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By the book: What if there was no offside below the 18-yard-box?

Thursday 1st November 2018
Felix Brych and his linesmen were sent home early from the World Cup after more than one controversy.
Felix Brych and his linesmen were sent home early from the World Cup after more than one controversy.

FIFA is the ultimate governor for all business surrounding organised football. Between the white lines is a different story. IFAB sets the rules of the game. FIFA sits on the International Football Association Board. They wield exactly half the voting power. The four Home Nation federations, the FA, SFA, FAW and IFA, each hold one vote or 12.5% voting power. For any rule change to be implemented it must gain 75% approval or six votes. IFAB meets twice annually, once to discuss business matters, the other to take rule changes under advisement. The next meeting is Monday and Tuesday, 5-6 November.

With that meeting fast approaching, It's Round and It's White polled our writing staff to see who might have a suggestion. Martin Palazzotto's hockey roots allowed a Marco van Basten proposal to resonate.

 

Ask a football fan what they most want to see. More often than not, the answer is goals. That's why Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri are endlessly feted while Jose Mourinho and Claude Puel draw constant criticism. Hunger for goals is also why time-wasting is so reviled. There are ways to fix time-wasting and it should be fixed. In fact, I suspect I'll be writing about the issue quite soon. That said, putting an end to dilly-dallying won't give fans what they really want.

Match spectators desire what every audience does: entertainment. Time-wasting's end won't produce more entertaining goals in the opening half-hour or in the first 15 minutes after intermission. It will produce goals due to mistakes made by tired defenders at the end of each half. One team's supporters will laugh at their good fortune, the other's will curse their luck. It will be comedy and tragedy. Admittedly, those are forms of entertainment, just not the kind for which fans pay. We want to be thrilled and astounded by sublime movement and skill.

More time playing rather than standing around waiting for a throw-in, goal kick or substitution to take place will sap players energy. There'll be fewer goals like Cristiano Ronaldo's bicycle kick against Juventus in the Champions League last season, a strike that brought Juventus fans to their feet in appreciation even as it lay the foundation for their demise. Could Ronaldo have pulled that off had he run another kilometre or so previously? Maybe, maybe not.

The point is less time-wasting produces more ragged play as the full-time whistle approaches. If you want more spectacle, another solution must be found. I think the answer lies in tweaking the offside rule. Last year, Marco van Basten presented an idea to FIFA and IFAB. It hasn't gained any traction because football is filled with traditionalists who fear change even when it might be a good idea. Van Basten's proposal is a good idea. The Dutch legend wants to extend the white line atop each 18-yard box to either sideline, like the blue lines in hockey. Once the ball is legally between that line and the goal, offside no longer applies. 

Get the ball within 18 yards of goal; the defence can't use the offside trap against you.
Get the ball within 18 yards of goal; the defence can't use the offside trap against you.

While the pitch begins to resemble a super-sized Wimbledon court, there is little else to offend the senses in Van Basten's idea. Offside won't completely disappear, just when a team has gained the territory required to threaten goal. By eliminating offsides in the final third, the attack has more options and the defence is stripped of certain undeserved advantages the rules afford it during corners and throw-ins. 

Think about it. Corners are awarded when the defence plays the ball beyond the endline to alleviate pressure. Occasionally, there's time to kick the ball out to the side to avoid the corner. In either case, the attack is meant to have the advantage as a reward for pressuring the defence into taking the easy way out. Except the advantage turns on its head as soon as a throw-in or short corner is taken. 

On the short corner, a defender or two may stand 10 yards from the taker to deny a certain angle to the box. If the corner is played short, the one or two-man wall can both attack the player receiving the in-bounds pass. That player must move the ball laterally or backwards to evade their pressure. He cannot return the ball to the teammate who took the corner because he is now offside, taken out of play by a rule that benefits a lazy or desperate defence.

The same issue exists on the throw-in. If it goes to a player nearer the endline, he plays himself offside when he returns the pass. The attacking team cannot continue to pressure the defence until they regroup.

By eliminating the offside within 18 yards of the end line, the defence isn't awarded a quick time-out to reorganise and the opportunity to double-team an opponent on the flank or win a 50/50 ball [or throw] into the box. Without offside backing their play, they must mark every attacker. That means more space and opportunity to create chances. 

Further, the chances created will be the exciting variety, with players attacking the goal from the end-line, cutting the ball back into the box and possibly getting it back because he isn't offside. The door opens to many different movements. The pressure is on the defence, where it belongs.

It's not too much pressure, either. There will still be difficulties when teams apply a double block down low. Goals are difficult to score from wide angles. Defensive-minded coaches will discover where the ideal perimeter can be set. But there will be a bit of added space to operate which means a few more clever goals.

As well, the rule change invites more flick-on headers and backheels into the game. With players attacking near and far post, as well as between, no one will be played offside by the first touch.

Finally, the rule will increase another entertaining move: the spectacular save. Goalkeepers will be tested more and they will inevitably deliver. 

No offside within the final 18 yards is an excellent idea. I wish IFAB had it on their agenda this coming week.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.


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