Official Publications Related to Law 17





Law 13 - Free Kicks

Official Publications Related to Law 13

The Quick Free Kick

Referees are advised in the most current edition of Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, under Law 13 in Section 13.3, of the following:

“An attacking team which chooses to take a free kick with an opponent closer than the minimum distance may not thereafter claim infringement of the distance requirement, even when the ball is kicked to the infringing opponent, who thereby is able to control the ball without moving toward it.  In such a case, the referee cannot caution the opponent who has not remained at the required distance from the ball.”

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
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2008 (Click to view/hide)

The key phrase to remember when viewing the attached clip is, “able to control the ball without moving toward it.”

It is the consensus of the U.S. Soccer technical staff, that in this particular clip (Video Clip), New England’s Wells Thompson did move toward the ball by thrusting this leg forward to block the kick.  The free kick should have been retaken and set up as a ceremonial free kick with the required distance from the ball attained.

Free Kick Management and Delaying the Restart

The importance of officials having an understanding of the 2009 Referee Program Directives is again illustrated in the referee’s correct management of the restart from the free kick awarded. The “Free Kick and Restart Management” directive provides officials, at all levels, guidance in managing free kicks and other restarts. Of particular note is the direction provided match officials relative to delaying the restart of play and failure to respect the required distance – both of which are cautionable offenses.

According to the directive, players must be cautioned for delaying the restart when they deliberately move, lunge or advance directly toward the ball to interfere or prevent a free kick from being executed. In situations where the referee provides a retake of a free kick due to interference by the defender, the directive and the Laws of the Game require that the referee caution the player. It is important, however, that referees take a proactive role in preventing situations that could lead to delaying of the restart and to failure to respect the required distance both of which are cautionable offenses. Quick intervention and presence by the referee can pay dividends in preventing situations from escalating to cautionable infractions.

In order to successfully direct a free kick, referees must have a firm grasp of the following concepts outlined in the “Free Kick and Restart Management” directive:

It must also be stressed that once referees are seen to “intervene” (by body language or gestures) in a free kick situation, the referee must then ensure that the free kick is managed as a ceremonial free kick. “Intervention” refers to a referee, by way of his actions, who seemingly steps in to manage the restart and slow the restart process down. In other words, the referee’s actions can be interpreted as formally managing the defending or attacking players surrounding the free kick.

Referees must have a feel for when teams’ or players’ actions indicate they require “intervention” on the part of the referee and, thus, a ceremonial restart. For example, player indications are often exhibited through the motioning or pointing to an opponent like an attacker pointing toward a defender or the defensive wall in a manner that can be interpreted as “asking the referee to move the player(s) back.” It is important to note that these actions do not need to be verbal.

Although it is often said that defenders have no rights in a free kick situation, they do have a right not to be confused by the referee giving misleading signals about whether the kick is quick or ceremonial. If the referee decides that the kick cannot be taken right away, you must make the players aware of this decision as soon as possible.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Columbus at Dallas (90:00 + 2:00)

    The focus of this clip is the referee’s management of the free kick and how the referee’s actions are indications of his involvement and, thus, require the restart to follow the steps associated with a ceremonial free kick.

    After the referee whistles a foul, the referee begins moving to the location for the wall (10-yards from the ball). Regardless of whether the attacking team requested the distance or not, the referee’s actions (moving and motioning to the defensive wall) constitute involvement and, therefore, require a ceremonial free kick.

    The actions of the referee are confusing and send the wrong message to the defending team. As a result, the defending team is not prepared for the quick restart and the players are not aware that the ball has been put into play. Watch the players in the penalty area. They are not watching the ball and are not prepared because they are awaiting the referee’s signal. Simply, the players are confused by the referee’s misleading signals about whether the kick is ceremonial or quick.

    Note: As soon as the referee makes any gesture or movement that may be construed as “involvement,” the referee must immediately make the free kick ceremonial by using the “wait for the whistle” signal. It is the perception (to players, coaches and spectators) of the referee’s actions that is fundamental and important.

    Referees must not be influenced by the fact that the unauthorized quick free kick was unsuccessful in generating a goal and, therefore, allow play to continue. Referees are required to immediately stop play if a restart is taken without the necessary signal (whistle) regardless of the outcome and retake the free kick. In this clip, despite the initial stop off the quick free kick, a goal results seconds later – a goal that would have been prevented if the restart was managed correctly (as a ceremonial free kick).

    Immediately after the free kick is incorrectly taken, the referee starts to raise his hand to stop play. Although the process leading to the quick restart is improper, as discussed above, the referee should have continued with his thought and followed his gut reaction by stopping the play as soon a he recognized the issue.

  • Video Clip: Los Angeles at New York (79:21)
    The referee has awarded a free kick approximately 31 yards from the goal (in the “danger zone”). The referee takes an effective position to manage the restart as he lends his presence to the “drop zone” while being able to maintain visual vigilance on the two players in the wall and action around the ball.

    As the free kick is taken, the referee correctly identifies a handling offense committed by a defender in the wall. The defender jumps up from the wall and deliberately handles the ball.Once the referee has called the foul, he moves to the restart position (the location of the handling offense) and begins the process of implementing a “ceremonial free kick.”

    Observe the referee’s process for managing the “ceremonial” restart:

    • The referee back steps to measure or delineate the required 10 yard distance from the ball.
    • As the referee back steps he is maintaining a view of the “drop zone” as well as the ball. This includes the time that he is at the end of the wall encouraging them to move the appropriate distance.
    • Upon getting the 10 yard distance, the referee moves across the front of the wall and not only makes eye contact with the defenders but also visually reinforces their responsibilities with hand gestures.
    • The referee takes an effective restart position that allows him to manage the wall, the kicker on the ball and the “drop zone” without interfering with players.

    The referee could have improved his effectiveness by ensuring the defensive player to the wall’s right was further back. Referee’s can use the field markings (football lines) or grass cuttings to assist in executing the 10 yard distance.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: New York at Houston (67:30)
    This is a classic case of a defender who deliberately interferes with the taking of a free kick. The defender takes advantage of his closeness to the ball and deliberately advances to the ball to make contact thus preventing the free kick from being taken. It is important to note that the attacker does not play the ball directly into the opponent/defender. The defender takes advantage of his position (nearness to the ball) to prevent the ball from being put into play by moving his foot/leg forward to contact the ball which is a yard or more to his side. As a consequence, the defender must be cautioned for delaying the restart of play.
  • Video Clip: Houston at Real Salt Lake (66:14)
    This clip starts with the referee having already awarded a “ceremonial” free kick and is in the process of moving the wall back to the appropriate distance. He then whistles for the kick to be taken. To this point, notice the following regarding the referee’s actions:
    • 10 yards
      The referee must ensure the full 10 yards is given and should not whistle until the appropriate distance is achieved. The referee can use the field markings to assist with positioning the defensive wall. In this case, the grass cut can be a tool for the referee’s enforcing the required distance.
    • Referee position
      The referee takes an optimal position for managing this restart. Due to the position of the restart/ball and the location of the players, the referee’s position allows him to monitor and control the ball, kicker, wall and the next phase of play.
    • Whistles the restart
      Because the referee is managing a “ceremonial” restart, a whistle is required before the ball can be put into play. The referee correctly uses the whistle to indicate that the ball may now be kicked.

    The kick then strikes the hand/arm of a defending player jumping in the wall and the referee correctly decides a handling offense (the player has “made himself bigger”) has occurred and calls the foul. The referee must decide whether a yellow card is warranted for unsporting behavior (handling offence). If the referee believes that the defender prevented a reasonable scoring opportunity, then he may use discretion in deciding to caution the player. Remember: Players are allowed to jump up in a wall but not up and forward. In this case, the players merely jumped up.

    Once the referee has whistled the foul and because the free kick is in the red zone or danger zone (the area 25-30 yards from goal), the referee moves toward the spot of the restart to indicate/monitor the location of the ball. Let us review the process used by the referee to execute the second free kick after the handling offense:

    • Quick free kick or ceremonial free kick?
      The referee’s actions in this clip indicate that he has chosen to enforce the distance for game management purposes. The referee has imposed a ceremonial free kick by whistling to show the new restart position as he marks the spot of the ball and by way of his interaction with the kicker as the kicker places the ball. As a consequence, based upon the referee’s visual and verbal messages, he cannot allow a quick free kick.
    • Using the “wait for the whistle” signal
      Once the referee has imposed himself on the free kick and has decided it should be a ceremonial restart, he should promptly use the “wait for the whistle” signal (holding the whistle at face level) indicating to everyone that a whistle is required to restart. This is a visual message to the players, spectators and media that a ceremonial free kick is being implemented and a quick restart (like the one in this clip) will not be permitted.
    • Denying the quick restart
      Despite the effort of the kicker, the referee is correct in denying the quick restart that has been attempted. The only option is for the referee to immediately stop play and have the ball brought back for the free kick to be taken correctly (after the referee’s whistle).
    • Getting the appropriate distance
      The referee does a very good job, the second time, of getting the appropriate distance and moving the defensive wall back. Watch the quick and effective method he uses to inconspicuously mark off the 10 yards as he backpedals. In this case, the field markings can be of assistance as the distance between the top of the penalty arc and the penalty mark is 10 yards.
  • Video Clip: Chicago at Los Angeles (84:08)
    This clip serves as an example of the management of a free kick situation in which there are three separate occasions requiring referee intervention due to the actions of the attacking and defending team. In each case, the referee must ensure a ceremonial free kick is administered. As you watch the clip, remember that any actions by the referee that may be perceived as “intervention” require a ceremonial free kick.

    The referee has awarded an indirect free kick to the attacking team in the red jerseys. Let us examine each of the three situations requiring intervention on the part of the referee.

    Intervention 1:
    The initial restart requires the referee’s intervention as well as his implementation of a ceremonial free kick. At the initial set up of the indirect free kick, the referee’s presence or intervention is needed at the ball, as several players from each team have congregated in the area immediately in front of the spot of the foul. The number, location and actions of the players on both sides are clear indications a ceremonial free kick must be administered. Remember: Ceremonial restarts require the referee’s whistle prior to putting the ball back into play.

    Step 1: In this situation, the referee should indicate his application of a ceremonial free kick by using U.S. Soccer’s recommended “wait for the whistle” signal: Pointing to the whistle while holding it extended at face level. The referee should get visual or verbal confirmation from the attackers around the ball and attempt to make eye contact with the defending goalkeeper thereby ensuring he is aware of the need for a whistle to restart play.

    Step 2: Once the “wait for the whistle” signal has been given and acknowledged, the referee, in this clip, uses one of the appropriate mechanics to move the wall back. The referee indicates the location and distance he wants the wall. Note how the referee uses his body and presence to establish the wall position and does so while facing the “danger area” (the area in which most players are congregated). This position enables the referee to have a clear view of player actions off-the-ball and ensures preventative action can be taken should the situation arise. As the referee does in this clip, if the situation permits, he may move the wall while facing the majority of the players.

    Step 3: Once the wall is at the appropriate distance (10 yards from the ball as should be the case in this video), the referee should move back across the front of the wall while making eye contact with the players in the wall and reminding them of their responsibilities not to break from the wall prior to the whistle. Note that the referee does not get the full 10 yards in this example and should use the field markings to assist with ensuring the proper distance is provided to the attacking team.

    Step 4: When the referee has assumed his appropriate restart position, which he does in this clip, he must raise his arm indicating the indirect free kick restart and use his whistle to signify that the ceremonial free kick may now be taken. Referees should choose a restart position that maximizes their management of the “next phase of play” while providing them with the best opportunity to manage the attackers around the ball and the players in the wall.

    Remember, the following helpful hints when managing ceremonial free kicks:

    1. Use the “wait for the whistle signal.”
    2. Establish the position of the wall and ensure the proper distance (10 yards unless the distance from the ball and the goal line is less than 10 yards) is maintained thereafter.
    3. Face the danger zone or the majority of the players while moving/managing the wall.
    4. Never turn your back to the ball.
    5. Whistle for the restart only when you have taken a strategic monitoring position.

    Intervention 2:
    After the referee whistles for the restart, the actions of the players in the wall require a second intervention on the part of the referee and, thus, another ceremonial restart. As soon as the referee moves toward and points to the players in the wall, he must indicate a second ceremonial restart. As with the first intervention, the referee’s whistle is required prior to the ball being put back into play.

    As you watch this segment or intervention, watch the referee’s body language as he responds to the actions of the players in the wall. The referee interposes himself (intervenes) through his movement toward the wall, the lowering of his indirect free kick signal and his hand gestures (pointing toward the wall).

    After quickly addressing the wall issues, the referee steps back and, again, indicates an indirect free kick and whistles to authorize the restart.

    Intervention 3:
    After players attempt to break from the wall early (encroach), the referee moves toward the ball and gestures with his right hand. These actions on the referee’s part are a clear indication of his intervention and, therefore, require a third ceremonial restart.

    Given the repetitive nature of the violations exhibited in this free kick situation, the referee needs to take a stronger stance and send a “broadcast message” that further actions will be dealt with in a more stringent fashion.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
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Whistling the Restart of Play

Certain requirements of the Laws of the Game are mandatory or required. Many of these situations should be “standard operating procedure.” In other words, they should be a standard part of every match official’s management of the game at all levels. Failure to be consistent in the application and implementation of some of these standard procedures can lead to further problems.

FIFA’s “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees” outlines several instances in which the referee is required to use the whistle (whistling is a MUST):

  1. Start play (first and second half) and after a goal
  2. Stop play:
    • For a free kick or penalty kick
    • If the match is suspended or abandoned
    • When a period of play has ended due to the expiration of time
  3. Restart play for:
    • Free kicks when the appropriate distance is required
    • Penalty kicks
  4. Restart play after it has been stopped due to:
    • The issuance of a yellow or red card for misconduct
    • Injury
    • Substitution

At the same time, referees are not required to use the whistle to:

  1. Stop play for:
    • A goal kick, corner kick or throw-in
    • A goal
  2. Restart play from:
    • A free kick, goal kick, corner kick, throw-in
2010 (Click to view/hide)
Clip: Chicago at Seattle (82:06)
The use of the whistle to restart play after the issuance of a yellow or red card is the focus of this clip but the clip does include a correctly issued yellow card for unsporting behavior due to a late and reckless upper body challenge.

After stopping play to issue a yellow or red card for misconduct, the referee is obligated to use the whistle to signal that the game may be restarted. As a result of this requirement, all restarts after a red or yellow card is displayed should be managed as ceremonial. The fact that the restart is ceremonial means that the referee must take the time to record/write the misconduct information thereby preventing any misidentification later in the game.

In this clip, the referee stops play and correctly issues a caution. As the referee is conversing with the player, yellow card in hand, the game is restarted (without the referee’s whistle) and, now, the referee is out of position and must chase play. An attacking opportunity results. Fortunately for the referee, a goal is not scored. Procedurally, the referee should have simply whistled to stop the inappropriate restart, completed his data recording and then correctly restarted the ceremonial free kick with his whistle.

Using the whistle as part of the ceremonial restart may seem trivial or minor but, as this clip illustrates, it can have significant implications. Use of the whistle to restart after misconduct:

  • Gives the referee team time to record the misconduct information.
  • Allows the referee time to take an optimal position to be ready for the next phase of play.
  • Permits both teams a fair opportunity to ready themselves prior to the game being restarted.
  • Lowers the temperature of the game.

Because the referee is taking formal action on this free kick by issuing a card for misconduct, teams are not permitted to take a quick restart as it could potentially lead to an unfair advantage. Teams relax when the referee is taking official action thus the need for the whistle to get their attention and get them focused on the ball being put into play.

If a team attempts to put the ball back into play prior to the referee’s whistle, the referee must immediately stop play and cannot allow it to progress. The ball should be placed in the correct restart location and play held up until such time as the referee indicates he is ready by way of his whistle.

Note: Match officials need to ensure they do the simple things right as this will prevent future bigger issues. By doing the ordinary things, extraordinarily well, referees can ensure the little things do not fester or grow into issues that challenge the referee’s management ability.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.