Sometimes it takes a child to show us the way. FTW is unfortunately stuck in the sporting wilderness of Washington D.C. for the next few months. Waking up at 7am in order to watch the Spurs vs. Everton game I was joined by a number of Americans all curious about the way nobody was using their hands. Amid the calls of “terrible play coach!” and “did you see the way he sacked that guy?!” I was called upon to explain what was going on. After patiently clarifying that the teams were not actually called Autonomy and Chang merely the sponsors (a sadly poignant statement about the priorities of the Premiership) I was asked why only three substitutes were allowed. At first questioning the natural order of three subs was like asking why dyed hair and huge boots go together. That’s the way it has always been.
However, the longer I thought about it the more it might be an idea to increase the number of substitutes allowed in a game. The idea has been tossed around in the Italian league for a while but I never thought about the implications the change would bring. Just changing from three to four would result in a new tactical dimension in football. As things currently stand most managers are loathe to switch their team around before half-time and indeed many wait until 60 minutes before making alterations. Partly the reason for this is to safeguard against injuries sustained or players going into the referee’s book. Taking off player A before half-time means restricts your tactical options later given that your subs bench has decreased to six and only two can be used. Increasing the number of substitutions allowed would create a greater tactical flexibility for managers to exploit. Substitutions form an essential part of the game. The number of players on the bench has increased so why not the number of changes permitted?
A further advantage of the increased number of changes is the possibilities for youth development. In theory the additional sub would be used by managers to blood younger players when a game is being convincingly won. Admittedly blooding youngsters in dead rubbers isn’t ideal and there is already the Carling “Yoof Development” Cup for this. It is likely that the extra substitute will be for tactical rather than experience purposes. However this is a preferable situation. Giving managers greater control over the game should again theoretically improve the standard of games.
In the main, the rules of football require tweaking rather than radical change. Increasing the number of substitutes is one of the more extreme changes I would advocate looking at. But increasingly it seems like a way to allow mangers more control, give player more rest and gently breaking younger players into the first team squad. An idea that deserves more attention in Britain.