Jack, a U12 and Under player, asks:
So in soccer my friends always side tackle and need help determining if it’s a foul or not.
We assume you mean “slide tackle” and, if so, the answer is a qualified yes, it can often be a foul and, only slightly less often, a serious foul. Any tackle is legal, depending on how it is done. The problem is that slide tackles, by their very nature, are more likely to involve misconduct than most other kinds of tackles. Remember, “tackle” is simply the name for a soccer player’s effort to take possession of the ball away from an opponent using his foot or feet. Accordingly, tackling for the ball is in one sense what soccer is all about.
So, you might ask (go ahead, ask) why, if tackles are such an important part of the game, does the Law say they are illegal? Simple, because that’s not what the Law actually says. I challenge you to find anywhere in the Law it says that. What it DOES say is that, if you tackle an opponent carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force, THEN and only THEN have you done something against the Law. It’s not the tackle, it’s how you did it that made the difference. If you tackle an opponent carelessly, you have committed a foul; if you tackle an opponent recklessly, you have committed a foul AND also committed a misconduct that will earn you a yellow card; and, if you tackle an opponent with excessive force, then, in addition to the foul, you will be charged with misconduct and shown a red card. All of these are fouls, but reckless fouls are also a caution and a tackle using excessive force gets you thrown out of the game (plus the next one as well).
Of course, if you tackle an opponent for the ball and it is not done carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force, then the tackle is entirely legal, which is the case with the overwhelming number of tackles occurring every day across the thousands of soccer fields across the country. In short, if it is not done perfectly, it becomes one of the most seriously dangerous events on the pitch.
Now, is there anything special about sliding tackles? Yes, because they are more likely to be performed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force. Why is this so? Because a sliding tackle involves, well, sliding and a player who is sliding on the ground with a foot forward aiming at an opponent is almost certainly going far beyond being careless – more likely it will be reckless (caution), or involve excessive force (red card). Again, why? Because a sliding player is out of control – once you are on the ground and sliding toward an opponent you are creating a dangerous situation. Can that be avoided? Yes, but it takes skill, experience, knowledge, and excellent physical abilities. The “sliding player” is sometimes referred to as an “unguided missile”! Add the foot outstretched with cleats showing and you have an armed unguided missile! The very worst slide tackle is two feet forward, studs up, foot above ball height, and coming in fast.
“But I played the ball, ref!!” is a common attempt by a player to defend themselves, but it is a defense that doesn’t work if, before, during, or after “playing the ball,” one or more of the feet also connect with the opponent’s body. Having played the ball, although a common excuse, means nothing under the Law. If that is ALL the player did, then the player will not likely even be warned. Add sliding or high speed or cleats exposed or both feet, or direct contact with the opponent’s body and you have a foul and most likely misconduct. And the more of these five elements you have the more certain is the foul and the more serious the misconduct.
While we would not want to rest our reputation entirely on the following generalization, we are not averse to suggesting that only a rare few if any under 14 age players of either gender could execute a legal slide tackle … and adding more of each of the five elements we outlined above would make the generalization become almost a certainty.