Can you assist an own goal? A deep dive into the rules and records

As a longtime soccer fan and analyst, I‘ve seen the heartbreak and controversy that own goals can cause. But an intriguing question has come up: Should a player get credit with an assist if their pass leads to an unfortunate own goal? Let‘s take a deeper look at the rules and history around assists and own goals.

What counts as an assist in soccer?

First, what qualifies as an assist? According to the official Laws of the Game, an assist is "the final pass or pass-cum-shot leading to the recipient of the ball scoring a goal." The key factors are:

  • The pass must be intentional toward the scorer in a goal-scoring position
  • It must directly lead to the goal being scored
  • Solo dribbles, rebounds, penalties, and own goals don‘t get assists

Assists indicate a player‘s playmaking ability to create dangerous attacking situations for teammates. Playmakers like Xavi, Mesut Ozil, and Kevin De Bruyne consistently rack up high assist totals.

But you might be surprised to learn solo goals count for over 25% of scores, with no assists awarded on those. In fact, looking at historical records, assists are only credited on 35-40% of goals on average.

Season Total Goals Assists % of Goals Assisted
2018-19 Premier League 1,072 419 39%
2018 World Cup 169 61 36%
2017-18 Champions League 401 146 36%

What is an own goal in soccer?

Now what about own goals? These painful blunders occur when a player inadvertently scores a goal in their own team‘s net, gifting the opposing team a score. Defenders trying to make a clearance often accidentally put the ball in their own goal.

Own goals are actually fairly common, making up 2-3% of total goals in elite soccer. Nearly 1 in 20 Premier League goals is an own goal!

You surely remember some very costly own goals like Andres Escobar in the 1994 World Cup or Jamie Carragher in the 2008 Champions League. But did you know the most own goals ever scored by a single player is 23? That notorious record belongs to Congo and Fulham defender Mohammad Kallon. Ouch!

Why no assists on own goals?

This brings us back to the key question – if a pass leads to an unfortunate own goal off a defender, does the passer get an assist?

The simple answer is no. Even if your pass or cross ends up leading to an own goal, it does not count as an official assist.

The logic here is that the defender‘s mistake gets full credit for the goal, not the attacker‘s pass. The attacking team did not intentionally create the goal situation, so it would not make sense to reward them with an assist.

Ultimately an own goal goes down as the defending team‘s error, not the work of the attacking team. So that final deflection or mistake nullifies the initial pass or cross from counting as an assist.

Do fantasy leagues award assists for own goals?

Occasionally in fantasy soccer leagues, forced own goals do reward assists to the player who made the pass. This depends on the custom rules of the league.

But in official stats and record keeping, there is no such thing as an "assisted" own goal. The pass is not considered directly responsible for creating the goal.

So while Harry Kane may get credit for forcing an own goal in your fantasy league, he sadly would not earn an assist on his season tally.

Famous own goal non-assists from World Cup history

To illustrate this assist rule, let‘s look back at a couple famous World Cup own goals where assists were debated:

Andres Escobar in 1994 – The Colombian defender tried to deflect a cross and accidentally knocked it into his own net. But the cross was not awarded as an assist since it was not aimed directly at the scorer.

Jean-François Larios in 1986 – Larios attempted a clearance on a dangerous France cross but miskicked it into the goal. The pass did not receive an assist though it created the situation.

Murtaz Khurtsilava in 2018 – His shanked clearance off a Spain cross ended up as an embarrassing own goal. Again, no assist on the play despite the pass leading to the goal.

So some of the most infamous own goals in history did not actually come with assists, even if the attacking team‘s pass pressured the error.

Assist statistics and records

Looking deeper into assist data reveals some fascinating insights about plays that create goals:

  • Most assists in a season – 36 by Kevin De Bruyne in 2019-20 Premier League season
  • Most career assists – over 300 by Ryan Giggs during his Manchester United years
  • Highest ratio of assists to own goals – Mesut Ozil with 94 assists compared to zero own goals in his career
  • Fewest assists – Goalkeepers almost never are credited with assists due to their positioning. Gianluigi Buffon only has 1 assist in his 20+ year career.

These stats demonstrate how elite playmakers can have an "assist mindset" and positional awareness tailored for setting up goals.

Why are own goals and assists tracked?

You might be wondering what value these stats hold beyond mere trivia. The reason own goals and assists are meticulously tracked comes down to understanding player contributions.

Assists quantify a player‘s ability to create goals – to be the attacking catalyst and final pass before the finish. It measures vision and chemistry with teammates.

Conversely, own goals indicate mistakes under pressure and focus lapses. It‘s important when analyzing defenders and goalkeepers to see if they are prone to these costly errors.

By digging into these stats, we gain insights into playing style, positional skills, and decision making qualities that contribute toward winning.

Controversial assisted own goal: Liverpool vs. Sunderland in 2015

I still remember this odd scenario from 2015 that sparked debate over whether an assist should be awarded on an own goal:

In a Premier League match, Liverpool‘s Jordan Henderson took a long shot that Sunderland keeper Costel Pantilimon pushed onto the crossbar. The rebound bounced off the keeper‘s back, hitting defender Wes Brown and deflecting into the Sunderland net for an own goal.

Many felt Henderson should earn an assist since his shot created the sequence of the goal. However, by rule his shot could not directly get an assist since it did not go to a scorer, and the keeper‘s touch nullified it as a shot on target. A rerun looked at by the Dubious Goals Committee upheld this – no assist on the play.

This controversial ruling highlighted the fine margins and interpretations around awarding assists. To me, it seemed against the spirit of the rule to not give an assist here. But by the letter of the law, it was technically correct not to credit Henderson with the assist.

My take on these assist and own goal rules

As an avid fan, I‘ve seen my share of debates over assists awarded or nullified. In general, I think the rules make sense – requiring the pass be intentional to the scorer in a dangerous position. Awarding assists on own goals would essentially penalize a team twice on one mistake.

Still, there are occasional exceptions where I believe more discretion could be allowed by the referee or Dubious Goals Panel. If an own goal clearly comes from a dangerous set up pass or cross, considering it an assist seems fair. But the strict interpretation will nearly always rule it a non-assist.

In any case, the agony of an own goal makes it that much worse knowing it won‘t even count as an assist for your attacking teammate!

So in summary, while own goals are common and unpredictable, they exist separately from intentional assisted goals in the laws and stats of the game. I hope this breakdown helped explain the nuances and history around tracking assists and crediting those ever painful own goals. Let me know if you have any other soccer rules you‘ve always wondered about!

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