Advantage vs. Offside Offense

ST, an adult amateur referee, asks:

An attacker is fouled by a late tackle by a defender after the ball was passed to his teammate (foul was not cardable).  The Referee saw the teammate was in good attacking position so he shouted advantage and gave the signal.  What the referee didn’t know was the teammate was in an offside position so, when he received the ball, the AR flagged to signal an offside offense. Should the referee blow the whistle and give a DFK to the attacking team?

Answer

Yes.

To understand why, we have to explore the intersection of advantage decisions and off side offenses.  Law 5 makes it clear that an advantage decision, once given, can be called back if the advantage that was originally thought to exist does not materialize or could not be maintained over the course of the next several seconds.  This normally is the result of such developments as the ball possession being lost or the fouled player being unable to maintain his equilibrium.

Note #1: advantage is a team concept  and applies potentially to the attacker’s entire team so the issue is not always what happens to the fouled attacker but what happens to the attacking team’s overall ability to maintain a credible attack against the opponents.

Note #2, we did not say whether they might be able to score a goal — that gets into “obvious goal scoring opportunity” (OGSO) which, though similar, is a different issue.  The key phrase for advantage is the ability to maintain a credible attack moving forward.  And this, in turn, leads us to include scenarios in which the attacker, though fouled and as a result losing his personal control of the ball, is nevertheless able to get the ball to one or more other members of his team.  All of this must be taken into consideration after the Referee has signaled for advantage.  If this credible attack cannot be kept going forward either by the fouled attacker or by the attacker’s team, Law 5 requires that we stop play and return to the original foul.

Note #3: the Laws of the Game seriously frown on using advantage if the offense involves violence of any kind.  That was not the case here because, as the scenario states, the original foul was not cardable.  If it had been an offense which would draw a red card for SFP or VC or Spitting, stop play and deal with it.

What happened in the given scenario?  Everything looks fine, up to a point.  The foul (late tackle) was called (yes, it was because the advantage signal is a declaration that the foul occurred).  For the next few seconds, we are going to see what happens.  If the attack remains credible, we let that foul go (but come back at the next stoppage if there was any nonviolent misconduct); if it does not, we come back to the original foul.

Here, the Referee judged that the team would be able to maintain its attack if the ball released by the fouled attacker went to his teammate.  Remember, at this time the teammate who was the intended recipient of the pass and who was objectively in an offside position had not yet committed any offense.  For whatever reason, the Referee failed to “read” the offside position status of this teammate but, even so, while we might quibble about whether the Referee should have foreseen the problem, there remained in the several seconds of the “advantage time” the possibility that another teammate might come roaring out of nowhere and control the ball before it even got to the intended recipient — in which case, everything could have proceeded as expected.

That did not happen, the intended recipient in an offside position made the mistake of interfering with play while in that position, an offense which would otherwise have resulted in control of the ball simply passing to the opposing team for an IFK restart but for the fact that the game was “sitting on” advantage time.  Because it was, the Referee should come back to the original foul and restart with a DFK where the foul occurred.  If questioned, the Referee need only reply (if a response were needed) that “the advantage did not materialize.”  Look at it this way.  What the Law did was to say that the teammate in the offside position was, for all practical purposes, not there and could not play the ball anyway.  It was the functional equivalent of having desperately played the ball into space with no chance that anyone on his team would get it (in which case, the return to the original foul would be obvious).  The fact that the teammate did touch the ball is irrelevant because the real issue is that, following a foul, the fouled player’s team could not continue to make a credible attack forward.  This result would have been the same if the teammate, realizing his offside position, simply stepped aside without making contact with the ball.