Being able to tackle is an essential skill in soccer. Although there are many ways to tackle, tackling another player from behind is an area people usually have a lot of questions about. In this article, I want to give you the answer to the question of whether a player can tackle from behind or not.
A soccer player can tackle another player from behind. The rules of soccer permit a player to tackle from behind as long as the tackle is not careless, reckless, or using excessive force.
The reason it is common to see so many tackles from behind penalized is that it is hard to tackle from behind without committing a foul. But this doesn’t make a tackle from behind illegal. Keep reading, and you’ll discover not only what is and isn’t acceptable in a tackle from behind, but also how to do one effectively.
Rules regarding tackling from behind
When it comes to understanding tackling in soccer, the most important thing to remember is that it is not the type of tackle that matters. How the player makes the tackle is what counts.
When outlining what is acceptable within the rules of soccer, the rule book focuses on the actions of the player when making the tackle. Not the position the tackle is made from.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which governs the rules of soccer worldwide, says that any act committed in a reckless, careless, or excessively forceful manner should be penalized by the referee. [source]
To understand more of the rules of soccer, check out my article – The Rules of Soccer: A Complete Guide
An illegal tackle in soccer is any tackle that the referee judges to be reckless, careless, or using excessive force. An illegal tackle will result in the referee awarding a free-kick to the opposing team and possibly cautioning the player who committed the unlawful tackle.
It is possible to tackle a player from behind as long as it is done in the right way. But this is easier said than done!
The referee decides who is penalized
Over the years, there have been many occasions where I have attempted to tackle another player from behind only to find myself knocking my opponent over and conceding a free-kick for my team. And it’s never fun having another player land on top of you!
But thankfully, there are also times where I have successfully tackled another player from behind, won the ball back for my team and avoided committing a foul.
Whether a tackle from behind will be penalized or not ultimately comes down to the judgment of the referee.
If they believe the player has been reckless in tackling another player, then they will blow the whistle and award a free-kick. There is no point arguing with the referee once they have made up their mind. Although many players try and I wrote an article explaining the reasons why here.
If you want to tackle another player from behind and not commit a foul, then my advice is to do everything you can to avoid making contact with the player in possession of the ball.
As soon as you make contact with that player, you are at risk of tripping them up and making it look as though you were being careless in your tackle.
Of course, this is not easy.
By definition, a tackle from behind means that the opposing player is situated between you and the ball. The only way to get to the ball is for your leg to come around the player to reach the ball. If you can make contact with the ball before you make contact with the player in possession of the ball, you stand a much higher chance of the referee allowing play to continue.
In the past, it was considered to be an acceptable tackle if the player making the tackle made contact with the ball before the player. This is no longer the case. The rules of soccer don’t consider whether the ball or player is touched first. What is important is the manner of the player when making the tackle.
But this can lead to confusion for the average person watching, like you or I, because only one person can decide what an acceptable tackle is. That person is the referee!
Punishment for tackling from behind
If a player is penalized for tackling another player from behind, it is helpful to know what kind of punishment they can expect to receive.
The first thing that happens when the referee blows their whistle is that they will award a free-kick. For the majority of the time, this will be a direct free-kick.
In soccer, a direct free kick is a set piece where the player kicking the ball can score a goal directly without the ball having to touch another player first.
The rules of soccer say that a referee should award a direct free kick if a player “tackles or challenges” an opponent in a manner considered to be careless, reckless, or using excessive force. [source]
As we’ve already mentioned, this decision comes down to the judgment of the referee.
If a player tackles another player from behind in a manner than the referee considers to be “dangerous,” then an indirect free kick will be awarded.
An indirect free kick is a set-piece where the player kicking the ball cannot score a goal directly from the free-kick. The ball must touch another player first before a goal can be scored. This can be a player from either team.
The rules of soccer define playing dangerously as:
“…any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone (including the player themself) and includes preventing a nearby opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury.“IFAB Laws of the Game
This is much more serious and is punished accordingly.
When a player is penalized for tackling from behind, they are at risk of being cautioned for their actions. The referee will assess what they have seen and decide on the appropriate course of action.
There are several reasons a player could be shown a yellow card and cautioned following a tackle from behind. These reasons include:
- A player committing a direct free kick offense in a reckless manner
- A player committing a foul which interferes with or stops a promising attack
- or a player denying an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by an offense which was an attempt to play the ball [source]
To discover more about when a yellow card is shown to a soccer player, check out my complete guide to yellow cards in soccer here.
In an extreme circumstance, a player may be shown a red card by the referee for tackling from behind and be forced to leave the field.
The reasons a player may be shown a red card for a tackle from behind are:
- If they are denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is towards the offender’s goal by an offense punishable by a free-kick
- Or serious foul play such as when a player lunges at an opponent when challenging for the ball from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent. [source]
To discover more about when a red card is shown to a soccer player, check out my complete guide to red cards in soccer here.
As you can see, tackling another player from behind in soccer is acceptable as long as the tackle is made in a way that complies with the rules of the game.