Before COVID-19 arrived to burst our ball, the most talked-about blight on the 2019-2020 football season was the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee system.
Barely a football discussion has passed this year without someone cursing VAR. “It’s ruining the game,” pundits of the professional and amateur variety have bleated.
The most contentious consequence of its introduction, by far, has been what it has meant for offside goals.
If there’s a silver lining in the storm cloud of this lockdown it’s that it gives the pen pushers at FIFA some time to sort this out. They need to seriously consider introducing the Daylight Rule.
It’s an urban myth that this rule ever actually existed. Spurned fans in pubs across the country, fresh from watching their team be punished by the linesman’s flag, preach to strangers about how we need to “bring back the days when there had to be daylight.”
The implementation of Law 11 – Offside – was once far more vague than it is today. There was a time when a directive was given to linesmen, when that was still their official title, that they should look for daylight between the attacker and the last defender before ruling out a goal.
FIFA have since altered and clarified the rule: when “any part of the head, body or feet [of the attacker] is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent” while he or she is actively involved in the play then that player is offside.
A great many in the game want to change this.
Back in February, Arsene Wenger, now FIFA’s Head of Global Development, told Sky News his vision for offside in the age of VAR: “You will not be offside if any part of the body that can score a goal is in line with the last defender, even if other parts of the attacker’s body are in front.
“That will sort it out and you will no longer have decisions about millimetres and a fraction of the attacker being in front of the defensive line.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, was in favour of the change at the time: “Some of the decisions are very, very close and it’s difficult for the people who are watching to see whether it’s offside, so we have to look at whether we can make the offside rule clearer by having light in between.”
The problem is that the game’s administrators have so far resisted such a change.
Know-it-alls and blowhards respond to the suggestion by saying it only shifts the problem. They’re right that we’ll still see goals chopped off for the offence of millimetres. In instances like that, however, where an attacker is so far advanced that no goal-scoring part of his or her body is in line with a defender, that player is clearly offside in the purest spirit of the beautiful game.
The same cannot be said for Firmino at Villa or in the build-up to Neto’s goal against Liverpool. The offside rule was never conceived to rule out goals like those – it was made to discourage “goal hanging”.
Critics also point to the fact that the daylight directive was too subjective – how much is enough daylight? It relies too much on the linesman’s angle and a barely-visible glint to one might be a yawning chasm to another.
That will no longer be the case because now we have the technology to implement it properly. The dreams of so many bar room experts can now be realised.
There will still be mistakes as the result of human error but they’ll be at the levels of the game where VAR doesn’t feature. In those cases, there are less likely to be television replays to make a mockery of the decision.
Even if a rule change does lead to more controversial hairline decisions in favour of the attacking team, that would be preferable to chopping off beautiful counter-attacking goals the way we have seen this season.
Would football really be worse off for seeing more goals stand? FIFA need to shed some light on the matter.