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The Fab Five

The Fab Five


After voting against the introduction of five substitutes on three separate occasions, the Premier League has now agreed to the new rule from next season. Who will it benefit?

In May 2020, temporary changes were made to the international laws of football which allowed teams to make use of five substitutes instead of the usual three. 

That was because of the Covid pandemic. Player welfare was at the heart of the decision, because fixtures were being played in a condensed period of time so the season could be finished more quickly.

When the lawmakers decided that Football Associations could use five substitutes on a permanent basis, all of Europe’s top leagues stuck with it, except the Premier League. 

“And on the issue of substitutes, it did go to a third vote. Should there be five substitutes back in the Premier League…for the third time, Premier League clubs voted against that, but they did decide to increase the number of substitutes on a team sheet from seven to nine. So you sense a little bit of a compromise there might be seen…there were clubs that wanted five substitutes, there were others that said no, we are happy with three…” 

Sky Sports News

The proposal was rejected three times, but when it was put to a fourth vote, it passed.

From next season, each side can name nine substitutes on the bench. Up to five players can be brought on during three different occasions during the match, as well as at half-time.

Those who had advocated for five substitutes were delighted. 

Like Jurgen Klopp.

“Yeah it’s great news. Top news for football, top news for the players.” 

The Sun

And Pep Guardiola.

“All the leagues…Germany, Spain…everywhere there is five substitutions. To protect the players. Not to protect one team or another team…to protect the players.” 

Guardian Football

The voting records show that the top six clubs voted yes to five subs every time the choice was offered.

But not everyone wants the change.

Why is that?

Smaller clubs argued that the five subs rule favours the bigger clubs, with their deep pockets and squads stuffed with the best players.

Liverpool brought on Fabinho, James Milner and Sadio Mane in their 2-0 win against Watford over the weekend. With five substitutes, they could’ve also introduced Trent Alexander-Arnold and Luis Diaz.

Manchester City also won 2-0 when they played Burnley. Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus came off the bench. They had the luxury of naming Fernandinho, John Stones and Riad Mahrez as subs… all top players who were unused in the match.

Meanwhile relegation-threatened Norwich drew 0-0 with Brighton. They brought on Christos Tzolis, Jonathan Rowe and Kieran Dowell. 

Jonathan Rowe is 18 years old and is yet to make his full debut for the club.

Their boss – Dean Smith – made his views known.

“For me, it doesn’t matter whether I’m for or against it. The fact of the matter is we’ve voted four or five times for this. So how many times do you have to keep voting until somebody gets what they want? During Covid we had to change to five subs and I was certainly for that with the amount of games that we were playing. Since then, it seems to have been on the Premier League agenda every time they have a meeting.”

Sky Sports News

And It’s not just a change in players on the pitch that could provide an advantage.

Five substitutes gives teams increased tactical flexibility. An entire three-man midfield could be swapped out to change strategy. 

Until others caught up, this would benefit the best tacticians…so that’s the big six clubs yet again. 

But Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel thinks it could also help the underdogs outperform a bigger team.

“I was for a long enough the Coach of underdog teams and I would have loved to have five substitutes. To make more players play, to maybe increase the intensity or keep the intensity level against stronger teams.”

The Sun

As the boss of a big team Thomas Tuchel does have a vested interest in talking up the benefits of extra substitutes. But no matter what his intentions, it seems to be a valid point.

Someone who doesn’t have a dog in the Premier League fight is England boss Gareth Southgate. He has, in the past, spoken out in favour of the new rule and has no interest in which clubs benefit from five substitutes. He just wants his players to be fit for international duty.

So whether or not you think the rule change will benefit the biggest Premier League sides, it’s worth also bearing in mind that it’s good for player welfare.

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and mixed by Xavier Greenwood.