Radical reform proposed for offside law

The last fundamental change to the offside law led to an instant and massive increase in goals and to seismic tactical advances that have dominated formation conventions ever since. Eighty years on, football's law makers will consider an equally revolutionary amendment when they meet next month in Cardiff.

The last fundamental change to the offside law led to an instant and massive increase in goals and to seismic tactical advances that have dominated formation conventions ever since. Eighty years on, football's law makers will consider an equally revolutionary amendment when they meet next month in Cardiff.

The proposed change, tabled by the Football Association of Wales, is that a player can only be offside if they are inside the opponent's penalty area. It will be discussed at the AGM of the International FA Board, the body that oversees the global laws of the game, on 26 February.

The IFAB, established in 1886, comprises eight seats; the four British associations - who have such significant representation in recognition of their role in codifying the original laws of the game - plus four representatives of Fifa, the world governing body. Any proposal needs at least six votes to become law.

"This change is on the agenda and open for discussion at the meeting," a Fifa spokesman said yesterday. "Decisions are usually taken unanimously but a change could be made with three-quarters of the board members present backing it."

If adopted, the change would fundamentally alter football as we know it, much as the change at the end of the 1924-25 season did. Then, instead of three members of the defending team being deemed necessary to play an attacker onside, the number was reduced to two.

The initiative was immediately handed to forwards. In the 1925-26 season, the total number of goals in the Football League surged to 6,373, a leap of more than 35 per cent from 4,700 the previous season.

It quickly became apparent that the then orthodox 2-3-5 formation of two defenders (full-backs), three half-backs (link players, spaced left, centre and right ahead of the full-backs) and five forwards needed to change.

Arsenal's Herbert Chapman famously redeployed his central half-back to defensive duties, creating the so-named centre-half that persists today. Two of the five forwards - the inside-forwards - started covering the central half-back's former midfield duties, creating the so-called WM formation of 3-4-3, which became standard for 30 years before changing to 4-2-4, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and variations thereof.

The mind boggles at the implications if players were no longer offside anywhere outside the penalty area. "Goal-hanging" on the fringes would be lawful, necessitating permanent deep defending.

Players with specialist outside-the-box shooting skills, often now midfielders, à la David Beckham, could become the new strikers, lurking legally at the edge of the box. And with no necessity to pass cagily through midfield to beat the offside trap, play could become concentrated at the two ends, on the margins of the area, switching mainly via long-ball passes. The whole nature of the game, and its positional specialities, could change.

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