Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughNothing wrong with embracing the bench - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Nothing wrong with embracing the bench - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Nothing wrong with embracing the bench


A goal down with the clock ticking at the Hawthornes earlier in the season, Roberto Mancini turned to his substitute striker Edin Dzeko and handed to him the responsibility of dragging his side out of the mire, just like the Bosnian had done against both Southampton and Fulham as City’s title defence got off to a rocky start. Again, it worked, Dzeko headed an equaliser before thrashing home a late winner to earn City what now looks like a vital three points at the home of an impressive-looking side lying fourth in the table.

City lie top of it with Dzeko’s goals earning ten of their 28 points so far, last week’s winner over Spurs the latest after similar salvos at Craven Cottage and the Hawthornes, whilst his  Sergio Aguero injury-induced introduction at home to Southampton on the opening weekend saw him cancel out the Saints’ impressive 2-1 advantage to give City the impetus  to push on and find a late winner through Samir Nasri. Not forgetting his leap off the bench to net City’s first goal in an ultimately defeatist night at Real Madrid and, if anybody can forget, his substitute equaliser that sparked the incredible, Championship-winning comeback against QPR, and you can gather that Dzeko is pretty vital to the City cause just as long as he starts on the bench.

Yet, the striker is not happy being cast in the role of saviour. The aftermath of his rescue at West Brom was notably spiky for his refusal to acknowledge the “supersub” tag and there has been various links with an exit from the Etihad as Roberto Mancini remains reluctant to move Dzeko ahead of Carlos Tevez and Aguero in the hierarchy of City’s front-line and install him as first choice. The Italian has challenged his player to reproduce his cameo-scoring habit as a starter as he builds up to the vital Champions League tie with Real Madrid, but the question remains when a record of 6 goals scored as a sub co-exists with 5 games begun, just one goal scored, vs QPR in a 3-1 home win.

Criticisms would rightly be aimed at the extent of Dzeko’s ambition should a £30 million striker voice his contentment at a permanent role on the sidelines, every player wants to play goes the cliche, but perhaps that shouldn’t be the case, perhaps Dzeko, with his constant public clamouring of Mancini for a starting spot, is the inadvertent spokesperson for a failure to see the advantages of starting from the bench.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was probably the most high-profile of supersubs in recent years, perhaps a major player in reviving the term after David Fairclough’s performances for Liverpool through the 70’s and 80’s, a 4 goal-12 minute blitz of Nottingham Forest probably lasts just as long in the memory as his last-gasp winner for Manchester United in the dramatic Champions League final of 1999. Solskjaer was a specialist from the bench to the extent it may have become a designated role in itself, just as important as anybody in the starting eleven. Perennial Chelsea substitute Solomon Kalou once described the advantages of starting in reserve “it forces you to read the game in a different manner, to study my area of the pitch and watch my man so I can make mental notes of how I’m going to beat him”.

Manchester United have their own modern version of the baby faced assassin in Javier Hernandez as Sir Alex Ferguson sees no hesitation in comparing his attacking line-up with that of 1999’s fearsome quartet, but Hernandez seems to suffer from the imbalance of not being able to have the same effect on a match from the off as he would do bursting into life at the sudden summons of his manager. The Mexican, scorer of the controversial late winner at Chelsea and a match-saving hat-trick following his half-time introduction with United 2 goals down at Aston Villa, struggled in a 1-0 defeat at Norwich after Ferguson buckled to temptation to hand Hernandez a starting spot.

Perhaps a victim of his own riches, Ferguson cannot find a regular spot for Hernandez amongst the quality of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, but the predatory threat of “little pea” is based on his movement and quickness of thought, better when utilised against tiring defences as a match wears on. Or, as in the case of the Villa match, when United are probing away at a deep defence trying to find a way back from a deficit. From the first whistle, when the game is more open, a viable criticism of Hernandez is his struggle to link the play with his back to goal and his constant desire to play on the shoulder which usually renders him isolated as United are forced to build from deep when the game is in its youth.

It all equates to the basic summary that a football match is different in the 70th minute than it is to the first and players like Edin Dzeko and Javier Hernandez are possibly better suited to taking advantage of that fact. One thing is for sure, with a third of all Premier League points being won from losing positions this season, it is time to chip away at the stigma attached to being left on the bench that has seemingly evolved with the likes of Emmnauel Adebayor and Darren Bent expressing dissatisfaction with warming the bench. Hernandez and Dzeko are showing that being left out can be the most vital role in a match, not necessarily as the snub it is so often seen to be.

Adam Gray