Substitute the subs rule?

November 5, 2007

Sven in thoughtful modeSven-Goran Eriksson did his best to destroy the concept of the international friendly by his over-use of substitutes when he was England manager and now he wants to change English club football by fattening match-day squads to 18.

Eriksson brought in a raft of new signings when he joined Manchester City in the close season and is struggling to keep everyone happy.

“When you have 23 players, who are working hard, it is bad when you have to omit them on match day,” the Swede said ahead of Monday’s game against Sunderland.

“Everyone wants to be on the pitch but it would help if we could change the rules on substitutes. If we could have seven players on the bench, it would be much better.”

Some European leagues already allow seven on the bench – the maximum allowed by FIFA – while in Scotland seven are allowed but must include three who are under 21. Seven are also permitted for the Champions League, UEFA Cup and international matches. No more than three can be used, though, in a senior competition.

In 2001 Eriksson made 11 substitutions in a 2-0 home friendly defeat by the Netherlands leading to calls for restrictions. Three years later FIFA limited the number to six in friendlies.

English soccer first allowed the use of a single subsitute in 1965, and then only for an injured player, before tactical substitutions were allowed from 1967. That was later increased to two and then, in 1995, the current limit of three.

From its early days as a sensible rule to replace injured players, it developed into a tactic all of its own, and is now also seen as a prime way to waste time in the late stages of a game.

Those in favour of bigger benches, and possibly more replacements allowed on to the pitch, would do well to look at rugby union, where seven substitutions are allowed and many games descend into chaos as coaches make myriad changes.

It gets even more complicated in rugby as short-term replacements are allowed while players are treated for cuts and those already substituted are allowed to return to the pitch to replace injured players.

There are also safety restrictions on who can be on the bench with a minimum of two front row players allowed because of the specialist and dangerous nature of their job in the scrum.

Many in rugby are calling for a restriction in the number of replacements allowed. How can two sports have such radically different plans?

Mitch Phillips, London

PHOTO: Manchester City coach Eriksson reacts ahead of their English Premier League match against Blackburn Rovers, Sept. 2 REUTERS/Nigel Roddis


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There is absolutely no harm in increasing the allowed number of players to sit on the bench. If anything, it’ll give managers greater flexibility to change tactics during a game, possibly leading to better football being played.

As long as the number of possible subs remains 3, otherwise the last 20 minutes of a game will become extremely stop-start.

Sven has a point, just don’t let him swap his entire team at half-time!

Posted by Andy Glover | Report as abusive

That’s true, he certainly has a point. As long as like Andy said, he isn’t wanting to increase the amount of subs.

It could lead to more youngsters being given more first team opportunities too, which can’t be a bad thing. Maybe if we brought in something similar to the Scottish rule?

Would this mean a lot of teams would have to build new, bigger dugouts though!?

Posted by Betfair Kid | Report as abusive

I think the Scottish rule is quite brilliant. England FA and in fact all leagues in the world should adopt it. Really gives youngsters some chance at the bigger games than languishing in some reserve or youth league.

Posted by Five Times | Report as abusive

The Scottish 3-U21’s rule is a joke if you actually have a good football team. What ends up happening is that 3 U21 players get chosen but make 1 or 2 appearances per season if they’re lucky, which causes 3 good experienced players to not even make the bench. We have 7 spots on our bench, so that’s only 4 experienced players to choose from.

If you look at Rangers, youngish talents like Chris Burke (CL experience), Alan Gow and Hemdani (ex-Marseille captain + CL experience) don’t even make the bench in SPL matches because they’re 24+. This will lead to them being sold without even being given much of a chance in the 1st team.

Players should make the bench on merit, not because of how old they are. The young players will get a chance if they’re truly good enough – Naismith/Fleck/Lennon for Rangers, and Micah Richards in the EPL.

This rule is ruining Scottish football and will probably be removed next season because certain managers oppose it.

Posted by Kurt Munro | Report as abusive

You can’t keep everyone happy. That is a part of being a manager, know how to manage you players. And i don’t know what eric is worried about he’s doing a good job with the side.

Posted by major arsenal fc fan | Report as abusive