Being Substituted

(The following inquiry from Heibel could not be answered directly — our private response was rejected as undeliverable)

Heibel, an adult amateur player, asks:

During the match, one of my players was subbed out and was leaving from the far side of the field, referee cards him a yellow, we ask for an explanation, ref doesn’t give one. Later in the game, I get called to sub out, I take a couple steps to leave the field from the far side but remember what happened to the other play so I immediately change direction and go towards the center of the field where the oncoming player is, I ran off at slightly less than a sprint. The ref cards me my second yellow saying i was wasting time. Now I have a red card, can’t play in the final. Should I argue it? Or was it a right call?


The Law requires (as of this year) that, with certain exceptions, players being subbed out to leave the field must exit at the closest point relative to the field’s perimeter lines (e.g., touch or goal line).

As for a card, well, it seems ill-advised.  A caution could be given if the referee decided the departing player was deliberately and clearly wasting time under circumstances where such wasting was meaningful (i.e., your team is 1 goal up with just 45 seconds remaining in the half and the stoppage involves a restart under the control of the opposing team where, with luck, the opposing team might score).  A caution is hardly mandatory and would not be given ordinarily merely because a departing player was moving off the field toward the usual, traditional, though never actually mandated location of the midfield line on the team side of the field just because that was farther away than some other exit point.

Frankly, we don’t understand the basis for the red card you mentioned receiving … unless you had already received a caution earlier in the game.  In any event, we don’t have a clear mental picture regarding what path you took in leaving the field.  You say that you momentarily began leaving by moving to the “far side” but it is not clear whether you were referring to a path that would take you off the field by the longest distance or you were using the term “far side” as a traditional reference to the side of the field opposite to the team side.  In any event, we also don’t know what you meant by changing direction to the “center of the field where the oncoming player is.”  The latter makes no sense unless you were meaning to say that you began moving to the side of the field from which the incoming player entered (which, for entering players, is still mandated in most cases).

The first point, however, is that, just as with the other player in this scenario, you were required to leave the field at the nearest point of the touch or goal line, regardless of which direction this took you.  Further, unless you WERE already sitting on a caution from some earlier incident, the prior caution for your teammate is not included in YOUR card count.  The card is given to a PERSON, not a TEAM.  Finally, we have as little support for the caution to you for “time wasting” as was already expressed for the earlier caution for the same reason – if either of you were in fact wasting time (a decision which must be based on actual wasting of meaningful time and not merely predicated on merely leaving the field on a longer path than the Law allows), then the caution is justified but only under the circumstances just outlined and only if the time being wasted was meaningful and not technical.

Referees should be conservative as regards unnecessary cards – a simple reminder to a departing player that he/she is now required to leave at the closest point (which, remember, was the reason given by the International Board for the change!) should be adequate.  Keep in mind that there is, after all, a maximum of 1,200 feet of touch+goal lines encompassing an international match field (1,380 feet if not international) and, technically, there is exactly only one precise point in all that distance that is “nearest” which any player must use in exiting in order to meet the “closest point” requirement.  Like so much in the Law, some measure of common sense must be applied and that common sense is based on actual, meaningful time-wasting which a player stubbornly, deliberately engages in despite being warned by the referee.

As for arguing, the answer is no, don’t bother.  If you are really bothered, file a complaint.…

Another Pass at “Pass-Back”

Mike, a U13-U19 referee, asks:

GK receives passback from teammate. GK receives ball with his feet outside the penalty area. Can he dribble into the  penalty area and then pickup the ball?


There is debate on this issue.  The International Board has not definitively dealt with the question, much less offered an answer.

Personally, we would count it as a pass-back offense since it meets the two basic requirements – (1) deliberately played by the foot of a teammate and (2) handled directly thereafter by the goalkeeper.  Note, in this respect, that “directly” in soccer has always (regardless of the specific scenario) been defined as “no intervening touch/play of the ball by anyone other than the originator of the play and the recipient.”   Obviously, in your scenario, there is no involvement by any other player between the teammate’s kick and the goalkeeper’s handling.

The Board modified this section of the Law this year, however, and has said that, following a deliberate kick from a teammate, if the goalkeeper tries to kick the ball but is not satisfied with the result and then handles the ball, the goalkeeper should not be charged with a pass-back offense because “the goalkeeper has clearly kicked or attempted to kick the ball to release it into play.”  This quote is from Law 12 and we have emphasized the part of the quote that, to us at least, significantly limits what the goalkeeper can do to avoid a pass-back violation.  The best way, of course, is not to handle the ball in the first place!

Later in the section of the IFAB Lawbook that explains the Board’s new language regarding this situation, the Board says “When the GK clearly kicks or tries to kick the ball into play, this shows no intention to handle the ball so, if the clearance attempt is unsuccessful, then goalkeeper can then handle the ball without committing an offense.”  Again, to us, this explanation does not allow the goalkeeper to avoid committing an offense if he/she takes control of the ball outside the penalty area, dribbles it back into the penalty area, and then picks it up (which is exactly your scenario).  This not only doesn’t show an intention not to handle the ball, it actually shows an intention to get the ball into the penalty area precisely to handle the ball.

The goalkeeper has committed an offense.…

Encroachment and Restarts

Zain, a U13 – U19 player asks:

If a free kick taker doesn’t ask for 10 yards, is a player from the opposition allowed to stand as close as they want to the ball?


Yes and no (don’t you just love those kinds of answers?).  The Law clearly states that every opponent on a free kick, goal kick, corner kick, and throw-in (these are the five restarts by players that can be taken quickly) is expected as a matter of course to begin immediately to retreat the minimum distance for whatever is specified for the particular restart.  That’s their obligation under the Law.

On the other hand, the player doing the restart has the right to decide to take the restart even if there are opponents closer than the minimum distance or to request that the referee hold the restart to enforce the minimum distance requirement before signaling for the restart to occur.  Either decision has its positive and negative implications.  A quick restart against closer-than-allowed opponents may be a positive if the quickness of the restart takes advantage of an exploitable “hole” in the defending team’s formation whereas asking for the minimum distance gives the opponents more time to take up stronger defensive positions.  On the other hand, a quick restart with a closer-than-allowed opponent carries the negative potential that, if the restart is not taken the way intended and the ball erroneously goes straight to that closer opponent who can control the ball (this is not illegal under the Law), control of the ball has been unexpectedly lost.  It’s a risk, but it’s a risk that only the team in possession of the restart is allowed to take or not take.

Of course, with younger players who are still learning the game, most referees would, in effect, “take over” and make the decision on behalf and to the advantage of the attacking team because they are too young to understand as yet the options.  For older, skilled, and experienced players, referees are expected to stand back, let things develop, and step in only when either asked by the team with the restart or if the encroachment is so egregious that the misconduct is not only obvious but serious – particularly if it delays the restart of play by, in effect, preventing the restart from even occurring (e.g. kicking the ball away).  And the referee steps in after the restart if an opponent affirmatively violates the minimum distance requirement for the restart (e.g., by rushing in closer than the minimum distance and interfering with play).  And then there is the need to manage the “ploys” attempted by opponents to behave just barely enough in an illegal way to delay the restart to their advantage but not enough to catch the attention or the ire of the referee.

So, the Law answer to your question is no, absolutely not.  No opponent is “allowed” to be closer than the restart’s minimum distance whether the attacking team asks for it or not.  The real world soccer game answer is that, while illegal, it can be ignored by the attacking team – with risks and consequences.

You should note that, as of the 2019-2020 Law changes (see this site’s tab on the subject), there are now several new and unusual “minimum distance” requirements that coaches and players need to be aware of.…