Football’s Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system allows for crucial decisions within the live game of football to be made by reviewing replays and seeing incidents from angles not able to seen in the moment by the referee.
Naturally, this can put an end to clear and obvious errors – the reason the system was introduced in the first place – and in a game as financially lucrative as football, eradicating these errors has always been high on the agenda.
However, it has also thrown up one other unintended issue; or perhaps, more aptly, just an unusual situation.
Due to the system utilising replays, and allowing referees in charge of the VAR system – and the referee at pitchside if he wishes – it means that plays can be slowed down and paused.
This for one particular offence – the offside – the system can almost be too accurate. Now, we are finding goals can be disallowed by attackers having strayed fractions of millimetres ahead of the defence in an attack.
Yes, technically, that attacker is offside in that situation. By the laws of the game, should any part of an attacker’s body with which the ball can be legally played be offside, then the player is offside.
However, in many ways, with how accurate the VAR system can be for these calls, it severely damages the role of the striker, especially those whose entire play style relies on hanging on the shoulder of the final defender. It becomes near impossible to slip in behind the defence without ensuring they start a yard back just in case.
As such, it’s perhaps time for a rethink of the offside ruling.
Nothing drastic needs done. Its a system that works, and its a system that is well understood by players and fans alike nowadays.
However, it is weighted heavily in the defender’s favour already. With the introduction of VAR, that defender advantage has become so strong in comparison it is arguably unfair.
It would be a simple fix too.
Rather than arguing offside is the second even a fraction of a player’s boot, knee, etc. has strayed beyond, we argue that a player is offside if say 50% of a player’s body is beyond the defensive line.
Its still therefore an easy call for a linesman to make – in some ways arguably an even easier one, as they’re less likely to be obstructed by another player for tight calls – and would put an end to a lot of the controversy.
Attackers suddenly have an incentive to make breaking runs and movement becomes important once again, whilst defenders are still not at a significant disadvantage nor is the offside trap tactic ruined.
Instead, you get a way to end the continued controversy of the ‘tight offside call’, something that has been the bane of players, clubs and fans throughout season after season and will continue to do so, whilst still not hampering the defence’s abilities to play smartly too significantly.
Referees and assistant referees aren’t going to receive quite so much abuse, because its a lot harder to argue against a call when a player is more than half of their body beyond the defender then it is if half of their shoulder is.
It’s not a perfect system, but it would prevent so much of the controversy and difficulty over offside calls.
It would make VAR quicker and more streamlined too – one of the biggest complaints of the system – because it would never take three or four minutes and countless replays to tell if a player has more than half of his body beyond the defensive line. It would be something you can tell from a quick glance usually, almost always within one or two replays.
No system with offside and VAR will be perfect, but at least in my opinion, changing it up would be far better than the future outlook that awaits us: continuous arguments over millimetre offside calls that are difficult even to see on the replays.
It’s hard to be unclear as to whether half a person is beyond someone. Not so for the slightest tip of a boot.