I had the Newcastle v Man City match on while I was working at my PC (I feed games through to one of my monitors), when the ref disallowed what would have been a crucial, and spectacular, equaliser for Newcastle. On first look, it appeared to be a legitimate goal, but after a brief discussion the ref disallowed the goal due offside. An instant twitter storm erupted, with many people immediately castigating the referee for an awful decision, but was it an awful decision? I took a look at the various FIFA documents to try and work it out.

Firstly, we need to establish the relevant details, and a short clip of the incident is here. The ball had just been cleared out of the box, the City defence moved up, and Tiote hammered a volley at the goal from a little way outside the box. It flew past the goalkeeper, Joe Hart, into the City net and Newcastle started celebrating while City were claiming offside. After talking to the assistant, the referee disallowed the goal and awarded a free kick to City for the offside. The replays showed the player deemed offside was Newcastle’s Gouffran, and that he was in an offside position when Tiote struck the ball. He was not in Joe Harts line of sight, and he did move out of the way of the ball to ensure he didn’t inadvertently block it.

So should the goal have been disallowed for offside?

We need to reference the Laws of the Game which are detailed here:
http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/footballdevelopment/technicalsupport/refereeing/laws-of-the-game/index.html

The 2013/14 Laws PDF is here:
http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/footballdevelopment/refereeing/81/42/36/log2013en_neutral.pdf

There is also a further separate “Guidance” document under Teaching Material for Refereeing, on the FIFA website,  http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/worldfootball/clubfootball/01/37/04/27/interpretation_law11_en.pdf.
Finally there is a set of slides about Law 11 (the offside law) here: http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/afdeveloping/refereeing/law_11_offside_en_47383.pdf

Page 35 of the laws PDF contains the definition of Law 11, defines what being in an offside position is, and defines the offence as:

A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:
• interfering with play or
• interfering with an opponent or
• gaining an advantage by being in that position

On page 108, some of the terms above are defined:

• “interfering with play” means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate
• “interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or challenging an opponent for the ball
• “gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball
i. that rebounds or is deflected to him off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent having been in an offside position
ii. that rebounds, is deflected or is played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent having been in an offside position

A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage.

There are then some examples, and the closest match is example 7, which says “An attacker in an offside position (A) is not obstructing the goalkeeper’s line of vision or challenging an opponent for the ball.” and this is stated as not an offside offence. You could (and Newcastle fans I’m sure would) argue this is the case here. The example has the player standing well out of the way though, and in the case being discussed, the player had to actively move out of the path of the ball to avoid touching it.

It appears on the face of it that Gouffran didn’t fulfil any of the criteria above for being offside and committing an offence on that alone. He didn’t touch the ball, so not interfering with play. He didn’t interfere with an opponent according to the specific definition and as with the first, he didn’t gain an advantage because, as defined, he would have had to touch the ball for that. The ref seems to have got it wrong.

The problem appears to be a subtle rule change between 2012/13 and 2013/14, which has made it into the single 2013/14 rules PDF, but has not made it into the other documentation. As it happens, the PremierLeague,com link to the “Rules of the Game” links to the 2012/13 rules, and this has the following definition of ‘interfering with an opponent’ as follows:

“interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from
playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s
line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in
the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent

It has the same example 7, but with different wording which states “An attacker in an offside position (A) is not obstructing the goalkeeper’s line of vision or making a gesture or movement which deceives or distracts him.” Example 8, where a player runs towards the ball from an offside position, but doesn’t prevent the opponent from playing or being able to play the ball, and goes on to say “(A) is not making any gesture or movement which deceives or distracts (B).”. In fact the guidance has several references to ‘distracting an opponent.

The set of slides which form part of the education material are consistent with the 2012/13 rules and  have an explicit slide on page 17 which states:

“Interfering with an opponent” means:
– preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball. For example, by clearly obstructing the goalkeepers’s line of vision or movement
– making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent (The opponent must be reasonably close to the play so that the blocking, deceiving or distracting makes a difference)

However, on the FIFA site, these separate materials clearly have not been updated to reflect the changed definition according to the 2013/14 rules. My initial take on this at the time, having searched for and found the separate “interpretation” document, was that the ref was spot on. It’s pretty clear that is the old rule and by the new version the goal should have stood.