In some offside situations such as this, the Referee needs the Assistant’s information and likewise the Assistant needs the Referee’s information to help make the correct decision. Isolated from each other, they are much more likely to make an incorrect decision.

    When the AR stands at attention with his flag down, his body language and mechanic are conveying the message that he believes there may be a problem with the goal. When the Referee sees this, he is to communicate with the AR to clarify and get all the important information before making a decision about the validity of the goal. With the modern headsets, sometimes this information is done quickly and efficiently and many observers are none the wiser (AR to R: “Who played it?” R to AR: “Deflection off Goalkeeper, Good Goal”) The communication takes less than 2 seconds and the correct decision is made. When headsets are not used, the communication must still occur, even if it looks less than ideal. The ultimate ideal must be getting the decision correct.

    In this play, since the AR raised his flag to indicate an offside offense, the Referee should still have communicated with the AR to clarify his signal. Obviously, the AR did not see the Goalkeeper deflect the ball back to the original attacker, otherwise he would not have signaled. The Referee also did not see this occur because he would have overruled the AR after consulting with him. It would be nearly impossible to dissect the angle of the Referee, or what he was looking at during the play – but suffice it to say that clearly neither of them saw the deflection off of the keeper.

    Side note, if the other AR or 4th Official have viewed this play, they could also help the referee team make the correct decision. Having said that, this is a difficult position on the field of play for either the other AR or 4th Official to be certain of what they saw. In order to become involved, they must be certain of what they’ve seen.

    In situations where an attacker in an offside position is actively involved in play, and the AR is not sure who last played the ball, he cannot signal for an offside offense. Sometimes AR’s will see that the ball has been played, but they could not, or did not, see which team played it. If a goal is scored as a result of the ensuing play, then the AR must stand at attention and exchange information with the Referee. The Referee needs to know that the player was in an offside position, and the AR needs to know who last played the ball (AR to R:” #23 was in an offside position if attacking team flicked it on”), (R to AR:”defender headed it, Good Goal.” OR “Yes, #12 flicked it on to his teammate #23, Offside).

    In all of these cases, this type of situation should be covered in the pre-match conference. I would encourage AR’s to ask these types of questions to Referees in the likely event that this type of situation is not covered (“If I don’t see who last played it and I have an attacker in an offside position that scores a goal, what information would you like?”). If the Referee is unsure about what he might prefer, I would recommend the AR to suggest something such as, “If I have an attacker in an offside position that scores a goal, I will stand at attention with my flag down. When you come over to me, I’ll tell you that the goalscorer (or the # of the player who was actively involved) was in an offside position when the ball was last touched. If you saw the ball being played by the attacking team, I recommend you disallow the goal.”

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  3. You stated of the AR “He let me know of a possible offside situation.”

    The AR is only supposed to notify you of DEFINITE offside offenses that should be punished by raising the flag. “I think it may be offside” simply isn’t sufficient justification to raise the flag. This is why we have the “stand at attention” mechanic at our disposal, so that we can silently and effectively communicate without bringing undue attention to ourselves.

    It’s good you had the presence of mind to quickly and decisively wave the flag down and verbalize as you did, as that absolutely worked to limit the possible amount of undue interference the AR created with his actions.

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  4. My $0.02:

    The USSF advises all that if an assistant referee is in any doubt as to whether a player is in an offside position or if a player in an offside position is actively involved in play, the assistant referee must decide in favor of the attacker and refrain from signaling offside. To phrase it slightly differently: When in doubt, keep the flag down and give the benefit of that doubt to the attacker. The referee, too, must be certain that there is active involvement before deciding for offside.

    Having said that, yes, there are times when the AR and the Referee have each one of the two pieces of the puzzle. The AR might see the offside position, but have an obstructed view of actual pass to the player in offside position (most often by his teammate). In a rare instance like that, the AR is to seek this missing piece of information from the referee before the game restarts and the decision to nullify the goal shall be taken only after the referee crew is absolutely sure the offside infringement occurred and they are to remember that any benefit of the doubt goes to the attacking team.

    Now,

    The ongoing debate is the proper mechanic by the AR in such scenario – does he sprint up the line to indicate the goal as he didnt immediately notice any factual infringement or does he stand at attention as to get the referee’s attention.

    My professional opinion is that he must sprint up the touchline, as the “standing at attention” pose is reserved for ONLY when the AR observes factual infringements prior to goal being scored, not when he has a “hunch” about something possibly being wrong.

    In closing, I don’t condemn the “standing at attention”, as long as the end result is correct, but since this is a very technical question – I say it is incorrect to stand at attention on the basis of what the official publications tell you to do and I was always (as you can tell) an opponent of “inventing” new mechanics and rules and adding them to an already muddy pool of what FIFA and USSF has thrown at us 😉

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  5. This has happened to me probably 3-4 times in refereeing kids games these past 20 years and is especially likely with some of the bumblebee attacking formations. In every case, keep your flag down and just stand there because you don’t know how the ball was played out of the scrum. Sorry, but the final decision here is all on the referee. And if the referee doesn’t know, GOAL.

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  6. In addition to my $0.02 above

    Part of my reasoning behind choosing to go with AR “sprinting up the touchline” to indicate a goal in such cases (besides the fact that I can not find the “other” “stand at attention” mechanic in any book or advice) is that when you sprint up the line as AR, you remove yourself from the “Hot Zone” in the attacking third of the field.

    I think that when you stay there (and sometimes you have no choice as an AR), you will always get heat from either team, depending on the call you make.

    Having said that, if the CR follows the “Goal” procedure correctly, there should be no question whether the crew can get it right.

    The GDP (Guide to Procedures) tells CRs to make the initial eye contact when a goal is scored and another one with both assistant referees before signaling for the kick-off to occur.

    I am of the opinion that bringing all that attention to the AR and the crew when dealing with a potential game changing situation is unnecessary and should be done ONLY when needed, when all is confirmed (after the proper mechanics for a goal has been followed).

    I don’t know what the stats are in situations like that, but consider this:

    If in 5 out of 10 scenarios like that the goal is scored from an actual offside while the other 5 are scored correctly and you stand at attention by default each time, you will bring a hell to yourself and the crew all 10 times.

    as oppose to…

    only 5 times, when in fact you conclude a moment later (before restart) that there was an actual offside.

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  7. @ SoccerReferee

    While there is plenty here in this topic open for a debate due to a very limited (basically non-existent) “official advice”, your statement below is completely wrong:
    ——————————————————
    You said:
    “Per the ATR, the referee has a responsibility here as well. In a situation such as this, the AR raises his flag indicating that the player was in an offside position when he received the ball. That is the communication between the referee and his assistant (conveys much more info than just standing at attention).”
    ——————————————————

    We are debating the mechanics of “stand at attention” vs. “sprint up the touchline”. The raising of the flag up or not is not really open to any debate as the LOTG and the ATR are clearly directing ARs to KEEP IT DOWN, unless 100% sure offside offense has factually occurred.

    Pardon my correction, but what you wrote is absolutely wrong and not written anywhere within ATR or elsewhere.

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