American sports fans sometimes suggest that soccer should do away with the offside rule. The thought is usually that this change would lead to more scoring, and therefore more entertaining games.
But in order to understand the impact this would have on the game of soccer, it’s necessary to understand some key tactical principles that aren’t as obvious to casual observers.
Taking away the offside rule would be catastrophic to what makes today’s game exciting and would have major negative consequences.
Negative Consequences of No Offside in Soccer
Perhaps the most important concept to consider is space. Think about the large size of a soccer field, and how the offside rule serves to keep the different lines (defense, midfield, attack) relatively close together.
If there was no offside, offenses would immediately put a player or two directly in the opposition’s box right near the goal and attempt to feed long balls to those players.
And to counter, defenses would send someone back there to mark the attackers. The back line as a whole, in fact, would need to retreat significantly, because they can’t leave a huge space behind them that an opponent could get a head start running into.
This would result in a nearly empty midfield consisting of huge swaths of space, and a game filled with long balls and a lot of 1v1 battles, with very little of the cohesion, teamwork, and passing that make soccer a challenging and interesting game today. Players would tire more quickly as well.
In today’s game, creating space is an elite skill. Masters like Messi make brilliant unpredictable runs to earn space.
Players must learn to operate in tight spaces, forwards must time their runs in order to get behind the defense, and defenders need to press and drop together with impeccable timing. These tactics would be all but eliminated with the abolition of offside.
The game would start to look like the youth game of World Cup where a mob of players in front of a goalkeeper all try to score.
For additional evidence, look at throw-ins, where there is no offside. If a team has a player with a long throw, the attacking team simply packs the box with numbers in order to have a chance to scrape together a goal.
Smaller Tweaks to the Offside Rule
So hopefully we now see the reasons against taking away the offside rule. But if we dig a little into soccer history, we will learn that although the complete abolition of offside would be catastrophic, smaller tweaks have already been made over the years. There have been two big offside law changes that took place in 1925 and 2005, both of which changed the way soccer is played.
In 1925, the offside law was changed from requiring three defending players between the forward and the goal to just two (Wilson 38).
This change led to increased scoring, according to Wilson: “On the face of it, the amendment was an immediate success, with the average number of goals per game shooting up to 3.69 the following season, but it brought about significant changes in the way the game was played.
The most obvious immediate effect of the change in the offside law was that, as forwards had more room in which to move, the game became stretched and short passing began to give way to longer balls” (38-39).
Another big change in the offside law came in 2005. Starting then, players had to be on the play by touching the ball or making contact with an opponent.
According to Wilson, “it has become increasingly difficult … for teams to play a hard pressing game with a high offside line, and so the effective playing area has been stretched from around 35-40 m to around 55-60 m” (357). So there is more space for players to play in front of the defense.
However, if you want more goals, then you want more space behind the defense, so you would want teams to play an offside trap which allows for well timed runs and passes.
With the rule change, “The offside trap has been rendered ineffective. The figures bear this out. Opta stats show that in 1997-98 there were 7.8 offside per game in the Premier League, after which there was a fairly steady decline to 6.3 in 2005-06. Since the new legislation came into force, there has been a further decline, to 4.8 so far this season.”
The liberation of the offside law from 2005 has teams defending deeper allowing for more space in front for for teams to play soccer.
So, when we step back and take a closer look, we have already had rule changes that are actually in line with some of what American sports fans were asking for.
Finally, to bring things back to American sports, why not take away the illegal formation in NFL football and let anyone be an eligible receiver? We’d see way more touchdowns!
Of course, this wouldn’t work; it would radically change the strategy, remove structure, make the game sloppy, and disadvantage the defense too much. Same with offside.
Wilson, J. (2013). Inverting the Pyramid: The history of soccer tactics. New York: Nation Books.
AL SAUNDERS says
it’s necessary to understand some key tactical principles that aren’t as obvious to casual observers
THE CASUAL OBSERVER COULDN’T GIVE A S**T ABOUT TACTICAL PRINCIPALS
THE CASUAL OBSERVER OR ‘MR JOE BLOGGS WANTS’ WANTS TO BE ENTERTAINED
Parker & Walsh says
Certainly true; however, the point is that without understanding some tactics, the casual observer may not understand how a total abolition of the offside rule would change the game and ultimately leave them not entertained and even more frustrated.
Are there changes that could be made to the rule, especially in the VAR era? Yes, of course. But doing away with it entirely is not the way to provide entertainment.
Absolute rubbish excuses. Of course it would open the game up. Clubs would not hoof it upfield as we have seen now when played the CH just lap them balls up allday long. It would get rid of stupid VAR being offside for a cm and leave it to check actual wrong decisions like fouls or handball.
Linesmen could then concentrate more on play instead of looking across the pitch.
Parker & Walsh says
The handling of VAR in some leagues is bad right now, I’m with you on the absurdity of a centimeter ruling out an otherwise good goal. But this shouldn’t make us go too far. Any offense will try to stretch the defense out as much as they can, and without offside they can station a player directly on the opponent’s endline or cherry picking right by the goal. Why do you think it would lead to fewer long balls rather than many more due to teams being so stretched out?
So the game would be more entertaining with 1v1 and more goals. Yeah, get rid of offsides.
Mark Piske says
Has it ever been tried in exhibition matches? There wouldn’t be a deep developed strategy, but it might provide insights that can’t be achieved from thought experiments. I’ve seen a lot of rules changes in a lot of sports over the years that didn’t turn out anything like a lot of experts thought they would,
“Taking away the offside rule would be catastrophic to what makes today’s game exciting”
The whole reason this discussion is happening is because today’s game ISN’T exciting to a lot of sports fans, especially the ones who have and were raised with lots of other options.
And thus soccer is more boring than watching golf and more boring than watching paint dry. Incredible athletes with incredible talent but such a lame sport with lame rules.
Ken Ng says
This still doesn’t explain the frustrating amount of games that are decided by penalty kicks. Literally the worst way to decide a game.
I say get rid of it.
You would love to read this if you hate penalty like me.
Ian Christie says
If offside was abolished in conjunction with a no-heading ban (effectively like 5 a side football) then this would do away with the possibility of “hoofing” the ball up towards the opposition’s goal. Since heading is being increasingly linked with dementia and brain injuries then it is probably only a matter of time before it is banned anyway. I, personally, would love to see an 11 a side exhibition match under 5 a side conditions. Yes, the goals would have to be lowered and minor amendments to goal kicks, but so what?
One suggestion would be to actually draw a line at 1/2 or maybe even 1/3 of the defense zone where offside could happen. Its a very clear mark. If a player has not crossed that then there is no offside. And it can be even be like computer driven like with laser lights/net and shit. Eliminates one task for the referee to oversee.
With VAR’s ticky tacky 1cm calls and football’s improving version of tennis’ Cyclops, changing the rule to one where a player’s torso must be fully offside from the second to last defender’s torso would go a long way in negating the infuriating amount of goals called back minutes later. And when in doubt, make “ties” favor the offense.
Definitely get rid of offsides
and headers if there is concern about head injuries.
Lets push for exhibition games without offsides and witness the new more existing game to be born.!!!
Its already 100 years too late!! Nobody is interested in field passing and tripping over each other in the center of the field. This is main reason that lots of sport lovers prefer rugby and other fild sports where the goals are scored. No more 0:0 !!!!!!!
Me and my friends get rid of offside rule to see if it’s funny and more entertaining, actually it was really fun and more goal scored a little bit than with the offiside rule. Fifa should tryout to see if the offside rule is abolishable and less stressful for the referees as well. They may get more soccer fans around the world especially in the US. Sometime, soccer games are very boring and a time wasters if no one score or draw with 1:1.
The offside rule is very controversial. We would be better off without it. If the offside rule is not ruled out soon, the American football will take over the Europe.
If both teams are 11 players why we should worry that the strikers may score more or have more advantages.
Having the offsides rule gives worse teams a chance against better teams. If there were no offsides the better teams would romp over worse teams. And who needs that? Who wants to see incredible dribbling, exciting give and go’s and skillful passing. Nah!!! Bunch everyone up together like a third grade girls game. We in America laugh at the rest of the world the way you play soccer. Um hello we have had electronic clocks now for 80 years and in all of our games everyone knows how much time is left. Tradition! And for goodness sakes subbing players in and out is so unmanly, better to see them drop dead instead and slow the game down to a crowded crawl because everyone is so tired. And then end every game in penalty kicks because seeing an actual goal in a game is like spotting big foot. The problem is that growing up with idiotic rules in what should be the greatest game on the planet normalizes idiocy and gives no hope of change. So continue to beat the living crap out of each other in in the cheap seats during your standard 0-0 thiller. And never voice your opinion about how stupid the rules are because then someone may make fun of you. Follow the crowd. Up the Dubs!