This question concerns an event during a competitive U17B match for which I was the center. During the run of play, team B crosses the ball into the box. The A team goalie comes out, jumps with his hands up, and “flaps” at the ball making just enough contact to spin the ball backwards to a waiting team B player who heads the ball into the net. The B player was in an offside position at the time of the cross.
I ruled this a good goal on the basis that the goalie had made a play on the ball which effectively changed possession. Since the ball played back from a defending player, the B player could not be offside and was free to attack the ball.
I will add that the goalie had made previous successful clearances of crosses and corners with his hands in addition to catching the ball.
Follow up question (which depends on the answer to above). If the keeper had attempted to catch the ball but just missed it off his finger tips, would this be the same as a deflection and, hence, offside judged against the B player?
Answer (October 29, 2007):
Deflections by any opposing player do not affect the status of a player in an offside position; the attacking team’s player must be called offside if he or she becomes involved in play (as defined in Law 11). Unsuccessfully “making a play” for the ball does not establish possession. Nor, for that matter, does successfully “making a play” for the ball if it then deflects to the player in the offside position who becomes involved in play.
Note that there are differences here between “being involved in play,” “playing the ball,” and “making a play” for the ball. (As noted above, see Law 11 for involvement in play.) “Playing the ball” in these circumstances means that the defender (in this case the goalkeeper) possessed and controlled the ball. However, if the defender possessed and controlled the ball badly, it’s still “making a play,” but if it wasn’t possessed and controlled, it wasn’t played in the sense you suggested in your scenario.
A rule: Being able to use the ball subsequent to contact equals possession; deflection is not possession.