Five substitution rule could allow for new tactical approaches in football

The IFAB (International Football Association Board) recently recommended that five substitutions during football matches be implemented on a permanent basis.

Changes to the rules of football, a discussion that always seems to massively divide opinion no matter what the specifics.

VAR, much derided in its early days with teething problems and marginal offside decisions, remains a topic of heated debate even now.

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As with all arguments, it’s easy to outline the pros and cons for and against but this latest recommended rule change that five substitutes in a match become a permanent implementation seems pretty cut and dry.

It seems like a natural progression stemming back to when substitutes in football were limited to a back up goalkeeper on the bench to now where sides competing in UEFA competitions can name 12 players in reserve in a match day squad.

Teams can name 12 substitutes on their bench for Champions League and other UEFA club competition matches

Despite being able to name so many players on their bench, the teams have still been limited to just three substitutes with the exception of the 2019-20 season where they were permitted six.

It could be argued that allowing more substitutes is just another advantage to the bigger clubs in a competition who will obviously have more quality in reserve to call upon due to their financial resources.

However, it will also afford teams the opportunity to give more first team game time to younger members of the squad on a more regular basis - something that can only be good for the games as a whole.

Who this rule change really favours though is the coaches, who would be given the opportunity to use the system as part of their tactics rather than just reacting to going a goal up or down.

In the sport of rugby union, the number of substitutes allowed has massively impacted the modern game to the point where players in certain positions are conditioned to play for between 40 and 60 minutes before being replaced.

It’s fairly common for a rugby union side to change all three front row players at the same time during a match, usually between the 50th and 60th minute

England head coach Eddie Jones coined the term “finishers” when referring to his substitutes bench, meaning they are expected to play as important a role in the trying to win the match as those names in the starting line up.

Substitutions in rugby are tactical, barring injuries the coaches will often know who they will bring on and in what minute before the warm up has even started.

With so much crossover between sporting coaches now, it’s easy to see top football managers taking a leaf out of this play book if they are allowed to make five subs during a match.

Obviously it’s not quite as simple as that, and football is rarely straightforward, so many substitutions would need to remain reactionary - an attack minded player for a defensive one when trailing by two goals and so on.

However, think of some of the more memorable changes in recent years that could become common place with the rules changed - switching goalkeepers late on in anticipation of a penalty shoot out for example.

There’s a lot to be said for adding another dimension of tactical awareness that could come from having more substitutions available and it’s something you would expects the games top coaches to be able to use to great effect.

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