No offside because of deliberate play (a case study)

No offside because of deliberate play.  That’s when good communication between referee comes in. The assistant referee can usually see the offside position, but the referee also plays a role to see if it’s a deflection or deliberate play. An updated blog post with new video’s. 

Offside situation in MLS

What I’d like you to do is watch the following situation and make a decision first. Because you’ll learn the most when you judge yourself first, I’d you to answer this question first before watching the clips

What is your call?

Your first thought probably is: offside! But what happens after the pass pictured below?

Explanation by Alan Black from PRO

Alan Black, PRO’s Head of Coaching, Education and Evaluation, shows FIFAs criteria for a deliberate play on the ball in a statement from PRO. (Great job that you publish this, PRO!) This helps you to interprete the action from the defender.

  • A defender goes to play the ball – conscious action
  • The defender has time and options
  • The defender has control of his actions – not the outcome of the action
  • There is distance and space between the pass and the defender playing the ball

Because of these criteria, their and my conclusion is that the goal should count. “Ultimately the goal by Jordan Hamilton was legitimately allowed to stand to give Toronto a 2-1 lead at this point in the game.”

Role of the referee

This is where the role of the referee is important. You’ve probably noticed the assistant referee raise his flag and put it down very quickly. It seems like the referee clearly communicates (via headset f.e.) that the ball comes from a defender and it’s a deliberate pass. In a previous blog post I wrote about the referee’s responsibility with offside.

Example from the Mexican league

First I’ll share the original video in a tweet to you. What is your call?

Make your decision quickly, as you have to in a normal game.

Ben from shares this example with me on Twitter. The assistant referee sees the offside position, but does not see the deliberate pass. Ben explains: “Great situation to learn/teach offside law as it stands. Forward pass by attacker is played on by defender to co-attacker in offside position. Unfortunately, the assistant referee misses this and flags for offside, which is upheld by centre ref”

Incident in the Premier League

Below you’ll find a longer case study based on a clip where there’s no offside because of deliberate play.

That’s also how Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) judges the penalty and offside incident in the game between Liverpool and Tottenham. Jon Moss gets it right, but what can you learn from this match incident? A case study.

Discussion of Jon Moss and AR: no offside because of deliberate play?
Discussion of Jon Moss and AR: no offside because of deliberate play

PGMOL statement supports referee Moss

“Jon Moss was in a good position to see that a Liverpool player deliberately played the ball before it fell to Harry Kane in the penalty area”, is mentioned in a statement by the PGMOL, cited by lots of newspapers. “He then correctly judged that Kane was fouled by Lorius [sic] Karius. However, given the speed of the attack he was uncertain of the identity of the Liverpool player who kicked the ball.”

Watch the situation

The deliberate pass is not the most clear hear, but this video got something I want to show you. It’s Jon Moss talking with his assistant referee Eddie Smart.

PGMOL continues their statement. “Eddie Smart, having identified that Kane was in an offside position, correctly sought clarification on whether Dejan Lovren had deliberately played the ball.”

In the video you’ll see some confusion, because Moss is not sure which Liverpool player touches the ball. “Moss knew a Liverpool player had touched the ball, but not that it was Lovren.” Moss asks 4th official Martin Atkinson what he sees on tv, but he can’t watch tv footage. PGMLOL ensures Atkinson has not acted as a VAR. He also gives no advice about what to do.

Difficult series of decisions

After the talk with Eddie Smart, Moss is sure. There is no offside because of deliberate play by a Liverpool defender. That is why he awarded a penalty. “In real time this was a difficult series of decisions which the match officials judged correctly in recognising that Kane was not offside, as Lovren had deliberately played the ball, and he was fouled for the award of the penalty kick”, says PGMOL.

And this is crucial for your definition as referee:

“The interpretation of “deliberately” kicking a ball considers whether a player has intentionally tried to kick a ball. It does not consider whether the ball ends up where a player may have wanted to kick it.”

No deliberate save

This was clearly a miskick, but the ball ends somewhere else. The Laws of the Game add something. “A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save by any opponent) is not considered to have gained an advantage.”

The defender is a few metres outside of his own penalty area. The LOTG only talk about a “save” when “a player stops, or attempts to stop, a ball which is going into or very close to the goal with any part of the body except the hands/arms.”

A defender outside the box is not very close to the goal, so this is not a deliberate save. Correct call by Jon Moss.

Also wrote another story about offside and the responsibility of the referee.


  • Rob Lambert

    Good day, whilst I agree with your comment regarding the decision on whether a Liverpool player “deliberately” played the ball or not with regards the offside offence and yes LOTG clearly states a “save” is when a player stops or attempts to stop a ball going into or very close to the goal and in this instance the “save” was outside the goal area so not close to goal at all, the question really is was the ref’s call that the challenge on Kane for a penalty correct. If you look closely, there is no clear contact by the keeper on the striker and the striker gives one the impression that he is clearly diving in which case the decision should have been reversed and an striker should have received YC for stimulation and FK should have been awarded to defending team. This is how we saw this offence plus the fact that the AR was caught on national TV giving a fist pump to himself when the decision was awarded, which smacks of something more sinister with this whole matter. We would appreciate your further comments on this and yes whilst we appreciate these incidents occurred some time back, they still form part of many of our group discussions.
    Kind regards

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Thanks for the comment, Rob.

      That’s what I disagree on. If you play and pause the video, you’ll indeed notice the first leg of Kane is not touched by the goalie. But have a look at Kane’s right foot. While he is still standing and not going down at all, the goalie’s hands/arms clearly touches the right foot of Kane, which is why he loses his balance. At such a speed, he can’t keep up his feet this way and it’s a foul for me.

  • Tim Rands

    Happy to read your analysis. That was mine at the point of the incident, watching on TV in the US, and I was very happy the referee team made the call consistent with LOTG and guidance. However, I was very frustrated by the ‘You Are The Ref’ organization, with their former referees, who seemed only to want to undermine the decision making, as well as the clarification from PGMOL. I think it’s important for referees to learn and apply the official guidance. Having another organization of former referees undermining that information undermines all referees.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Good to know we agree, Tim. Some situations are difficult, but official interpretations help a lot. But situations like this will always remain difficult and if you ask a buch of refs, a lot will not call this a deliberate pass I guess.

  • Russell

    Jan, Great examples as always!

    With the Mexican situation, based on the PRO advice, I would agree with the officiating team that this was offside. For me, the actions of the defender were not ‘conscious’ and he has no time and options. Whilst the slow motion gives the impression that the play was more deliberate, in reality, at full speed, it seems like just a reflex action to me. What do you think?

  • Steve Grey

    I hate this new interpretation and spoke out vociferously about it when it was introduced. Incidents like these just confirm my original viewpoint The only reason the defender plays the ball is to prevent it reaching an opponent. If the defender leaves the ball then the attacking player is considered to be offside, but the defender has to play to the whistle and therefore has to try to intercept the pass. For me this interpretation needs to be changed, because the attacking player gains an obvious advantage from standing in the offside position, and anyway, the pass is originally clearly intended for the ‘offside’ player.

  • George

    Hi all,
    In the video from Mexico we only see the slow motion replay.
    I can understand in real time, how the referees saw this as a deflection.
    The defender is moving and gets in the way of the ball more than he attempts to play it deliberately.
    Therefore I would agree with the offside.

  • Ref

    I agree the final decision was correct regarding the not offside. However I think defenders who misplay with no control should not re set the offside it should be consider a rebound deflection save. The attack gains advantage by this. I know this is not the current law. Pre 2016 it may have been? I think it needs to be changed to a controlled deliberate play by defenders. Good communication and good job from the assistant.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      A deliberate play doesn’t mean it’s controlled now indeed. The ball can be a mishit, but for me that is fine.

  • Chadwick Kerr

    My only question is from the MLS game. What “Time and Options” did the defender have with a waist high ball that is not exactly close to him?

  • Charles Perciful

    Jan ter Hasmel, so I should teach my U9/10 players to leave a ball going through and expect the referee to make perfect calls? Or expect him to make a perfect reaction save to percent the ball from going through and maintain possession? It’s clear that whoever made this rule and thinks this way has never played at a high level or coached. The spirit of the laws is to not allow an advantage, if you have ever played before you know that the MLS goal is a clear advantage. And also offside because it did not touch a defender from the time it left attacker 1 to attacker 2. It was defelected back to the player who played it directly to an offside position. Regardless, you pointed out where you taught the ref crew got it wrong. We expect defenders to be perfect but can’t have perfect referees. This is a problem that has to be fixed.

    • Todd Roberts

      You can’t expect perfect refereeing of FIFA referees. You certainly can’t expect it at U9/10. I guess what you should teach is that if you’re going to make a deliberate play on a ball, make sure you don’t kick it to an opponent. This rule change replace the previous rule that stated that the defending team had to gain “possession” of the ball before kicking it to the attacking team would not trigger an offside call. Of course, the question at that time was “what is considered ‘possession?'”. I think the most important thing is to be able to call the match fairly and reduce the number and difficulty of the judgement calls for the referees. As a referee, I personally prefer the rule the way it is now.

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