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Before you immediately say 'yes', let me explain why I asked this question.

According to Law 11, a defending player who leaves the field of play for any reason shall be considered to be positioned on their goal line or touchline for the purposes of offside. When it comes to attacking players, it is only said that they can step or stay off the field of play not to be involved in active play, but if they re-enter from the goal line they may be penalised for offside (Law 11.4).

But the Laws say nothing about an attacking player leaving the field of play as part of play. It is true that Law 12 now states that a free kick can be awarded if an offence is committed off the field of play provided the player left it as part of play, but it only refers to (physical) offences committed against another player (Law 12.4), so offside is not counted.

The new wording of Law 11 makes things even worse. The old 2015/16 Laws of the Game read that:

A player is NOT in an offside position if:

• he is in his own half of the field of play

On the other hand, the new 2016/17 Laws of the Game state that:

A player is in an offside position if:

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

There is a huge difference between the two paragraphs: the old one allowed a player to be in an offside position off the field of play (because, indeed, he was not in his own half), whereas the new version implicitly denies that eventuality because any point that is not on the field of play is logically not part of the opponents' half.

Thus, here are my questions:

  • what should a referee do if an attacking player, who leaves the field of play as part of play and is in an offside position at the moment the ball is played to him by a teammate, re-enters the field of play to play the ball — or stays off the field of play to commit an offside offence there (e.g. if the player interferes with an opponent by making an obvious action that clearly impacts on the opponent's ability to play the ball)?
  • if the player is penalised for offside, where does play restart from?
8

This is a common problem with the 2016/17 Laws of the Game. The entire document was rewritten, and this was rushed through without seeking feedback from the global community of players, managers, referees and other officials for an extensive period, so contradictions occur, or entire sections appear unclear.


In Law 11.4:

An attacking player may step or stay off the field of play not to be involved in active play. If the player re-enters from the goal line and becomes involved in play before the next stoppage in play, or the defending team has played the ball towards the halfway line and it is outside their penalty area, the player shall be considered to be positioned on the goal line for the purposes of offside.

This is a massive change in how offside position is determined for attackers leaving the field of play, with very little explanation.

If an attacker has left the field deliberately, this means that even if they re-enter and place themselves in an onside position, they will continue to be considered to be in an offside position (unless the second-last defender is on the goal line) until the defensive team clears the ball towards halfway, outside the penalty area.

Also:

A player who deliberately leaves the field of play and re-enters without the referee’s permission and is not penalised for offside and gains an advantage, must be cautioned.

and in the Offside FAQ section:

Q6: How can an attacking player gain a non-offside advantage when returning to the field of play?

The player could come back onto the field of play without the other team being aware and then receive a pass or make a challenge.

This means that if a player who has left the field deliberately re-enters the field of play and involves themselves in active play before the ball has been played by the defending team towards halfway, out of the penalty area, and they are not penalised for offside, they must be cautioned for re-entering the field of play without permission. If this occurs, an indirect free kick is awarded to the defending team.

As always, an attacker who accidentally finds themselves carried off the field by a natural playing movement (e.g. a challenge by an opponent, or their momentum from a run) is not affected by either of these restrictions, provided that they re-enter the field in a timely manner.


The restart location is no longer a point of contention, as this has been simplified in the 2016/17 Laws:

If an offside offence occurs, the referee awards an indirect free kick where the offence occurred, including if it is in the player’s own half of the field of play.

This means, the indirect free kick is taken from where the offside player touches the ball, or otherwise interferes with an opponent.

If an offside-positioned, attacking player off the field somehow manages to interfere with an opponent (I see this as fairly unlikely), an indirect free kick is awarded on the field of play, closest to where the offence occurred.

Law 11.4:

If an attacking player remains stationary between the goalposts and inside the goal as the ball enters the goal, a goal must be awarded unless the player commits an offside offence or Law 12 offence in which case play is restarted with an indirect or direct free kick.

Law 12.4:

... However, if a player leaves the field of play as part of play and commits an offence against another player, play is restarted with a free kick taken on the boundary line nearest to where the offence occurred ...

Law 13.2:

... free kicks for offences involving a player entering, re-entering or leaving the field of play without permission are taken from the position of the ball when play was stopped. However, if a player leaves the field of play as part of play and commits an offence against another player, play is restarted with a free kick taken on the boundary line nearest to where the offence occurred ...

If this puts the restart location inside the goal area, the restart may be taken from any point within the goal area.

Law 13.2:

... free kicks to the defending team in their goal area may be taken from anywhere in that area ...

  • I couldn't hope for a better answer. Thanks! And yes, I agree with your complaints about the current wording of some of the Laws: though I know that The IFAB is working to improve it with the 2017/18 LotG. – Labba Nov 26 '16 at 12:44
  • Hey @FilippoLaBarbera. It turns out that I was wrong, and the Law change as written was actually what IFAB was trying to achieve. It's a big change with minimal explanation, which is puzzling, as most big changes are explained in-depth. I've edited the answer to now be in line with what IFAB expects. – studro Dec 14 '16 at 4:44
  • Just remarking, maybe the new laws would help. – Gaurang Tandon Nov 18 '17 at 13:47
  • @GaurangTandon - nothing quoted here has changed in the new Laws. It's clear - it was just a big change with not much emphasis on the change. BTW, we prefer the web edition of the Laws here rather than the pdf edition, as they're continually updated, and it's easier to link to smaller sections. – studro Nov 19 '17 at 2:51
  • @studro Sure, thanks! And also thanks for linking to the web edition, i surprisingly never knew they existed :P – Gaurang Tandon Nov 19 '17 at 2:54

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