On Mbappé's offside goal
Under the old rules of the game, Kylian Mbappé's goal for France against Spain would not have stood but rule changes have left everybody in the dark.
“This mess of rule changes and their different interpretations, on top of the all the VAR protocols, means nobody now knows what a penalty or an offside is.” My brother, who used to take me to Real Madrid matches when the team sheet still ended with Di Stéfano, Puskas and Gento, sent me this message after the Nations League final. In those days it was crystal clear: A player in an offside position who was actively involved in the passage of play would incur the flag of the linesman. A player who found himself in such a position unintentionally could backtrack, rendering himself inactive. Even so, a player could still be positionally offside in that instance, if he was blocking the vision of the goalkeeper.
Under the old rules of the game, Kylian Mbappé’s goal for France last Sunday would have been offside. If the linesman had not spotted it, we would have conceded and bad luck. The difference is that now there is a group of conspirators against football who are trying to fill an excel sheet with all the possible infractions, which is an impossible task. The old regulation, and one that served the game well enough, was the development of two ideas. Football is played with the feet and the offside rule exists so that nobody can excuse themselves from the collective task. Everything else was a natural law of respect for those ideas, and of remaining faithful to those ideas, which were simple and clear. And referees were guided by their instinct to enforce them.
Following several reworkings over the interim years, the offside rule could support or reject Mbappé strike. Of what there is no doubt is that the awarding of the goal shook the core of the world-wise fan we all carry inside, and that of players with long careers behind them. And it is not just a partisan opinion. In France there is also majority agreement that a goal scored in that way should not be given, even if the ball shaved Eric García’s boot (he did not play the ball, or control it), under pressure from the lurking threat of Mbappé. But in the same way that we no longer know what a handball is (the rule changes every season), now neither my brother nor Sergio Busquets know what constitutes offside. And that won’t change any time soon.