FIFA’s Potential New Offside Rule & Why It Will Change Football Forever

Bet365 Sport is already offering odds on some major football tournaments set to take place in the future, with the 2024 European Championships and even the 2026 World Cup Finals odds now available.

But you may want to hang fire on making your bets for the time being. That’s because of a major change to the offside rule in the pipeline.

It is no secret that FIFA are looking at trying to improve the current offside rule. That is not a surprise given the farce that it has become with VAR ruling players offside by millimetres.

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been part of the research process and he has made several recommendations to FIFA.

And it is these recommendations which could change football forever, not just in terms of the offside rule, but even how teams set up tactically during games.

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The Offside Rule & New Recommendations

Offside word made from a football soccer ball texture. 3D Rendering

Currently, a player is offside if there are not two of the opposition players between him and the goal when receiving the ball from a team-mate.

With the advent of VAR, this has seen players given offside when they have even the tiniest part of their body, even their toes or arms, in front of the second to last defender.

Often these decisions can take several minutes to sort out in the VAR booth and even then, are contentious given the lack of clarity of some images.

As such, there has been real dissatisfaction both within football and also for those watching it with the rule as it stands. Particularly with how it is applied in the context of VAR.

  • The “Wenger Rule”

In the recommendation made by Arsene Wenger, the offside rule would be changed.

Attackers would not be offside if any part of the body that can score a goal is in line with the last defender, even if other parts of the attackers body are in front.

Under the new rule, this would mean the end of marginal offside decisions against attackers and instead the attacker would have to be beyond the defender completely to be offside.

Pros And Cons of the Wenger Rule

There has been plenty of reaction to the proposed new rule, especially considering it will have a marked impact on the game, giving the attacking team much more of an advantage in these tight offside situations.

But as well as those in support, there have been plenty making the point that it will just create additional issues and perhaps change how the game is played, for the worse.

To summarise the main arguments:

Pros of the Wenger Rule

  • Attackers will have the advantage.
  • Will likely result in more goals being scored
  • Less controversial ‘offside by the tip of the toe’ decisions

Cons of the Wenger Rule

  • Doesn’t resolve the issue of using lines and the time taken for potentially close offside calls, it just moves the position of the line used to decide.
  • Will penalise teams that like to play a higher line and will likely see teams adopt the more defensive “low block’ tactics to avoid conceding too many goals.
  • Makes defending even tougher for defenders, especially in central areas.

So there is a lot to think about regarding this rule and it is perhaps unsurprising that FIFA are going to trial it in three different leagues around Europe in Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands.

Would The Wenger Rule Fundamentally Change the Game?

Perhaps one of the more interesting issues named as a negative with this new rule is the fact that it would make it very difficult for teams to adopt a high line when defending.

Currently, a number of top teams such as Manchester City, Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and more all play a high line when defending.

This tactic enables these teams to apply maximum pressure on their opponents in the opponent’s half of the field. It has enabled these teams to be hugely successful over the years.

However, these teams do rely on attackers being offside under the current rule, as judged by the number of ‘goals’ they have scored against them, which are then ruled out by VAR.

Under these new Wenger Rules, these goals would be allowed to stand and as such, many feel that teams would discard playing a high line.

The main way to defend against runners in behind is to adopt the far more defensive ‘low block’ defending. This packs defenders and midfield into the space in front of the penalty area and makes it very difficult for anyone to get in behind.

As such, the low block is seen as a very defensive strategy. It is employed by teams that want to try and eke out a draw, or at least deny their opposition many chances to score a goal.

This is the somewhat paradoxical quality of the Wenger rule. It appears to give the advantage to the attacker and seems to suggest many more goals will be scored. But it could have the opposite effect with many more teams adopting a far more defensive, deeper-lying approach.

It would also make it difficult for some of the more attractive tactical approaches, such as Tiki-Take, and the Gegenpresse systems work. As there would be too much of a gap between the defence and forwards to allow the team to press as a unit.

What does the trial of the new rule mean?

FIFA have confirmed they are committed to trying the new Wenger rule in a trio of countries. The start date for that looks to be the 2024/25 season.

That to me suggests that the current rules will not be changed for at least another two seasons.

However, if we do see an increase in goals and excitement in the trial, then my bet is that this rule change will come in. Probably, ahead of the 2025/26 season, in time for the 2026 World Cup Finals.

And it could have a significant impact on which teams do well in the United States, Mexico and Canada in 2026.

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