Proposed Changes To The Offside Rule Will Be Hard For Celtic To Cope With In Europe.

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I read the other day that changes to the offside rule are being trialled in a handful of places, as UEFA and FIFA get ready to bamboozle our referees with another change. For God’s sakes guys, they struggle as it is and every time there’s a change in the regulations these guys have another excuse for being miles behind the curve. And another chance to screw Celtic.

The rule, as it stands, that a player is offside if any part of his body that can legally impact the ball is ahead of the last defender. Any part. The rule change, if it comes in (and it will) will change that to say that the attacker’s entire body has to be over that line … it sounds like a modest change when you look at it on paper. But watch any 50/50 call and you’ll immediately see that it’s enormous and game-changing, and a radical departure from where we are now.

An attacker will have that extra benefit of the doubt, and a good one an extra second in which to move in front of the last man … that second is all any halfway decent finisher needs. These guys play their whole game in microseconds, and this will deliver a significant new advantage to good attacking players and to good attacking teams.

We are going to come across these changes at some point, and they will definitely have an impact on us, because I have no doubt whatsoever that this time next season they’ll be standard across all the leagues in Europe and beyond. So although it’s not an immediate problem, and one requiring an immediate solution, it presents us with a big problem in Europe.

Basically, as a front foot team we’re going to definitely need a better class of defender, with different attributes than the present team currently possess. Defenders already need to be blessed with positional sense, but we’re also going to need pace … or we’re going to need to change our whole approach to the way we play, and even at home.

With the current offside system, we saw Bodo absolutely strip us over two legs in Europe last season playing a classic counter-attacking game. The shock and awe humiliations against Sparta Prague in the Europa League three years ago were very similar … and that was when the defence still had most of the benefit of the doubt. Those days are almost over.

If this regulation comes in – and it’s a certainty – the advantage will automatically accrue to the attacking team, and if there’s one thing we know from playing in Europe over the past couple of years it’s that the forwards are a cut above what we have here in Scotland, and teams who counter attack can do so already to devastating effect.

There will be advantages to us, and in Scotland to an almost preposterous degree. Teams who currently have to watch their defensive line when they come up against our strikers, and who VAR and certain linesmen have let off time and again these past few years, are going to have a major headache on their hands … and I reckon we’ll score a barrow-load of goals before they’ve had a chance to sort themselves out a bit.

But in Europe, that’s where we’re going to need to be on our toes and I think we’re going to need to up our game when it comes to signing players at the back, and we’re definitely going to need a better keeper, without any harm to Joe Hart.

I think we’ll sign at least one centre back in this window. The manager will be carefully watching to see how we do on the Champions League stage. The talk is all if we can hang onto Carter Vickers we’ll be in a decent position … but let’s see how he gets on against the very best, in a slightly tweaked system, with this new boss in charge.

It will ultimately be on the tactics board where this change presents the biggest challenges. Even a really quick centre back will struggle to catch a rampaging forward who can move that second faster to beat the offside trap … it means dropping deeper, or having one man back as cover, it probably means a midfield anchor has to be sharper … it’s a tactical nightmare to deal with, and FIFA are very clear that this is the explicit intent, “to enable a more free-flowing and exciting spectacle for fans” as one online publication wrote recently about the change.

So this is one to watch … and whilst domestically it the worst thing that can possibly happen to the rest of the teams in this league, it’s going to impact us as well whenever we’re far from home. This one is definitely worth keeping a close eye on.

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