4

I personally think this is one of the most confusing aspects of the Laws of the Game. In particular, I'm referring to these two paragraphs (Law 11.4):

(Defending players off the field of play)

A defending player who leaves the field of play without the referee’s permission shall be considered to be on the goal line or touchline for the purposes of offside until the next stoppage in play or until the defending team has played the ball towards the halfway line and it is outside its penalty area. If the player left the field of play deliberately, the player must be cautioned when the ball is next out of play.

 

(Attacking players off the field of play)

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 its penalty area, the player shall be considered to be positioned on the goal line for the purposes of offside. 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.

I actually have the same two questions for both paragraphs, so they're technically four questions (just in case one or both of these questions have different answers depending on whether we're talking about defending or attacking players being off the field of play):

  • is a defending/attacking player still considered to be on a boundary line even after he has re-entered the field of play?

(This first question stems from the fact that neither paragraph says that re-entering the field of play actually stops this virtual-repositioning-on-the-boundary-lines that otherwise happens for the purposes of offside.

I'm especially curious about this for what concerns attacking players, as this seems to imply that an attacking players who had stepped off the field of play and then got back will still be considered to be a "ghost player" in offside position even if five minutes pass and the ball has been kicked around multiple times, as long as play never stopped, and the ball never left the penalty area while being kicked towards the halfway line.)

  • do these paragraphs apply to defending/attacking players who leave the field of play as part of a playing movement as well?

(This second question stems from the fact that both paragraphs seem to be about very specific situations, as the first one is about players leaving the field of play without the referee's permission, while the second one is about attacking players leaving for the purposes of not being involved in active play.

While I understand that if a player leaves the field of play with the referee's permission, e.g. because of an injury, it's only natural that he shouldn't be considered for the purposes of offside anymore, Law 11 never touches the important situation of a player leaving the field of play as part of a playing movement as per Law 3.8, so that I'm unsure about what the referee should do when e.g. an attacking player temporarily leaves the field of play to go past an opponent, or when e.g. a defending player accidentally steps behind their own goal line while defending their goal).

3

These two paragraphs are a little unclear, so the only way I can attempt to answer these is with an appeal to authority. I'm a qualified football referee instructor, and this answer is how I would expect a referee to interpret and apply the above two paragraphs. I must note that situations like this are extraordinarily rare, so the lack of clarity in these two paragraphs has not really caused any problems at the highest levels of football. If it did, the wording would probably be reviewed.

In the case of a defending player: If a defender leaves the field of play, they are taken to be on the boundary line (either touch line or goal line) at the point where they left the field of play, regardless of how/why it is done. This continues until they re-enter the field of play. Once the ball has been cleared by the defending team out of the penalty area towards halfway, the defender is taken to no longer be on the field of play and if they were the second-last or last defender, the third-last or second-last defender becomes the second-last or last defender respectively. If the defender deliberately left the field of play to attempt to put attackers offside, they are cautioned when the ball is next out of play.

In the case of an attacking player: If an attacker leaves the field of play, they are taken to be on the boundary line (either touch line or goal line) at the point where they left the field of play. This continues until they re-enter the field of play. If they:

  • left the field deliberately, and
  • re-enter the field of play without permission, and
  • subsequently gain some sort of unfair advantage, and
  • the referee is not able to penalise them due to an offside offence,

they are cautioned, and play is restarted with an indirect free kick to the attacking team.

The ball being played towards halfway etc. is effectively irrelevant here, as the order of attacking players' closeness to the goal line does not affect offside in the same way as the order of defending players' closeness to the goal line.

Examples

  • An injured defender leaves the field of play over the goal line. The defender is too injured to return to the field of play and receives treatment. They are taken to be on the goal line until the ball is cleared by the defending team outside the penalty area, towards halfway.
  • A defender steps off the field of play over the goal line to attempt to place an attacker offside. After doing so, the defender steps back onto the field of play. They are taken to be on the goal line until they re-enter the field of play. The defender should be cautioned when the ball next goes out of play.
  • A defender momentarily moves outside the touch line as part of a playing movement. They are taken to be in the position where they left the field until they re-enter the field of play moments later.
  • An attacker steps over the goal line to show they are not active. The second last defender is two metres in front of the goal line, when the ball is played again by a second attacker. The first attacker steps back onto the field of play and plays the ball. This attacker should be penalised for offside.
  • An attacker steps over the goal line to show they are not active. The second last defender is on the goal line when the ball is played again by a second attacker. The first attacker steps back onto the field of play and plays the ball. This attacker should be penalised for entering the field without permission and cautioned, as they were technically "level" with the second-last defender and cannot be offside.
  • An attacker steps over the goal line to avoid a defender. The second last defender is on the goal line when the ball is played again by a second attacker. The first attacker steps back onto the field of play and plays the ball. The attacker should not be penalised, as they did not deliberately leave the field of play.
  • An attacker steps over the goal line to show they are not active. The ball rebounds around in the penalty area a number of times. The attacker is waved back onto the field by the referee. The second last defender is on the goal line when the ball is played by another attacker. The first attacker steps back onto the field of play and plays the ball. The attacker should not be penalised, as they received permission of the referee to re-enter and are not offside.

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