What is legal verbal deception? While a forward was breaking to goal 30 yards out unchallenged, a defending midfielder called, “Here. Back to me.”, and the attacker stopped and passed the ball back to the opponent. Checking with our SDI and USSF I am told this is legal deception today: the attacker is totally responsible for his actions. Evidently this is not ATR 12.28.1 UNSPORTING BEHAVIOR “If a member of the defending team verbally distracts an opponent during play or at a restart”; this addresses shouting or startling the attacker. But how about verbal deception by an attacker – which is not mentioned in ATR 12.28.1? Is attacker verbal deception okay? Is it unsporting for an attacker to call for the ball from a defender, and successfully receive it?

Answer (August 22, 2013):
Interestingly enough, there is a dichotomy here: The team with the ball is allowed to use deceptive methods and language to further its play, but the defending team does not have that benefit. Your SDI is clearly wrong. I do not know with whom you spoke at USSF, but if anyone there said the defender’s tactic is legal, he or she was clearly overindulging in the use of forbidden substances.

Since at least 2000, the Federation has stated numerous times that such tactics by the defending team or interjections of false instructions by coaches are anathema, i.e., forbidden under pain of punishment for misconduct. The correct action for the referee is to stop play (unless the advantage can be applied), caution the player for unsporting behavior (or eject the coach for any such irresponsible behavior) and restart with an indirect free kick from the place where the ball was when the misconduct occurred (see Law 13 – Position of free kick; ). If the evildoer was the coach or other team official, the restart is a dropped ball at the place where the ball was located when play was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped.

While appearing relatively innocuous, using the words “mine” or “Here, to me” can be a deceitful way of calling for the ball. If a player cannot see the player who calls “mine,” there is always the possibility that the calling player is an opponent, seeking to gain an advantage over the player who cannot see him. If there is any opponent nearby, players should say “keeper’s ball” or “Jerry’s ball” or something more specific, just to avoid such problems.

The offense, if there is any, can be determined only in the opinion of the referee. Any player trying to cheat in this way should be penalized. The offense is unsporting behavior, punishable by a caution/yellow card and an indirect free kick for the other team (see above). The player who makes an innocent mistake of calling ‘mine’ can be corrected without cards.

For your (and your SDI’s) further education, here is an update of a paper I wrote in 2002 that was published in the former USSF referee newsmagazine, Fair Play.

Affecting Play (updated August 16, 2013)
Jim Allen
USSF National Instructor Staff (Ret.)

Using “devious” means to affect the way play runs can be perfectly legal. The referee must recognize and differentiate between the “right” and “wrong” ways of affecting play, so that he or she does not interfere with the players’ right to use legitimate feints or ruses in their game.

The desire to score a goal and win the game often produces tactical maneuvers, ploys, and feints designed to deceive the opponent. These can occur either while the ball is in play or at restarts. Those tactics used in restarts are just as acceptable as they would be in the normal course of play, provided there is no action that qualifies as unsporting behavior or any other form of misconduct. The team with the ball is allowed more latitude than its opponents because this is accepted practice throughout the world, and referees must respect that latitude when managing the game.

Play can be affected in three ways and each will probably occur in any normal game. In descending order of acceptability under the Laws of the Game, they are: influence, gamesmanship, and misconduct.

To “influence” means to affect or alter the way the opponents play by indirect or intangible means. “Gamesmanship” is the art or practice of winning a game through acts of doubtful propriety, such as distracting an opponent without technically violating the Laws of the Game. However, the referee must be very careful, for while the act may be within the Letter of the Law, it may well fall outside the Spirit of the Law. “Misconduct” is blatant cheating or intentional wrongdoing through a deliberate violation of the Laws of the Game.
Many referees confuse perfectly legitimate methods of affecting play through influence with certain aspects of gamesmanship and misconduct.

Influence can cause problems for some referees at restarts. The ball is in play on free kicks and corner kicks as soon as it has been kicked and moves, and on kick-offs and penalty kicks as soon as it is kicked and moves forward. The key for most referees seems to be the requirement that the ball must “move.” The IFAB has directed that referees interpret this requirement liberally, so that only minimal movement is necessary. This minimal movement was defined in the past as the kicker possibly merely touching the ball with the foot. That has changed. All referees must observe carefully the placing of the ball for the kick and distinguish between moving the ball with the foot to put it in the proper location and actually kicking the ball to restart the game. The ball must be kicked and move a perceptible distance. Please note: Feinting at a penalty kick may be considered by the referee to be unsporting behavior, but verbal or physical feinting by the kicking team at free kicks or in dynamic play is not. (See below.)

Influencing play is perfectly acceptable. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) and the F⁄d⁄ration Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) have consistently ruled in favor of the use of guile by the attacking team to influence play and against the use of timewasting tactics and deceitful acts by the defending team. The IFAB and FIFA are so concerned over the failure of referees to deal with timewasting tactics that for some years they published annual reminders that referees must deal with time wasting in all its forms. The IFAB has also consistently ruled that the practice of forming a defensive wall or any other interference by the defending team at free kicks is counter to the Spirit of the Game, and has issued two associated rulings that the kicking team may influence (through the use of feinting tactics) and confuse the opponents when taking free kicks. The IFAB reinforced its renunciation of defensive tactics by allowing the referee to caution any opposing players who do not maintain the required distance at free kicks as a result of the feinting tactics, which can include members of the kicking team jumping over the ball to confuse and deceive the opponents legally. (See the Questions and Answers on the Laws of the Game, November 1990, Law XIII, Q&A 7 and 8; still recognized as part of the Laws.) The related practice of touching the ball at a free kick or corner kick just enough to put it in play and then attempting to confuse the opponents by telling a teammate to come and take the kick is also accepted practice.

Gamesmanship, by its very name, suggests that the player is bending the rules of the game to his benefit. However, while he is not breaking the letter of the laws that cover play, he may be violating the Spirit of the Laws. Indeed, acts of gamesmanship in soccer can range from being entirely within the letter of the Law to quite illegal. Examples of legal gamesmanship include a team constantly kicking the ball out of play or a player constantly placing himself in an offside position deliberately, looking for the ball from his teammates so that the referee must blow the whistle and stop and restart the game. These acts are not against the Letter of the Laws, and players who commit them cannot be cautioned for unsporting behavior and shown the yellow card. Referees can take steps against most aspects of this legal time wasting only by adding time. Remember that only the referee knows how much time has been lost, and he or she is empowered by Law 7 to add as much time as necessary to ensure equality. Acts of illegal gamesmanship fall under misconduct (see below). Examples: a player deliberately taking the ball for a throw-in or free kick to the wrong spot, expecting the referee to redirect him; a coach whose team is leading in the game coming onto the field to “attend” to a downed player; simulating a foul or feigning an injury.

Misconduct is a deliberate and illegal act aimed at preventing the opposing team from accomplishing its goals. Misconduct can be split into two categories of offenses: those which merit a caution (including the illegal forms of time wasting) and those which merit a sending-off. While the attacking team may use verbal feints to confuse the defensive wall or may “call” for the ball without actually wanting it, simply to deceive their opponents, the other team may not use verbal feints to misdirect its opponents and then steal the ball from them; e.g., a defender calling out an opponent’s name to entice him into passing the ball to him. Full details on the categories of misconduct and their punishment can be found in “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referee” in the back of the Laws of the Game.

Look at these methods of affecting play as escalating in severity from the legal act of influencing to gamesmanship, which can range from legal to illegal, to misconduct, which is entirely illegal. Each of these methods will be used by players in any normal game of soccer to gain an advantage for their team. Referees must know the difference between them, so that they can deal with what should be punished and not interfere in an act that is not truly an infringement of the Laws. Thorough knowledge of the Laws of the Game, the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referee, and position papers and memoranda from the National Referee Development Program can help the referee make the correct decision in every case.