Last minute substitutions – what is the point?

As the season comes to a conclusion and we look back at the events of the past 10 months, I want to discuss the phenomenon of last minute substitutions and whether there is any real need, or benefit, to making them.

 

My view.

We’ve all seen it happen at one time or another and should probably be used to it by now. However, every time it occurs we all collectively exhale and wonder why on earth the manager is bothering to bring a player on in the 94th minute when he clearly won’t even touch the ball. It appears that someone has told all football managers that if they use a substitute in the final moments of a match then the referee will not add this time wasting action into his calculations and their team will stand to benefit. Whilst this may be true if the referee had forgotten his watch, FIFA regulations state that the man in charge must take into account any incidents that stop the game and add them on at the end of normal time. 

What impact, if any, can a last minute change have on a team? A negative point is that it will generally create momentary confusion and a lack of concentration amongst the team making the switch, as players that are already mentally and physically tired are possibly moved out of position to accommodate the player being introduced. The rhythm of the team can also be interrupted, because should there be time for more than a few kicks of the ball, then the substitute doesn’t have enough time to get to grips with the pace of the game or understand the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.

The only benefit that I can see is if the opposition team are regularly attacking and building up momentum, and possibly look like scoring, then a substitution can disrupt their flow and take some pressure off your own team. It may also anger the opposition players and manager, as they will perceive the action as an attempt to run down the clock. This could then affect their players’ judgement and force them to hurry, which is normally when mistakes occur. Apart from this, there would seem to be no other advantage to making a change so late in a game.

 

Tired players, unless injured, can surely continue for the extra minute or so left of the match and are likely to have built up an appreciation of the opposition players and how best to stop them from being successful. It is almost embarrassing for a player to sprint onto the pitch, spend a few seconds charging about aimlessly and then hear the final whistle blown. He jogs off the pitch as fresh as a daisy and hasn’t even dirtied his kit!

 

Verdict.

Usually a waste of time (not literally) and a bad habit that misguided managers believe is necessary when a game is finely poised with only one goal difference. Token gesture substitutions in cup finals should also be banned. The player gets ten seconds on the pitch so that he can claim a winner’s medal, but I’m sure he feels anything but after such a pathetic contribution to the victory!

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