By Andrew Warshaw
December 18 – La Liga has it, so does the Bundesliga, Serie A and France’s Ligue1. But the self-interested, blinkered approach of half of England’s top-flight clubs has once again been starkly exposed after they rejected for the third time a proposal to re-introduce five substitutes per team per game for the remainder of the season.
The Premier League is the only major league in Europe not to have kept faith with the five subs limit that was introduced during the delayed 2019-20 campaign to better cope with a congested domestic programme. Five substitutes are also permitted in the Champions League and Europa League.
Yet 10 of the 20 top-flight English clubs are reported to have again opposed the change at a shareholders meeting on Thursday when the idea failed to gain the required 14-strong majority, ignoring the fact that both FIFA and the game’s lawmakers, the International FA Board, have approved the concept and the players’ union FIFPro has also pushed for it.
Studies suggest the proliferation of games caused by the effects of Covid-19 are leading to more injuries and even the English FA has introduced five subs in the FA Cup.
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said: “The reason we want it in the competition is the reason most other leagues around the world have applied it. That is, for player welfare.
“We recognise it’s been a short pre-season, we recognise we’re in a very congested season now and we feel it’s appropriate to have the ability to have five substitutes and we’ll be applying that to our competition.
“Would we prefer it if the Premier League brought in five subs? Yes, we would prefer it.”
Yet whilst concussion substitutes have rightly been given the go-ahead, those opposed to the general concept of extending the number of subs being allowed to play from three to five have stuck to their guns, arguing that five would favour bigger teams with stronger squads.
Reports identified the 10 who voted against the reintroduction of five subs as Aston Villa, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield United, West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Leicester City were the biggest surprise in that list since, according to media reports, nine of their 24 outfield first-team squad have at some point this campaign missed a match through injury.
Whilst refusing to allow five subs, shareholders did approve an amendment to Premier League rules that will increase subs on a team sheet from seven to nine but that was mainly to cover the possibility of concussion subs.
If and when those who rejected the five-sub recommendation cry foul at having so many injuries, they have only themselves to blame.
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