“With 8 minutes remaining on the clock, it appears that Man City are going to make several changes. 5 in fact and it looks like,Sterling, De Bruyne, Jesus, Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, are all awaiting for the ball to go out of play, their boots have been checked. My what a frightening proposition, enough to stop your heart.”
Translated from Nicaraguan radio station, October 2020.
Football has changed. Better put, football has had to change. Now more than ever. Dramatic changes, subtler ones, some behind the scenes, but this game that is loved by so many has, through the worldwide pandemic of Covid-19, undergone some extreme tweaks to its landscape in order for the season to be resolved.
At the forefront of these changes is the increase of substitutions to be used during a match. A single change in personnel had previously only been permitted for injury reasons and this remained from 65/66 upto the 67/68 season, upon which it was decided that the substitution was allowed for tactical reasons as well.
This remained until 1987/88 season when after trialling 2 substitutes in the League and FA cup the previous year, the FA rolled out the ruling for the league format.
At this point it would be hard to argue that coaches were able to look upon their ‘bench’ as a mode of tactical innovation, this however would change with the inception of the Premier League in 1992.
The newly formed EPL would expand the sub ruling and play around with various bench increases and which sub could replace the goalkeeper (perpetually a bone of contention among the rule makers) – until finally settling in 1995 of 3 subs from a bench of 7.
The espousing of ‘ a strong bench’ from all corners of the football world seems to underpin any title challenge. Rumour has that before Jane Austen settled on what has become one of the most famous opening lines in literature, she initially constructed the sentence more along the lines of;
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a coach wishing to possess a league trophy, must be in want of a strong bench.’
No stranger to innovation, Austen settled on the latter sentence and failed in her football coaching career. No-one knows what became of her.
Back to the 5 subs ruling and as Jack discussed in the JBFS, the head coach of England Rugby team Eddie Jones now sees the opportunity of using subs as an opportunity to control the final portions of a game utilising his bench players as ‘Finishers’. Rather than using them as means of gradually adjusting to the flow of the game or to counteract the decisions of the opposition coach, Jones now sees the opportunity to close out games by introducing a block change at crucial points in games.
So how exactly will the likes of Jurgen, Pep, Jose and the rest of the EPL managers interpret the newly found flexibility of the ruling? Especially when it is taken into account that the subs bench could also be increased to allow a greater pool to select from. One school of thought is that it will now introduce a new wave of tactical thinking in which managers will now be able to dramatically alter their approach to a game and also enable greater flexibility within periods of change within a match.
We know that Jose is something of a stalwart in his use of substitutions, often complaining that he would prefer more subs at his disposal, and is no stranger to making early changes to react to situations in a game, just ask Eric Dier. Now at his disposal could conceivably be an army of fully charged,aggressive destroyers, hell bent on ruining the flow of a game, (one imagines Jose is 1-0 nil up). Or we could flip it and see Jose replace 50% of his team in the latter stages, in the hope he can claw back a victory from being 1-0 down to Norwich.
With more expansive minded coaches such as Klopp and Guardiola, there now exists a whole new palette for them to compose their football murals. The possibility of a defensive and offensive bench, much like that of the NFL, seems not too far away from becoming a reality for the elite football teams and coaches such as the above will be given the means and backing to fully exploit this opportunity.
The effects of gegenpressing or any heavy pressing system often results in exhaustion from a player perspective and thus a ‘churn’ is needed for clubs who adopt this playing style. Now, a coach such as Klopp, Bielsa, Flick or Pep, will be able to maintain a pressing style for longer periods of a match due to reinforcements being able to be called upon at a far greater rate than before.
From a fan perspective, although many will rightfully see this as a further widening of the wealth gap, others will be excited at the possibility of this innovative ruling adding value to the game however long it remains in place.