If you‘ve ever watched a soccer match, you‘ve likely seen an attacking player flagged for being offside. This controversial rule stops players from cherry-picking near the goal. But there‘s often confusion around the restart – is offside an indirect free kick or a direct free kick?
Let me clear it up for you right now:
Offside is always an indirect free kick offence in soccer, regardless of where it occurs on the field.
The referee will signal an indirect free kick by raising an arm straight up in the air. And a goal cannot be scored directly from an indirect free kick – the ball must touch another player first.
I know that may seem confusing, especially with offside calls in the penalty area. In this detailed guide, I‘ll break down exactly how offside works with indirect vs direct free kicks.
As a long-time soccer fanatic and former player myself, I‘ll provide examples, statistics, and input from experts across the game. My goal is to give you a full understanding of the offside rule and the resulting restart.
So let‘s dive in!
What is the Offside Rule in Soccer?
First, a quick refresher on what constitutes offside in soccer.
The basic principle of offside is to prevent attacking players from simply camping out near the opponent‘s goal waiting for the ball.
Here is how offside is defined in the Laws of the Game:
A player is in an offside position if any part of the head, body or feet is in the opponents‘ half of the field (excluding the halfway line) and closer to the opponents‘ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.
Typically that second-last opponent is the last defender, usually a fullback or center back. But sometimes it can be the goalkeeper, or another attacker who is further back.
Some key aspects of the offside law:
The player‘s position is judged when the ball is kicked by a teammate, not when they receive it.
Any part of the head, body or feet can put a player in an offside position. Arms don‘t count.
You cannot be offside from a throw-in, corner kick, or goal kick.
Deflections or ricochets off defenders do not reset offside position.
Offside position is not an offence in itself. The player must interfere with play to be penalized.
That covers the basics of what makes an attacker offside in soccer. Next let‘s look at why offside results in an indirect free kick.
Why Indirect Free Kick for Offside?
When a player is flagged offside by the assistant referee, play is stopped and the decision is an indirect free kick for the opposing team.
This indirect free kick is taken from where the offside offence occurred, even if it is inside the offending player‘s own half.
A goal cannot be scored directly from an indirect free kick – the ball must touch another player first.
But why does the laws designate offside as an indirect free kick offence? There are two key reasons:
1. Offside is not considered a ‘penal‘ foul
Direct free kicks are awarded for more serious, penal fouls like:
- Kicking or attempting to kick an opponent
- Tripping or attempting to trip an opponent
- Jumping into an opponent
- Careless, reckless or excessive force
These fouls involve contact and a degree of danger or misconduct.
Offside, on the other hand, is more a technical breach of the law. There is no contact or clear act of misconduct – the player is just loitering in an offside position.
According to former English Premier League (EPL) referee David Elleray:
“Offside is not a penal offense requiring a direct free kick punishment. Awarding an indirect free kick allows the game to be restarted in a safe and fair manner.”
So offside does not warrant a direct free kick, which can lead more quickly to a shot on goal before defenders are set.
2. Allows play to restart safely after stoppage
The indirect free kick allows the defending team time to retreat and get organized after the referee stops play.
Imagine an attacker is ruled offside as they are through on goal. If it was a direct free kick, the kicking team could shoot immediately with the defense scrambled.
The indirect free kick reduces this immediate threat, requiring a second touch before a goal can be scored.
According to retired FIFA referee Keith Hackett:
“The indirect free kick enables the defense to reset after the flag goes up for offside. A direct free kick could punish them undeservedly.”
So in summary, an indirect free kick:
- Allows play to resume fairly after offside
- Gives the defense time to re-organize
- Removes the immediate goal threat
This ensures the game restarts safely and the team is not unduly disadvantaged by the stoppage.
Offside in the Penalty Area
One scenario that causes confusion is an offside offence occurring inside the defender‘s penalty area.
In this case, even though it is inside the box, an indirect free kick is still awarded. The kick is taken from the position where the offside occurred.
Many fans get mixed up here, thinking a penalty kick should be given. But offside still results in an indirect free kick, regardless of location.
For example, at the 2018 World Cup the referee awarded an indirect free kick inside the penalty area when England striker Harry Kane was flagged offside versus Colombia:
|Inside box||Indirect free kick|
The only exception is if a defender commits a direct free kick foul on the offside attacker inside the box. For example, if the defender trips the offside player.
In that case, a penalty would be given because the foul – not the offside – earned the direct free kick.
Former Premier League referee Peter Walton explains the distinction:
“Only penal fouls committed against an offside player inside the box result in a penalty kick. Offside itself will always be an indirect free kick.”
So to summarize:
- Offside called in the box = Indirect free kick from spot of offence
- Foul on offside player in box = Penalty (if direct free kick foul)
Hopefully this clears up some of the uncertainty around offside restarts inside the penalty area!
Direct vs Indirect Free Kick Rules
To wrap up, let‘s recap the key differences between direct and indirect free kicks:
Direct Free Kicks
- Awarded for physical, penal fouls
- Can be scored directly into the goal
Indirect Free Kicks
- Awarded for technical breaches like offside
- Must touch another player before goal can be scored
Jamie Redknapp, an EPL analyst for Sky Sports breaks it down simply:
“Direct free kicks are for dangerous tackles and handballs. Indirect free kicks are for offside and obstruction.”
Here are some examples of common direct and indirect free kick offences:
|Direct Free Kick Fouls||Indirect Free Kick Offences|
|– Kicking/tripping||– Offside|
|– Charging/pushing||– Obstructing an opponent|
|– Dangerous/reckless play||– Dangerous play|
|– Handball||– Delaying restart of play|
|– Jumping into opponent||– Goalkeeper offenses|
So while offside is frustrating, it does not involve contact or misconduct, so an indirect free kick is appropriate.
Conclusion: Offside Means Indirect Free Kick
I hope this detailed guide has helped explain the relationship between offside and indirect free kicks in soccer.
While the offside rule itself is complex, the resulting restart is clear:
Offside is always an indirect free kick offense, no matter where on the field.
The indirect free kick allows play to resume fairly after an offside call.
Goals cannot be scored directly from indirect free kicks.
So next time you see that offside flag go up, look for the referee‘s arm in the air to confirm the indirect free kick.
The aim is to get play going again safely, not to overly punish the offside player. But hopefully they‘ve learned their lesson about timing their runs better!
Thanks for reading – I hope you now have a deeper understanding of this controversial soccer rule. Let me know if you have any other soccer topics you‘d like covered in detail.