The shareholders of the English top flight have voiced their concerns over the long-term implications of the rule.
On Thursday, the Premier League took a very important decision, as a majority of clubs voted against the adoption of the five substitutes’ rule for the upcoming 2020-21 season. The decision was taken during a shareholders’ meeting, with 11 of the 20 top flight clubs disagreeing with the proposal.
According to a report in The Telegraph, 14 clubs had to vote in favour of the proposal to allow five substitutions in a match for the 2020-21 season. This means that the end result saw five positive votes short of the necessary threshold of votes needed to approve the law change.
We take a detailed look at the pros and cons of the five substitutes rule and explain why a majority of Premier League clubs have voted against it.
What it the five subtitutes’ rule and how it came to existence
For the uniniated, the five substitutes’ rule was introduced when the 2019-20 Premier League season re-started in June after a three-month hiatus following the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown across the world. Once the league resumed, all clubs had to play more than one match every week, leading to fatigue among players.
The above factor combined with social-distancing norms made it imperative for the rule to be brought into effect. Contrary to the usual seven-player bench, up to nine players could now be named. However, changes could be made only on a maximum of three different occasions during a game, so as to prevent a constant break-up of play.
When you take a look at the history of football, you will understand that the game has generally been cold to substitution rule changes. The idea of substitutions itself was introduced only in 1954, 24 years after the first World Cup. However, for the next one and a half decades, only injured players were allowed to be replaced. It was during the 1970 World Cup that the use of substitutes for tactical reasons was legitimized. it was only in the 1990s that teams were allowed to make a maximum of three substitutions. Now, another 30 years later that has been increased to five, albeit temporarily.
Advantages (and disadvantages) of the five substitutes rule
In June, just a week before the resumption of LaLiga, Barcelona manager Quique Setien expressed his concerns over the temporary five substitutes rule. “It will harm us,” Setien said. This was because of a critical, but less talked-about element of Barcelona’s style of play, the players’ ability to tire out their opponents while not getting worn out themselves. According to Spanish sports newspaper Marca, the Catalans had salvaged more points than any other team last year by scoring goals in the last 15 minutes of the match.
Setien felt that with two extra substitutes allowed, Barcelona would lose their advantage. “We solve many games in the final minutes. If you give opponents the option of fresh players coming on in that time, the weakness that is generated with tired players will not occur,” he said.
As Setien feared, Barcelona and other teams that profess a similar philosophy would be at a disadvantage while, at the same time, counter-pressing sides could benefit from employing more fresh legs. A case in point would be the 2011 LaLiga clash between Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao. The score remained 1-1 until very late in the game, as the Bilbao players gave very less room for their opponents to operate in. Indeed, it was not until injury-time that Lionel Messi exploited the Bilbao defenders’ weariness to score and win the game for his time.
The current scenario in the Premier League
With coronavirus arguably loosening its grip ever-so-slightly across Europe, various countries have already started taking measures for football to return to a state of normalcy. In England, the voting on Thursday to make a final decision on the number of substitutes per game was conducted with the same aim, as the Football Association is understood to be assessing the situation keenly.
However, each of the 11 clubs who voted against the five substitutes rule ahead of the upcoming season, reportedly believe that it was unfairly benefiting the major clubs with better budgets and bigger squads. The Telegraph reports that Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham – the three newly-promoted clubs – are among those to have voted against five substitutes. It is understandable, given the fact that their budgets are several times smaller than the those of clubs like Manchester City or Manchester United.
Sheffield United were vocal opponents of last season’s change and it was surely an important factor in Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal both leapfrogging the Blades in the final table, with Jose Mourinho’s side also qualifying for the Europa League as a result. Like their manager Chris Wilder, Marcelo Bielsa – who currently works with newly-promoted Leeds – also favours working with a small squad, as he himself has often mentioned.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are understood to be among those who heavily backed the adoption of the current rule once again. Having signed the likes of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, along with more signings like Kai Havertz reportedly on the way, the Blues evidently have a good budget, especially because of last season’s transfer ban that prevented them from spending any money.
Earlier, their manager Frank Lampard had also voiced a positive opinion on the rule. Speaking after Chelsea’s narrow 1-0 win over Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-final in which he made three out of the possible five substitutions at half-time, the former English midfielder revealed that he would not have made three half-time substitutes if the rules had not been changed.
“I have thought about how I would use more subs. They are there for protection and generally, you look at the midfield and attacking areas. But, the game can change your mind and today was one of those. Five subs came in handy because I could use three at half-time and still have two left,” he said.
The west London outfit also reportedly attempted to coerce some other teams like Manchester City into ensuring that the same rule was adopted for the next campaign. However, their efforts went in vain, as they fell five short of the 14 votes that were necessary to trigger the change.
FIFA, the international governing body for the sport, have announced that the five substitutes rule can be used in competitions until August 2021, implying that the European Championships and Copa America can adopt it next summer.