Monday, November 8th, 2021
Declare “Collina’s heirs”
How VfL Bochum benefits from the offside rule
By Alex Feuerherdt
In a turbulent game, VfL Bochum defeated TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – also because the referee rightly corrects himself in a tricky offside situation on the advice of the video assistant. In Fürth, the referee rightly decides against a penalty for Frankfurt, here too, the cooperation with the VAR is good.
When on Saturday afternoon a little more than an hour had been completed in the game between the host VfL and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (2-0) in the Bochum stadium on Castroper Straße, the opening goal fell after much pressure for the superior home side. Soma Novothny headed him after a precise cross from Miloš Pantović, both of whom had only recently been substituted on together. But the joy did not last long, because referee Frank Willenborg refused the goal recognition. His assistant had perceived Novothny in a criminal offside position – not when scoring a goal, but in the game situation before.
There was also a cross into the Hoffenheim penalty area where Novothny was actually offside. But before he could get the ball, Kevin Vogt from Hoffenheim reached the ball – and headed it out to Pantović, who finally served Novothny. The referee punished Bochumer’s offside position on the first cross because, from the point of view of the assistant, whom the referee joined, Vogt was decisively influenced by Novothny with his header. Video assistant Timo Gerach, on the other hand, came to a different conclusion after checking the scene: he confirmed the offside position, but not the influence. This led to an intervention by the VAR and an on-field review by referee Willenborg.
When does an offside player influence the opponent?
In order to get to the bottom of the matter, it is advisable to take a look at the rules and regulations. It says that being offside is not a criminal offense – as long as you don’t play the ball, don’t influence an opponent in the fight for the ball and don’t gain an advantage after a ricochet or a goal-preventing action. The aspect of influence is important for the scene in Bochum. According to Rule 11, it is given when a player is offside
- fights for the ball with an opponent or
- is clearly trying to play the ball and thereby interfering with an opposing player or
- becomes clearly active – for example by moving towards the ball – and thereby clearly influences the possibility of an opponent to play the ball, or
- prevents an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly blocking his view.
Bochum’s leading gate rightly recognized
It is obvious that there is a certain scope for discretion and interpretation with these criteria – unlike the offside position itself, which is a factual decision. It is not always clear whether an opponent is being influenced or not, and sometimes it can even be bitterly disputed. So had Novothny influenced the Hoffenheim Vogt? No, the referee decided after looking at the images on the monitor.
That was correct, because the Bochum player remained passive in this situation: He did not fight for the ball with Vogt, from whom he was less than two meters away. He did not move towards the ball and therefore did not try to play it. Novothny did not block Vogt’s view either, for he was behind him. Nor was it an obstacle. And so he did not meet any of the criteria that are listed in the set of rules for the definition of criminal influence.
Offside rule changed more and more in favor of the offensive
Certainly, one could argue that Vogt would not have gone to the ball like this if Novotny hadn’t been around. But as long as this closeness is not immediate, the mere presence is not enough to make an offside position punishable. The impairment must be an active one, the mere presence of the player offside is not yet considered to be an influence. That was not always the case, but the rule keepers have deliberately and gradually changed the offside rule and its interpretation in favor of the offensive over the past few years and decades. Because there should be more goals.
Frank Willenborg decided in line with this rule philosophy when he finally did not assess Soma Novothny’s offside position as a criminal offense. Because the Bochumer’s distance to Vogt and his passive behavior were so clear arguments against the offside position being punishable that an intervention by the VAR was required. Pantović’s final cross was a new game situation and Novothny was not offside again. That is why his goal to make it 1-0 was regular.
A good referee always expects the unexpected
Willenborg’s decision to award VfL Bochum a penalty kick in the 73rd minute was also completely correct, which is at least one of the most curious penalties in the recent past: Because he believed that Novothny was wrongly claiming a penalty whistle, Florian Grillitsch pushed the attacker in Hoffenheim penalty area just around. Scenes like this occur every now and then when the game is interrupted when defenders smell a “swallow”. But this rarely happens in the current game for good reason – after all, it is simply a foul, and in the penalty area it leads to a penalty kick.
Of course it was an undisputed, because unequivocal situation, and yet the referee deserves a compliment here. Because the players are usually smart enough not to cool their faces on an opponent in their own penalty area while the game is running, a case like the one in Bochum rarely occurs. So you don’t normally expect it. The fact that Frank Willenborg didn’t tick the scene early, but kept his eyes on Grillitsch and Novothny, shows that he has a keen sense of the word. The 42-year-old has thus followed the well-known principle for referees that a good referee always expects the unexpected.
Why Frankfurt didn’t get a penalty in Fürth
In the game between SpVgg Greuther Fürth and Eintracht Frankfurt (1: 2), the favored guests struggled with scoring goals for a long time. Perhaps their protest was so vehement after half an hour when referee Daniel Siebert did not decide on a penalty after Daichi Kamada went down in the hosts’ penalty area while attempting to rescue the Fürth goalkeeper Marius Funk. The referee had not noticed a foul, but tried again to consult with his video assistant Pascal Müller in Cologne. He quickly completed his review and reported to Siebert that no on-field review was necessary.
That was a good thing, because Siebert’s decision was always justifiable. Funk did not reach the ball with his hand shortly before the goal line, but only Kamada’s left foot. But this contact was rather minor and not decisive for the Frankfurter falling. This was evident not least from the fact that Kamada already buckled his right leg prematurely – an indication that it was not the keeper of the home side who brought him to the ground, but that the fall was based on a certain voluntary nature. Because there was contact at the foot and Funk did not play the ball, a penalty whistle would not have been absurdly wrong. Not giving a penalty was undoubtedly the better decision.