Last updated on December 1st, 2022
The offside rule can be really, really confusing. There are so many different scenarios where you can be onside, or offside!
One of the interesting scenarios is when you go off the pitch. Will you be considered offside or onside?
Is it offside if a player is off the pitch?
If you’re a defending player and you leave the pitch without the referee’s permission, you will be considered to be at the goal-line. You will keep all your opponents onside, unless the attacker is ahead of your second-last teammate.
If you’re an attacking player and leave the pitch, you will be considered to be at the goal-line too. You will be called offside when you commit an offence since you are already in an offside position.
Here is a further explanation of this issue:
Rules for defenders leaving the field of play
There is an entire paragraph in the Laws of the Game that talks about a defending player who leaves the pitch.
A defending player who leaves the field of play without the referee’s permission shall be considered to be on the goal line or touchline for the purposes of offside until the next stoppage in play or until the defending team has played the ball towards the halfway line and it is outside its penalty area. If the player left the field of play deliberately, the player must be cautioned when the ball is next out of play.
Quite a mouthful of words, but what does it actually mean?
A defender cannot go off the pitch without the referee’s permission
The attacking team is making their way towards your goal. If you’re the last defender, one of the tricks you might want to pull off is to get off the pitch.
You may think that by being off the pitch you are no longer in play. You’ll think that your teammate who is ahead of you will now be the last defender.
In fact, this is wrong!
You cannot leave the pitch without the referee’s permission at all times. If you choose to leave, you will be considered to be on the goal-line or touchline when an offside decision is being made!
A visual depiction
Let’s say you’re Player ‘2’ (red) in this scenario. You are trying to defend a cross from Player ‘1’ (yellow), and you see his teammate, Player ‘2’ (yellow) in the penalty box. Moreover, your closest teammate is quite far behind.
Currently, you are the second-last opponent (your goalkeeper is the last opponent). As such, the offside line will be taken with reference to you.
You may try to run off the pitch to try and ‘push the offside line forward’.
If you do not seek the referee’s permission, you will be considered to be at the goal line. As such, you are still in play.
This means that the offside line will be referenced to the goalkeeper, since he is now the second-last opponent!
As such, Player ‘2’ (yellow) will still be considered as onside!
You will be cautioned
When you leave the pitch without the referee’s permission, you will be cautioned when the ball is next out of play. As such, it is not worth trying to pull of this trick!
This rule comes into play even when you are injured off the pitch
The offside law does not have any exceptions when you go off the pitch.
Even if you get injured and are lying off the pitch, you are still considered to have ‘left the pitch without the referee’s decision’.
As such, you will still be considered to be at the goal-line!
During the free kick, Buffon collided with Christian Panucci and he was lying injured off the pitch. In this scenario, he was still considered to have left the pitch without the referee’s permission.
As such, he was considered to be on the goal line!
When van Nistelrooy scored the goal, he may have looked to be in an offside position. However, the second-last opponent is now Buffon. Since van Nistelrooy is further away from the goal-line compared to Buffon, he is still onside!
A player is only offside if he is closer to the goal-line compared to BOTH the second last opponent and the ball.
As such, the goal was rightly awarded by the referee.
Rules for attackers leaving the field of play
The rules are slightly different when an attacker leaves the field of play.
There is another huge paragraph that explains this rule by IFAB:
An attacking player may step or stay off the field of play not to be involved in active play. If the player re-enters from the goal line and becomes involved in play before the next stoppage in play, or the defending team has played the ball towards the halfway line and it is outside its penalty area, the player shall be considered to be positioned on the goal line for the purposes of offside. A player who deliberately leaves the field of play and re-enters without the referee’s permission and is not penalised for offside and gains an advantage, must be cautioned.
So what does this actually mean?
An attacking player cannot leave the field and then become involved in play
If you are an attacking player, you may leave the field to not be involved be in play. This may occur when your team is attacking, and you are behind the goal-line to not interfere with play.
However, you might be considered to be positioned at the goal line when you re-enter from the goal-line, and either of these scenarios happen:
- You are involved in play before the next stoppage of play
- The defending team has played the ball towards the halfway line and the ball is outside the penalty area
When either of this happens, you are considered to be at the goal-line. This most likely results in you being in an offside position.
You will commit an offside offence when you do any of these 3 things:
- Interfere with play
- Interfere with an opponent
- Gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent
If you are involved in play in any way, you will be called offside. This is because your position is considered to be at the goal-line.
You will be closer to the goal-line compared to both the ball and the second-last defender!
You will be booked for leaving the pitch and re-entering
The laws also state that you will be cautioned by the referee if you leave the pitch and re-enter afterwards. Therefore, it may not be really worth trying to leave the pitch to prevent getting in the way!
You may want to avoid committing an offside offence instead of trying to leave the pitch.
The rules show how the offside rule works when a player happens to leave the pitch.
For a defending player, they will be considered to be at the goal-line if they leave the pitch without the referee’s permission.
This will most likely result in the offside position being referenced to the goalkeeper. This is because he is now the second-last opponent.
However, the goalkeeper may rush out to defend the ball! If there is another player behind him, that player will be taken as the second-last opponent instead.
For attacking players, you will also be considered to be at the goal-line if you leave the pitch and re-enter it. This will most likely result in you being called for offside.
This is because you will be closer to the goal-line compared to both the second-last opponent and the ball!
You can find out more about why we need the offside rule here.
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