There will be big smiles on some managers’ faces as they rub their hands together in collective glee after getting news of the decision to increase the number of substitutions per game.
Daniel Farke is likely to be one of the happiest in the Championship now that he has the opportunity to make five changes each match thanks to the EFL Board agreeing the change, which will come into effect from noon on Friday for the remainder of the season.
The German was a big advocate for the rule change and he’ll be able to name a nine-man bench for the match against Middlesbrough on Saturday.
It’s not the first time Farke and the Canaries have had this option; when Project Restart kicked off in June the Premier League and Championship allowed its clubs to name nine substitutes and to bring on five, rather than three from seven.
Before the decision was made to revert back to nine subs, the City coach had said: “After the first lockdown we had breaks during games for recovery, we had five substitutes, bigger game day squads with 20 players. It is hard to understand why we don’t do this now.”
Yellas shouldn’t worried about Neil Warnock upholding the fine tradition of Boro sh1thousing, started by Aitor Karanka, and making five changes in the final five minutes this weekend. Though I have yet to see confirmation, the rules will likely revert back to those in the summer where changes were restricted to being made during three spells to stop disruption and avoid time wasting.
The sheer scale of the challenge facing clubs this season to squeeze a full campaign into a limited number of months ahead of the rescheduled European Championships, in order to ensure the footballing calendar is back on track for 2021/22, is huge.
In the case of the Canaries, there is the small matter of tackling the next 12 matches, a quarter of a Championship season, in a smidge over six weeks. Blink and you’ll have missed half of City’s campaign before you know it.
Squads are going to be more important than ever before – meaning that those with depth of numbers and quality to match are going to be even better equipped to succeed than ever before.
While we’re only talking about the EFL at the moment, you can make a safe bet that it won’t be long before Premier League big hitters Manchester City and Liverpool, lead by Pep Guardiola and the ever-vocal Jurgen Klopp, can eventually force 14 teams to agree change.
They will, however, face robust opposition.
Sheffield United’s CEO Stephen Bettis has been particularly open in his and the Blades’ opposition to the change.
“We remain suspicious that big clubs want to be able to sub off players to keep them fresh. The bigger the club, the stronger the bench. Any change of rules mid-season will clearly affect the integrity of the league.”
He’s not alone in his opposition either – there has been two votes amongst the top division’s clubs and on both occasions the move to make more than three changes per game again has been scuppered.
The crux of the matter is that allowing more substitutions is likely to favour those squads with more world or international-class players rather than clubs with squads boasting large numbers, but a dearth of quality.
Last season Norwich used the highest number of players in the Premier League but finished rock bottom. While Wolves used the least and finished fighting for a European place and were in the final stages of the Europa League.
In the FA Cup Quarter Final against Manchester United at Carrow Road, one of Norwich’s better performances of the Project Restart period, the Canaries were pummelled by a series of substitutions that ground them into defeat.
In extra-time, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was able to take his total number of changes to six with Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Nemanja Matic and Brandon Williams all being introduced as United eventually overcame City’s stubborn resistance.
It helped to kill our Cup run, perhaps it was even the fatal blow to our season as a whole. With Todd Cantwell giving Norwich the lead, we threatened a shock. Tim Klose’s 89th-minute sending-off didn’t help at all, but if fewer changes were permitted would we have clung on for penalties to give Tim Krul his moment to shine again?
The fact is, every so often, there is a chance of a shock in a league or cup game. The one time out of 10 that a smaller team can triumph against one of the biggest. While increasing the number of substitutions will help to safeguard the health and safety of players in what is going to be a marathon of a season run over 400m, it will also negate the possibility of the shocks that remind us why we love football.
The odds will get further stacked against the underdog with these changes, giving the better financed and staffed teams the opportunity to overturn any advantage a smaller club may carve out on the pitch.
We’ve already seen this season that Norwich can turn a game with a quality cameo from the bench – Adam Idah, Mario Vrancic, and Bali Mumba have made winning contributions to tight matches after being given their chance to shine.
Imagine Farke’s delight when he can turn to those three, but also, for example, throw on Jordan Hugill and Josh Martin too. Perhaps Przemyslaw Placheta and, when he’s fit, Onel Hernandez alongside a further trio of attacking options.
In the Championship we have, when everyone is fit, an abundance of riches. It’s no wonder at all that Farke will be pleased to have the extra two changes at his disposal.
However, if Norwich do ascend this season from the second tier to the Premier League, the German may feel slightly different about things when he is desperately clinging on to a goal advantage against a Big Six side that sends £500m worth of players out to warm-up.
THREE CITY SUPER SUB STORIES
- Mark Robins wrote his name in Norwich City folklore in August 1992 when he came on as a substitute at Highbury to sink Arsenal. He scored twice and helped the Canaries come from 2-0 down to win 4-2 on the first day of the first-ever Premier League season.
- It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment Norwich fans collectively fell in love with super-sub Jordan Rhodes, but I’m guessing his goal against Millwall in 2018 was likely to be it. Trailing 3-2 going into injury time, substitute Rhodes got the Canaries level before Teemu Pukki took the roof off Carrow Road with a 97th-minute winner.
- In 2015, Bradley Johnson’s best friend and ever-popular striker Lewis Grabban decided to angrily swap the bench for a train home before kick-off after Alex Neil named him as a sub against Rotherham in a League Cup game.