The Five Sub Rule
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 11 November 2020 at 9:38pm
Written by : Graham Keeffe
Towards the back end of last season as part of Project Restart, the Premier League provided clubs with the flexibility to make five subs per game. Due to lack of match fitness and the overall impact of Covid-19 on footballing activities, the move was welcomed in a temporary capacity. In August, prior to the commencement of the new campaign, clubs were invited to reinstate the rule on a more permanent basis. While the so-called “Big Six” were all in favour of the motion, it was ultimately defeated by 11 votes to 9. Interestingly, a second vote was held in September on the matter but was once again rejected. This has led to several managers and club officials giving their input on the matter and why they believe the move is a positive or negative one.
Across the major European leagues five substitutions is the norm, making the Premier League the odd one out. This has led to both Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola criticising the rejection of the rule. After their 1-1 draw at the weekend, Klopp called on clubs to “understand why it’s so helpful.” He believes it is not an advantage but a necessity. “In all other countries it happens and here we make a bit more fun of the competition by having only three subs. That is really incredible so we have to talk again.” His Manchester City counterpart shared a similar view. “All around the world it’s five subs but here we believe we are more special.” Guardiola went on to say that he will “demand, if the people allow” to come back to five substitutions.
Despite Guardiola’s calls for an increase on the current rule, his side are currently averaging the use of just 2 subs per game. In contrast West Ham United, who have far less financial power and squad depth, are averaging almost the full 3. That being said, the Hammers do not have European fixtures to contend with and as a result do not suffer from similar schedule congestion. Those clubs in European competition have been highly critical of the scheduling of games, with Mourinho labelling Spurs’ fixture list a “total joke”. As an example, Manchester United returned from their humiliating defeat in Istanbul on Thursday only to have to play on Saturday at 12:30pm due to TV scheduling. There is a point to be made for those clubs travelling further afield that their players may not enjoy the same rate of recovery as those not in European competition. It has already been well publicised this season that treatment rooms are experiencing a 40% increase in muscle-related injuries in comparison to the same period in previous years. The packed fixture lists has no doubt played a part in the rising numbers.
There are those however, who do not agree with the viewpoints of Guardiola and Klopp. Stephen Bettis, CEO of Sheffield United, has hinted that the bigger clubs are backing league officials into a corner on the matter. “From the comments made this weekend it suggests they simply will not rest until they get their way.” Bettis went on to argue that the workload being endured by these clubs is similar to that of the Championship and those in the second tier are not complaining. A man who appears to have seen both sides of the argument is David Moyes. Originally opposed to the move, the Scot has since changed his mind. It would appear he has done so based upon the number of injuries being sustained. “So many games in such a small period of time, whether it be that you’re an international player or in the Champions or Europa League, has meant the programme has been so congested.” The Hammers are currently without in-form man Michail Antonio, as well as captain Mark Noble and centre back Angelo Ogbonna. Two of these injuries are muscle-related.
Some have called into question why a manager in Moyes’s position would be in favour of such a move. Yet, there is a case to be made for his opinion from a West Ham perspective. It is no secret that the club has had a torrid time with injuries in recent years. Andy Carroll became synonymous with the words “knock” and “pulled” during his time at the club while Michail Antonio, despite his current form, has had persistent hamstring injuries. Lanzini and Fabianski have also been subjected to nasty injuries in recent times, with the former yet to really find a return to form since. The five sub rule would allow Moyes to incorporate greater squad rotation and better manage those players who are susceptible to muscular problems. Certain players have already shown this season that they are more effective off the bench than in the starting 11. The increase in squad rotation would also allow for youth players to be given more of a look in. Overall, it could potentially save the legs of players who may need to play more than once in a given week. This could be particularly beneficial during the busy Christmas period.
In any case, there is no doubt that we have not seen the last of the matter. Based upon the number of injuries across the league, another vote on the matter may come sooner rather than later.