IAN HERBERT: Power plays by the wealthy elite are killing competition

IAN HERBERT: Power plays by the wealthy elite are KILLING competition… barely believable five substitutions rule panders to rich clubs even MORE from next season

  • Premier League teams will be allowed to make five substitutes from next season
  • The rule change brings the English top-flight in line with European leagues  
  • Yet it removes any element of risk and challenge for managers of the top sides
  • Prepare for football to begin resembling rugby union, where from the hour mark it’s impossible to distinguish who’s on the field 

There was a time when the art of football management entailed selecting the 11 players best suited for the task in hand and imbuing that group with all they needed to win.

‘We shared the ball, we shared the game, we shared the worries,’ Bill Shankly once said of the process. ‘No one was asked to do more than anyone else.’

Everyone accepts that the days of asking Gerry Byrne to play through a cup final against Leeds United with a broken collarbone — as Shankly did, in 1965, because there were no replacements — have long gone.

The Premier League have voted to allow teams to make five substitutions from next season 

But the unconscionable and barely believable decision to allow every team to make five substitutions — change almost half the team in the span of a 90-minute football match — really does tell us that the game has gone, too.

The Premier League’s decision, which reinforces the notion that governing bodies gather every few months to discuss ways to make the game worse, removes any element of risk and challenge for managers of that select group of fabulously wealthy clubs who can spend indiscriminately.

If Manchester City’s right back is struggling against an unknown new left winger Crystal Palace have unearthed, Pep Guardiola can make a 15th-minute change.

If Chelsea are failing to score yet again, Thomas Tuchel can bring Romelu Lukaku on early. And both managers will still have four internationals ready to step out when their sides begin to tire.

No such luxury for Aston Villa, Burnley, Leicester City, Leeds United, West Ham and Wolves, who’ve fought this all the way. But the elite’s nauseatingly predictable pursuit of their wish has borne fruit, taking another chunk out of the competitiveness of the so-called ‘best league in the world’.

In their 1-0 win at Leicester earlier this season, City had Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Nathan Ake and Fernandinho warming the padded seats.

Chelsea had Jorginho, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Ross Barkley in reserve for their pitiful performance at the Etihad.

Pep Guardiola had some of his best players warming the bench vs Leicester in September 

Alan Shearer had some good advice for Thomas Tuchel on this subject when his moaning about three substitutes started in the depths of last winter. ‘This is what our country is,’ Shearer said. ‘He knew that before coming in. Five subs is unfair on smaller clubs.’

Stamford Bridge may actually be a little less bombastic if leveraged American cash replaces the bottomless pit of cash which came at the gift of Vladimir Putin. When the managers who do not have an embarrassment of riches, like Burnley’s Sean Dyche, dare speak out against the iniquity of extra replacements, they are slapped down by the more glamorous, influential, widely-quoted members of that fraternity.

Witness Jurgen Klopp’s cutting little comments this week about Burnley, a club he clearly cannot stomach. ‘Sorry to say but during the international break I don’t know how many Burnley players were on international duty,’ he said. ‘I don’t know.’

Klopp endlessly cites player welfare — as if the supposedly necessary ‘winter break’ had not already been granted to him, with all the collateral damage that has inflicted on a now grossly diminished FA Cup.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Burnley manager Sean Dyche have clashed on the rule before

Dyche speaks with perspective and sense on this myth. ‘I hear a lot about player welfare,’ he said recently. ‘But I’ve got to be honest, my players are fantastically looked after. We’ve got strength and conditioning, psychologist support, health and wellbeing, dieticians.

‘A lot of players have home chefs. Look at Frank Lampard. He was knocking out 60 games a season and then England internationals on top. Season after season. I don’t remember too much then about player welfare.’

The inequalities will not be the only by-product of this change. Prepare to see endless time- wasting as players process on and off the field in the last half-hour of a game, no doubt with more interminable interventions from the wretched VAR to flavour the pot.

Prepare for football to begin resembling rugby union, where from the hour mark it’s impossible to distinguish who’s on the field.

The rule change was agreed on by top-flight clubs at a meeting in London on Thursday 

There might actually have been ways of making a decision like this more equitable and palatable. Making it mandatory that two of the five substitutes had to be academy graduates, to help develop young players more effectively. Or decreeing that only five subs could be named on the bench, including a goalkeeper, which would have restored some of the competitive challenge on managers.

But the elite don’t want that. There will be nine subs. And no restrictions on who they might be.

Shankly loved to say that he had the best two teams on Merseyside — ‘Liverpool and Liverpool reserves’. It’s not hard to imagine how he would feel about the latest custodian of the job he gave his every waking thought to having virtually both those teams available to him, every week of the season.

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