November 27, 2020

Ahead of the 2020-21 season the Premier League clubs democratically agreed to discard the five substitutions rule which was temporarily brought in towards the end of last season, keeping in mind the fluctuating strain on the players’ fitness and the oversaturated months post lockdown to wrap up the season. We take a look at how that has panned out so far.


Managers, predominantly from the lower half of the table, were vehemently against the five-sub rule because it gave further advantage to the bigger clubs, who by the virtue of their global commercial might had more resources and thus, more players to bring on. Case in point, Burnley’s manager Sean Dyche didn’t even feature a full nine-men bench for his games post-lockdown (that often featured two goalkeepers) citing there weren’t enough players for him to put out. 

To pass out a motion, there needs to be a majority of 14 clubs in agreement. This was not the case when the big clubs proposed the five-sub rule to continue for the 2020-21 season, given further congestion of the calendar and a lack of pre-season. The motion to have five substitutions has since been discarded in Premier League’s pervious two shareholders’ meetings which were held in August and September.

Naturally, the biggest proponents of this motion are the teams who are playing in Europe and eyeing long cup runs and the ones opposing it are mid-to-lower table clubs who don’t want their disadvantage further accentuated by a rule that helps their opposition more than themselves.


As one could have easily guessed before the start of the season, regular muscular injuries have been flying around willy-nilly across the Premier League, with 103 of those recorded within the first eight weeks. For the sake of optics, it also doesn’t help that the Premier League is the only major league in Europe to have discarded the five-sub rule, giving not only a massive disadvantage to its teams playing in Europe (five subs allowed in UEFA matches) but also putting the players in the league in jeopardy ahead of next year’s Euros which would, ironically, affect England most.

The managers who had decided against the rule at the start of the season are starting to change their opinion on the matter. West Ham’s David Moyes recently admitted that he’d be willing to vote in favour of the five-sub rule if a vote were to happen again. Crystal Palace’s Roy Hodgson has said that while the rule undoubtedly favours the bigger teams, if it came down to players’ welfare, he’d ask his club vote in favour of five subs. Pep Guardiola, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Jürgen Klopp have been advocating for a ‘change’ in the substitutions rule and the TV schedules for a long time, with Klopp’s Liverpool probably being the worst-hit squad at the moment.

To make matters more complicated, the English Football League announced last week that it had reinstated the five-sub rule across its three divisions, considering the ever-mounting injuries. It will be interesting to see how long Premier League can go on with three subs with the other professional tiers in the country reverting from their mistake.


While there’s no doubt that giving more subs to teams with more and better players adds to the disparity amongst the clubs, as we did see during Project Restart, it doesn’t make for a valid argument against the health and safety of the players. World football was already facing a challenge of oversaturated fixture lists, an issue that has become much more of a problem in COVID times, because the massive broadcasting deals mean that the tournaments would go ahead anyway, even if at the expense of players’ welfare.

As it stands, there’s no shareholders’ meeting scheduled for any proposal to be heard for the Premier League clubs. That, however, can change if things get worse, and sadly it currently looks like they will. At the end of the day, athletes are all but human, and if we’re going to make arguments that jeopardises their health in the process, then there’s little point to any of this. Most probably, the clubs’ doctors could be making a push for this motion to get the green light, because if Liverpool’s situation is anything to go by, the clubs might soon not even have players to put on the pitch.

Watch this space as the season unfolds. 

Written by
Anshuman Joshi

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