Five versus seven substitutes

After the Football League announced they would revert to seven substitutions for the 2012/13 campaign, Christopher Panks asks how this could affect Di Canio’s approach…

Much is spoken of how substitutions have won or lost games for managers. Many have pointed to Harry Redknapp’s tactical decisions which saw his team surrender a 2-0 lead away to bitter rivals Arsenal, eventually conceding five without scoring another, as the reason that Roy Hodgson beat Redknapp to become England manager. Of course, the reality is that other circumstances were present – not least Hodgson’s willingness to play a part in overhauling the English grass roots game at St. George’s park. Still the ability to change a game with substitutions and other tactical decisions remain a key success factor for managers; and one of the few ways they can affect the game, once the players have crossed the white line.

On Friday 1 June, at the Football League AGM, the Chairmen of the 72 clubs voted in favour of Derby County and Birmingham City’s proposal to revert back to a population of seven substitutes on each bench for the coming season. This reversed the decision to reduce the number of named subs to five that was carried at the last AGM only 12 months ago.

The arguments for and against a seven seater bench vary depending on the club. There’s clearly a huge difference between the top of the Championship and the hungry trap door out of the League which, this season, claimed Macclesfield and Hereford. A gap that is increasing all the time.

Generally, more substitutes favours affluent clubs. Affluence is not limited to finances – youth recruitment and development and depth of squad, both in terms of quantity and quality, will tip the balance. When the match day squad size was reduced, the idea was to minimise the financial burden for cash strapped clubs who, last season, saved money by reducing the numbers of seats on the coach, beds and portions of food required for away games. The effect was a change in a fundamental bench, a goalkeeper was riskily often sacrificed and for large squads like Swindon’s it meant players, particularly youngsters, who would have ordinarily sat in seat six or seven, were loaned to divisional rivals.

For 2012/13 Swindon’s squad size will need to increase, possibly by borrowing talented youngsters and experienced but unneeded loanees who will be at an even higher premium. It is no secret that the best youth development in Britain exists within Premier League clubs, but owing to two extra seats on the bench, Championship clubs will have first refusal on these loan deals, as coaching is at a higher level and Premier League clubs only let these players out in order to progress their development.

The result may be that Championship clubs are more willing to loan players out to lower divisions as better players displace them from the Premier League reserve teams. However, what is more likely is that with the increased level of seats to fill is that, fearing sporadic injuries and suspensions teams in the Championship will be far less amenable to letting personnel drop a league.

It will probably mean that fewer players will be allowed to leave on loan than last season. Then, Bodin was allowed to go to two successful clubs – Torquay United and Crewe Alexandra in League Two – to develop and Medhi Kerouche’s disagreement with the manager ended with the ultimate punishment of donning the dreadful yellow and blue of our rivals up the A420.

Had seven substitutes been available throughout 2011/12 it would have meant that players that Paolo clearly sees the potential of, like Billy Bodin and Nathan Thompson, might have had a better opportunity to force their way into contention rather than sending Bodin out for first team spells elsewhere. However, the extra bench seats to fill, would doubtless have resulted in a reluctance by Barnsley to lend players like Jay McEveley and increased competition for Premier League players like John Bostock, both who look set to join permanently after their loan visits.

It’s difficult to tell which option would have been best for Town at the moment. What is clear, though, is that the squad will need to grow, either through loans or with permanent signings, but loans will face more competition and transfer fees will be inflated. The decision to revert to seven subs is probably in Swindon’s favour, but further signings will be required to this end and this all costs money. The positive aspect is represented by the morale the youth will feel being part of a match day squad, travelling with the senior players and understanding what is required of a budding professional.

Ultimately, it will mean fewer youth players are released on loan. Based on the acquisitions already arranged, the manager knows the areas he needs to strengthen but, it will be difficult for him to find players to increase the quality of the team. Young players will be held by Swindon, named on the bench and possibly introduced to play, much more freely than last season.

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