Why ex-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's radical offside rule change is a horrific idea

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A big alteration could be made to the definition of what constitutes an offside ruling

Arsene Wenger, or as he shall hitherto be known Arsene About With the Offside Rule. The Professor is once again stood at his blackboard, chalk dust smeared on the forearms of his tweed blazer, puzzling away over photons and fractions, readying himself to drop a veritable atom bomb on what it means to be marginally ahead of play in this, the year of our lord, 2024. He is the VAR Man waiting in the sky, and he’d like to come and meet us, provided there is no daylight between the attacker and the last defender. Let all the strikers boogie.

Now employed as FIFA's chief of global football development - a job title that tiptoes the high wire between ‘plausible occupation’ and ‘money laundering con to cover for organised crime links’ - Wenger has been marooned in the eye of a brain storm for some time as he mulls and muses over how to fix the unfixable.

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You see, the offside rule is kind of like an ageing breakfast TV presenter; for years, it has gone about its business predominantly uncontested, occasionally succumbing to the odd high stakes gaffe but largely unscathed in the public opinion. Then an improvement in video technology came about and suddenly all of its flaws were plain to see; the gaping pores, the crow’s feet, the craggy wrinkles broadcast to the world in unforgiving HD. It’s enough to put you off your cornflakes.

Or at least, that is what Wenger and his FIFA lab rats seem to believe. Rather than accepting that football - and even football supplemented by the Orwellian scrutiny of VAR - is irrecoverably prone to sporadic, nauseating bouts of human error, the former Arsenal manager has dedicated himself to wrangling a buckshot coconut shy into an exact science. His solution is something broadly dubbed the ‘Daylight Principle’, which sounds like a nominee for Best New Band at the 2006 NME Awards, but would actually mean that a player will be onside if any part of their body that can score a goal is behind or level with the final relevant defender.

After initially proposing an amendment to the law in 2020, Wenger has overseen trials in Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands, which, according The Times, have convinced him to present his findings to IFAB ahead of an official change to the definition of what constitutes an offside ruling. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has also expressed his backing for the proposal, which almost certainly means it is a bad idea.

Because, dear reader, surely the issue with Wenger’s blossoming theorem is that it serves to do little but shift the point of contention. In one fell swoop of the pen, we will go from bickering over errant toenails to glaring through magnifying glasses for solitary particles of space. The nature of offside dictates that there will always be a threshold, a watershed, a Rubicon, and that specific brink is always going to be a thread of gossamer, a sliver of a dragonfly’s iridescent wing, wide. Errors and controversy are inevitable when the offences are so slight.

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Which brings us to matters of perspective. How can Wenger ever hope to determine accurately whether or not an attacker has strayed into the irredeemable expanse of the day-lit beyond without cameras that are directly perpendicular to all decisions at all times? The faintest adjustment to a line of sight and fissures can open and close, appear and vanish, kneecap or facilitate.

There are other concerns too. Will this newfound leniency in favour of attacking sides lead to an influx of frantic goal orgies, or will it engender a sort of ultra-conservatism - bus-parking on an overnight depot scale? Is a player deemed onside if any part of their person, clothing and all, is still in contact with the last defender, and if so, what is to stop centre-forwards from wearing those flowing, silken bridal trains we tend to only see at royal weddings? Is there a contingency plan in place for if Jean-Philippe Mateta turns up on the opening weekend of the season dressed as Kate Middleton, Arsene? Have you even thought this through, Mr. Wenger?

Of course, none of this will ultimately matter one bit. Whether IFAB approve Wenger’s cherished measures or not, we will continue to get upset about acrimonious offside calls until the anticipated heat death of the universe because - little secret for you - that is just how the phenomenon works, and how it always will. But let me make one thing very, very clear; if the proposals are passed, I call dibs on the headline ‘Daylight Robbery’ for the first time that a wrong decision is made. It will be my ‘Three-O Walcott’.

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