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Why I hate the passive offside rule

23 October 2010

I mentioned in today’s Fulham-West Brom recap that Mark Hughes’ complaints about both West Brom goals were unfounded. By the current laws of the game, both tallies seemed legitimate. That doesn’t mean Hughes shouldn’t feel aggrieved about the eventual game-winner for West Brom (watch the first-half highlights here), which came from one of the blatant exploitations of the offside rule enabled by the current interpretation of “passive” offside.

Here are some screenshots from West Brom’s game-winning goal to illustrate the problem.

Chris Brunt prepares to deliver the initial pass.

In the first picture, Chris Brunt is delivering a throughball that eventually slides very close to (but is not touched by) Mark-Antoine Fortune, who is clearly standing in an offside position behind the Fulham central defense pairing of Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland. The ball is eventually run onto and collected by Jerome Thomas, the player at the top of the screen who appears just even with Hangeland and therefore is onside.

Look what happens then, though, as the play develops:

Thomas readies to deliver the assist to Fortune (far left, white shirt).

Thomas takes one touch toward goal and gets close to the goal line while Hughes and Hangeland have sprinted back desperately to cover. Hughes has moved to close down Thomas while Hangeland has retreated centrally, to cut off a cross to the runner coming to the back post. That leaves Stephen Kelly, the right fullback, as the only possible option to recover diagonally to pick up Fortune. Having held his line originally, he had a lot of ground to make up and doesn’t quite get to either Fortune or into Thomas’ passing lane, although he admittedly never found Fortune during his recovery run.

An unmarked Fortune has the simple side-foot finish.

In the final photo, you see the simple cutback pass found Fortune all alone in front of goal, and an easy finish staked West Brom to its evetual winning margin.

I do not understand how West Brom in a situation like this is not considered to have gained an unfair advantage by having a player in a “passive” offside position on the initial pass. He clearly was close enough to the initial throughball to have been considered “impacting” the play, as Fulham defenders hesitated. He then has a pronounced positional advantage on the subsequent move toward goal. Fulham’s two best-positioned defenders had to pick up the two obvious threats: the dribbler and the back-post runner, which left Fortune ahead of and inside of the only other Fulham defender with a reasonable chance to pick him up.

Today’s winning goal for the Baggies was legal, but it shouldn’t be. The passive offside rule needs some significant tweaking to prevent situations like this from unfairly benefiting the offense.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 27 October 2010 11.38am

    “He then has a pronounced positional advantage on the subsequent move toward goal”

    Great point, but how can the ref know this at the time of the initial pass? I seem to think the rule is fine for the most part. It’s a rule of discretion and I think the ref made a fine call in this situation.

    It’s like the advantage call. How can you know how the play will develop? You can try to guess and determine if there is an advantage or if the player is not impacting the play but it does not always work out the way you plan.

    You have to call what you see at the time and I think in this situation the ref made a fine call. Although I would not object to seeing this rule changed in the future.

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