The Slide Tackle

Jack, a U12 and Under player, asks:

So in soccer my friends always side tackle and need help determining if it’s a foul or not.

Answer

We assume you mean “slide tackle” and, if so, the answer is a qualified yes, it can often be a foul and, only slightly less often, a serious foul.  Any tackle is legal, depending on how it is done.  The problem is that slide tackles, by their very nature, are more likely to involve misconduct than most other kinds of tackles.  Remember, “tackle” is simply the name for a soccer player’s effort to take possession of the ball away from an opponent using his foot or feet.  Accordingly, tackling for the ball is in one sense what soccer is all about.

So, you might ask (go ahead, ask) why, if tackles are such an important part of the game, does the Law say they are illegal?  Simple, because that’s not what the Law actually says.  I challenge you to find anywhere in the Law it says that.  What it DOES say is that, if you tackle an opponent carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force, THEN and only THEN have you done something against the Law.  It’s not the tackle, it’s how you did it that made the difference.  If you tackle an opponent carelessly, you have committed a foul; if you tackle an opponent recklessly, you have committed a foul AND also committed a misconduct that will earn you a yellow card; and, if you tackle an opponent with excessive force, then, in addition to the foul, you will be charged with misconduct and shown a red card.  All of these are fouls, but reckless fouls are also a caution and a tackle using excessive force gets you thrown out of the game (plus the next one as well).

Of course, if you tackle an opponent for the ball and it is not done carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force, then the tackle is entirely legal, which is the case with the overwhelming number of tackles occurring every day across the thousands of soccer fields across the country.  In short, if it is not done perfectly, it becomes one of the most seriously dangerous events on the pitch.

Now, is there anything special about sliding tackles?  Yes, because they are more likely to be performed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force.  Why is this so?  Because a sliding tackle involves, well, sliding and a player who is sliding on the ground with a foot forward aiming at an opponent is almost certainly going far beyond being careless – more likely it will be reckless (caution), or involve excessive force (red card).  Again, why?  Because a sliding player is out of control – once you are on the ground and sliding toward an opponent you are creating a dangerous situation.  Can that be avoided?  Yes, but it takes skill, experience, knowledge, and excellent physical abilities.  The “sliding player” is sometimes referred to as an “unguided missile”!  Add the foot outstretched with cleats showing and you have an armed unguided missile!  The very worst slide tackle is two feet forward, studs up, foot above ball height, and coming in fast.

“But I played the ball, ref!!” is a common attempt by a player to defend themselves, but it is a defense that doesn’t work if, before, during, or after “playing the ball,” one or more of the feet also connect with the opponent’s body.  Having played the ball, although a common excuse, means nothing under the Law.  If that is ALL the player did, then the player will not likely even be warned.  Add sliding or high speed or cleats exposed or both feet, or direct contact with the opponent’s body and you have a foul and most likely misconduct.  And the more of these five elements you have the more certain is the foul and the more serious the misconduct.

While we would not want to rest our reputation entirely on the following generalization, we are not averse to suggesting that only a rare few if any under 14 age players of either gender could execute a legal slide tackle … and adding more of each of the five elements we outlined above would make the generalization become almost a certainty.…

When Do Cards Get Given?

Taz, an adult pro parent, asks:

Is there ever a situation where a cautionable offense doesn’t require a stoppage of play, other than advantage?

Example:  Player on Team A commits an unsporting behavior while their team has the ball, but they do not commit a foul.  Is it required for the ref to stop play to issue the caution, or can the ref hold till the next stoppage of play?

Answer

Regarding your initial question, yes.

The 2019-2020 Laws of the Game, Law 12, provides that the usual procedure in a card situation is that the card is given at the very next stoppage – whether that is coincident with the commission of the misconduct or, if advantage is used, at the first stoppage following the misconduct either upon deciding that the advantage was not maintained for at least several seconds or, if play proceeds because the giving of advantage was successful, at the next stoppage whistled for any reason.  The International Board long ago, though, advised referees that this should be a very rare occasion if the offense was a red car, the misconduct was violent, and there was little or no likelihood of an immediate goal being scored by the non-offending team.

There is a new “however” however – if (a) the non-offending team is ready, willing, and able to restart quickly; and (b) allowing the restart involves a clear goal-scoring opportunity; and (c) the referee has not taken any overt action (by word or deed) indicating that the restart may not be taken, the restart can be allowed to occur, the card remains as a punishment,  but giving the card can be delayed until the next stoppage.  (a) and (b) are entirely based on the judgment of the referee while (c) includes such things as the referee pulling out or otherwise displaying a card as concrete evidence that the card is about to be given or the referee saying anything in a sufficiently public way as to be heard by members of either or both teams in the immediate vicinity of the restart location.

Another way of explaining (c) is that, if the referee shows any public indication that a card will be given and this is understood to require that the restart will be delayed, thus inducing either one or both teams to back away from taking or defending against the restart, then the card must be given immediately even if the team in possession of the restart would objectively had wanted to restart quickly in order to take advantage of a goal-scoring opportunity.  In short, the referee was not reading play correctly or had done something to lead players to believe that the referee was going to show the card and thus cause players to “back off.”

Now, your “example” actually raises two different questions.  First, can a referee ignore an offense (foul or misconduct) and not give a card at all?  Yes.  It’s not generally advisable but is entirely within the referee’s scope of authority and may be entirely warranted (e.g., the offense was trifling or “iffy”).  Second, can a referee decide that a card is to be given but waits quietly and without notice the next stoppage?  Not in accordance with standard protocol unless advantage is being applied.  Standard protocol calls for fouls and/or misconduct be called and punished accordingly upon their occurrence unless the referee invokes advantage.  It is considered incorrect mechanics to “secretly” decide a misconduct has been committed and then do nothing about it until play stops, either by the referee’s whistle or by the ball leaving the field.…

Clarifying a Goal Kick Puzzle

Reuben, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

I am confused by the following provison of Law 16: “If a player enters the penalty area before the ball is in play and fouls or is fouled by an opponent, the goal kick is retaken and the offender may be cautioned or sent off, depending on the offence.”

I understand from the reference to “fouls or is fouled” that the offending act happened after the ball was put in play, since otherwise it is not a foul.  If so, why is the restart a goal kick instead of the restart appropriate to the foul?

Answer

We would suggest that you read the language very closely.  Red team has the goalkick restart. Blue team is technically required by Law 16 to withdraw from Red’s penalty area.  Prior to this year, the ball on a goal kick restart is not in play until it leaves the Red penalty area but, as of this year, it is in play the moment it has been kicked and clearly moves.  Now, a Blue player enters (not fails to withdraw, but enters) the Red penalty area before the ball is put into play and that Red player fouls, or is fouled by, a Blue opponent inside the penalty area.  Although it is not specifically stated as to exactly when the GK was taken, it is clear that it was taken after the Blue opponent entered the penalty area.

It is also the case that, in various places in the Law, the International Board (IFAB) uses the term “foul” in circumstances that seem unusual.  The general explanation is that IFAB differentiates between “a foul” and “an offense.”  All fouls are offenses, but not all offenses are fouls.  We take the use of the term “foul” in this case to specifically refer to offenses defined in Law 12  rather than any non-foul offenses described elsewhere in the Law (e.g., offside, wearing illegal jewelry, or failing to exit the penalty area prior to the taking of a goal kick).

Accordingly, the fact situation is that, technically, the Blue team has committed a Law violation before the ball was put into play, even in terms of this year’s new definition.  It is also a fact, though not expressly stated in the Laws of the Game, that the referee can decide ex post facto that play was dead at that moment of entry and can act on that basis even though the whistle had not yet been blown.  So, this could result in the referee nullifying the goal kick that was taken and treat the Blue opponent’s offense as having occurred when the ball is not in play, which means in turn that, after dealing with the Blue violation, the goal kick would be retaken by Red (see p. 114, 2019-2020 Laws of the Game).

There is a certain symmetry with this solution because otherwise, if the intruding Blue player committed a foul against a Red player,  Red would get a direct or indirect free kick but, if Red committed a foul against the intruding Blue player, Blue would get an indirect free kick or a penalty kick against the Red team.  We think either result falls fairly easily into the mantra the Board has injected into the Law regarding “what does soccer want?” and we think the answer would be no free kicks (much less a penalty kick) for either Red or Blue out of this — hence, retake the goal kick.…

Interfering with Goalkeepers

Stuart, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

Can an opposing player stand in front of a goalie attempting to punt the ball?

Answer

No.  It is a violation of the Law to interfere in any way with the goalkeeper’s release of the ball from his/her hands.  This obviously doesn’t apply if the goalkeeper’s control is, say, only with the feet.

Note that we didn’t say “release the ball into play” because, technically, the ball is and remains “in play” even while in the hands of the goalkeeper —  it’s just that both the ball and the goalkeeper holding it are protected from challenge by an opponent.  This balances, in part, the four specific offenses that apply only to goalkeepers and are designed to limit the amount of time opponents cannot attempt to challenge for the ball while it is in the hands of the goalkeeper.

That said, we try to train referees to be proactive about this.  It is always a good idea, for example, to keep an eye on such a situation as it develops and to step in before it runs it’s course into a scenario in which there is no option other than to stop play.  This usually can be achieved by clearly giving a verbal warning to any opponent who is too close or not clearly backing away that they need to get out of there.  Sometimes a baleful stare at the potential miscreant will be sufficient to do the job.  If it becomes necessary for you to actually step in if actual interference occurs (e.g., a concrete attempt to challenge for a ball held by the goalkeeper or an attempt to challenge for the ball while the goalkeeper is in the physical process of releasing it, or bumping into the goalkeeper), then play must be stopped.   If this occurs, it is recommended that the opponent also be cautioned (for unsporting conduct).

Why a caution?  For game control and player management purposes.  All players (particularly the goalkeeper), need to appreciate that the referee will not allow this sort of behavior.  Goalkeepers are strange folks (we know based on personal experience) who feel that, once they have the ball in hand, it needs to be their choice as to how and when they release it because they are God’s gift to soccer.  If the referee is forced into stopping play for interfering, we add a caution to sweeten the pot for the goalkeeper who now, instead of his/her brilliant release of the ball causing gasps of amazement from players, coaches, and spectators all, is forced to restart play with a plain, boring IFK.

It also has a deterrent effect and reduces the likelihood of seeing something like that develop again.…

Communications Between Referees and Players

Gabriel, a High School and college player, asks:

Can a referee use inappropriate language towards a player?

Answer

Umm, that’s a short, interesting, and loaded question.  If the language is “inappropriate,” by definition it would be wrong to use it.  It comes down to your (and the Law’s) definition of “inappropriate.”  It can’t be “anything that I don’t like” because that definition leaves no room for debate.

It is probably safe to say that, in general, it would be inappropriate for a referee to say anything to a player that it would be inappropriate for one player  to say to another player … with two important provisos.  First, players know each other (even if between opponents) and thus are in a better position to judge the intent and content of anything one says to another.  Second, while it is common in general for one player to speak to another (even an opponent) because they are engaged in a common endeavor, this is not the case with a referee and players – even if they happen to know each other outside the immediate game.  Referees have an obligation to limit their communications with players – even immediately before and after the game – to the specific performance of the referee’s duties.

As we have noted, a referee has no more (and arguably much less) right, for example, to use “offensive, insulting or abusive language” toward a player than a player has toward another player.  The big difference, of course, is that a player cannot red card a referee.  We can tell you, however, with great assurance, that virtually all referees have stored up many sharp-edged, brilliant, and wholly inappropriate things they would like to say to players, coaches, and spectators.…

Kicking the Goalkeeper

Marc, a high school and college parent, asks:

In a recent game, the goalie had possession of the ball while standing with both hands on the ball.. As the ball was held at about hip level waiting for the defense to move out, a player on the opposite team jogging by the keeper kicked the ball out of the keepers hands by hitting the keepers hands with the studs of his cleats.  This caused both teams to come together almost resulting in a fight. The referee cautioned the player who kicked the ball out and ended up red carding the goalie for dissent . Did the referee make the correct call?   Everybody at the match felt the player should have been sent off for violent conduct.

Answer

In general, kicking, striking, and spitting are considered red-cardable offenses unless there is clear evidence to mitigate the response to the offense down to a caution. This is opposite to the approach to all other direct free kick offenses where the referee starts with “careless” (no card at all) and then needs concrete evidence to justify treating them as “reckless” (a caution) or “excessive force” (a red card) events. It is possible that the referee (incorrectly) showed only a caution because he or she thought that this came under the special circumstances of “denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity” but this doesn’t even come close to applying because (a) the perpetrator was an attacker rather than a defender, (b) the action of kicking an opponent (as I mentioned) starts as a red card offense and then requires special circumstances to do anything less serious than a red card, and (c) the attacker was not “competing for the ball” because, while in the hands of the goalkeeper, the Law does not allow for an attacker to challenge in any way.

We can’t speak to the issue of the red card to the goalkeeper for “dissent” because, without more information, this is contrary to the Laws of the Game on its face.  Under Law 12, dissent is cautionable misconduct, and a red card would be correct only if the dissent included language which was abusive, insulting, or offensive OR the referee correctly cautioned the goalkeeper for dissent but this was the goalkeeper’s second caution in the game, in which case the red card would NOT be for dissent but for having received a second caution.

The opponent should have been shown a red card because the kick involved excessive force, the goalkeeper could be shown only a caution if the GK’s actions involved only dissent, and play should be restarted with a direct free kick coming out from where the kick occurred.

The above observations are sufficiently fundamental to the sport of soccer that they would apply regardless of whether the game occurred rules other than the Laws of the Game (e.g., NFHS/highschool or NCAA/college rules).…

Offside Position

Bill, a U-12 fan, asks:

Clarification on “second-last defender”:  Most diagrams explaining the offside law will show the second-last defender facing away, parallel to his own goal. In real life, this defender is often running ‘towards’ his goal, leaning his upper body in various directions, or has his arms extended away from his body.  Is the position of his feet, or rear foot, the decisive factor in calling offside?

Answer

That’s not the only way that “most diagrams” are often misleading.

The Law is quite clear on this – though offside position decisions rarely are decided this closely and, in a VAR-officiated game, there has been increasing talk about loosening that closeness by at least a little bit given how precisely the video results can be.  The offside position is determined by whether any part of an attacker’s body that is legally entitled to make contact with the ball is closer to the opposing team’s goal line than the part of the second-to-last defender’s body that is both legally entitled to make contact with the ball and is closest to the same goal line .  Phew!

What are the only parts of any player’s body (attacker or defender) that are NOT legally entitled to make contact with the ball?  The hands/arms from fingertips to the bottom of the shoulder joint.

Obviously, that’s a lot of words but it translates quite easily when converted to a visual image, but it is not easy to say.  For example, an attacker is NOT considered to be past the second to last defender if the attacker’s hand/arm is the only part of the attacker’s body that is past the part of the second to last defender’s body which is allowed to play the ball and is closest to that player’s goal line.  None of these statements needs to take into account where either the attacker or the second to last defender is facing (backward, forward, sideways, or any combination thereof).  And all of this is determined at the exact moment when a teammate of the forward-most attacker last plays or makes any contact with the ball (deliberately or accidentally).

We know that is a lot to swallow but it is the only, and most precise, way to state what the Law currently requires for determining an offside position. By the way, the same approach is used in determining whether an attacker is “past” the midfield line or “past” the ball (these other two requirements for an offside position are rarely in question).  Individually, these three requirements each uses the same concept of “past” as described above and thus all three use the same approach to what constitutes past some relevant reference point (midfield line, ball, and second-to-last defender).

In practice, decisions about offside position in U12 and under age groups are nowhere as precise as this.  Indeed, under standard youth soccer rules governing games of players who are under 8 years of age, there are no offside positions because there cannot be any offside offense.  The cake slices become increasingly thin as players get increasingly older and/or experienced.  The precision applied to “past” as outlined above would likely be seen used only where the teams are much older and much more competitive.…

Offside and Off-field

William, an adult pro coach, asks:

In a recent SPL game, Celtic player N`Cham left the field of play, his body momentum carrying him over the goal line in a Celtic attack. However, knowing he couldn`t be considered offside if he remained off the playing area, he stayed behind the goal line as the attack produced a goal seconds later. Could he be considered in breach of the rules?  Thank you for your assistance.

Answer

Although the website’s archives are filled with offside scenario Q&As (many touching on this point), it has been a while and we are posting this Q&A mainly to continue reminding everyone of how Law 11 is properly enforced.

Based solely on the specific wording of your scenario, we need to make one correction to your statement and then offer an answer to your basic question.

Under the Law, an attacker who overruns a perimeter line and thus exits the field is considered to have left the field in the “normal course of play.”  As such, the lack of permission from the referee is waived and, by itself, is not an offense.  However, that player is still considered to be in an offside position if all the requirements of an offside position are met.  So, your statement that the attacker “couldn’t be considered offside if he remained off the playing field” is incorrect.

If, even from his “off the field” location but still in an offside position, he does any of the things defined in Law 11 as an offside offense, he is charged with an offside offense and the restart is an indirect free kick at the point on the perimeter line closest to where that attacker was (unless that puts the restart within the opposing team’s goal area, in which case the kick can be taken anywhere inside the goal area).  So, for example, suppose the attacker was just a foot off the field across the goal line and the ball came within reach of his foot while still on the field and he then took the opportunity to kick the ball. He has, from an offside position, interfered with play and thus has committed an offside offense.  Or, under the same circumstances, he shouts to distract the goalkeeper: he has interfered with an opponent while in an offside position and thus has committed an offside offense.  Or, looking at another possibility, suppose he ran back onto the field while the same play of the ball was occurring and then interfered with play or with an opponent.  He will have committed an offside offense because he came from an offside position even if, at the time of interference, he happened to be (say) farther from the goal line than the second to last opponent.  If he neither interferes with play nor interferes with an opponent while either still off the field or upon returning to the field during the same play of the ball, then he has not committed an offside offense.

In your scenario, he did none of those things and a goal was scored “seconds later” so, absent some other problem, the goal would stand.  Remember, being in an offside position by itself is not an offense.…

Ending a Game Early

Stuart, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

During a U13 game, the ref blew for time, after 35mins, the players shook hands, then an opposing spectator came running on claiming he’d blown 6 mins early. I asked the ref and he said he’d blown on 35 mins…….what ensued were angry parents abusing a young referee, threatening to report him to the league. Taking the ref to be right, my team left.

I received a call later that day, saying the ref had admitted he may have blown early. Given he’s a child, who had been shouted at by adults, perhaps not a surprising announcement.

The League are now saying I’ll have to replay the game. Surely, from a Safeguarding point, they can’t support this. Can they demand I replay the full game? Or just the 6 mins he’s admitted to under playing?

Answer

The resolution to this problem is solely in the hands of what is technically called “the local competition authority” – the organization under whose auspices the match is held.  The Law does not cover everything – a lot of what it doesn’t cover is left to the referee, and the remainder is left to the local competition authority.

In this case, if the referee says that time is over, then it is over and that is that … for that specific game.  If this can be corrected while the referee is still there, the referee has the authority to order the teams back onto the field and to restart play at the point where play was ended.  The restart is either whatever the restart would be if play was ended at a stoppage of play – e.g., throw-in, corner kick, kick-off, etc. — or a dropped ball in favor of the team that last touched the ball when the whistle to end play was incorrectly sounded.

Once the referee has left the area of the field, he or she has to file a report.  If, in this report, the referee acknowledges an incorrect, early stoppage of play, it is up to the local competition authority to decide what to do about it.  They have three options.  First, they can order the game replayed in its entirety (as though the game in question had not happened),  Second, they can order that the game is accepted as played, despite the early stoppage, and the outcome stands with the score as is.  Third, they can order the game to be replayed from the moment of the early stoppage to the normal end of play and with all prior player events (e.g., goals, cards) kept in place as valid.  By the way, although this has no direct bearing on what the local competition authority decides, the Laws of the Game prescribe the first option for the highest level of games which are played under the authority of FIFA itself (i.e., international matches) if the match ends, for whatever reason, before the completion of scheduled time.…

Challenging the Goalkeeper

Greg, a senior amateur referee, asks:

When was Law 12.23 introduced?  In other words, when was “charging” a goalkeeper effectively banned ?

Answer

First of all, the reference to “law 12.23” is unfamiliar.  Law 12 only has 4 numbered sections. Perhaps you are referring to 12.23 in Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game (2010-2011 edition).  The relevant material in this section was rewritten and reorganized as 12.B.4 in the 2013-2014 edition of Advice (which was then discontinued after that edition).

Charging a goalkeeper was never banned as such.  It is entirely legal to charge a goalkeeper, provided that goalkeeper does not have hand control of the ball.

As regards this restriction, there has been a gradual evolution of the Law.  In 1984, for example, Law 12 stated the following: “In case of body contact in the goal area between an attacking player and the opposing goalkeeper not in possession of the ball, the Referee, as sole judge of intention, shall stop the game if, in his opinion, the action of the attacking player was intentional, and award an indirect free kick.” This language remained, word-for-word, in the Law until 1995 when the scenario was rewritten to specify that charging the goalkeeper was an indirect free kick offense if it occurred while the goalkeeper was holding the ball, obstructing an opponent, or was outside his goal area.  Further, a player who interferes with the goalkeeper’s effort to put the ball back into play is punished by an indirect free kick.

This stayed in effect for several years but then, in 1997-98, the language was simplified further by declaring that preventing a goalkeeper from releasing the ball into play with his hands was an indirect free kick offense anywhere inside the goalkeeper’s penalty area.

The Law on this subject has not changed materially from then up through the current Lawbook. Simply described, an opponent can charge a goalkeeper (providing the charge itself is legal, i.e., not careless, reckless, or done with excessive force) only if the goalkeeper is not in hand control of the ball.  If the goalkeeper does have hand control of the ball, any attempt at even an otherwise legal charge is taken as an interference of the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into play and results in an indirect free kick restart.  Of course, if this occurs as a result of a charge which is itself illegal, the restart would be a direct free kick because that takes priority as the more serious offense.…