Russell Cowper on how football is fast becoming a squad game first and foremost.
I like to watch Rugby Union and the use of impact subs make a huge difference to games. The Closers as I have seen them called.
With the expansion of permitted subs available now increased to seven this gives managers options in attack and defence. They can react to the particular game situation. Football has it closers too.
Subs in football have taken an age to be appreciated. It’s around 50 years since Keith Peacock became the first sub playing for Charlton and slowly since then have the laws been adapted so we have the situation we have today. First we had the super sub. David Fairclough for Liverpool always sticks in my mind as I’m sure every time he came on he scored.
As the game has developed and subs have become the norm, it is common to hear at games shouts of “get him off” “bring Blah on” “make a change ffs” hurled from the stands. Of course fans turn up to support the team but on the whole they will be unaware of the game plan, fitness, tactics employed etc. so substitutions are often seen as bizarre, unwarranted and occasionally downright idiotic. But there is no denial that they are now an integral part of the 18 man game.
A manager may start with a specific eleven with his plan being to introduce a player at a certain time. Subs are no longer merely replacements for injuries or those having an off day: they are introduced to answer opposing tactical nuances and counter the myriad of formations/systems the opponents use. This allows subs to impact games in more ways than was once thought possible. Back in my youth a sub covered injuries and you would get the delights of seeing your centre forward in goal, your left back playing right wing as all clubs stuck to the rigidly to the Sir Alf Ramsey inspired 1966 World Cup winning formation of the 4-4-2 wingless wonders. I grew up with 4-4-2 and its rigidity pigeonholed players into certain positions and that position stuck with them their entire career Of course there were a handful of utility players such as the magnificent Paul Madeley at Leeds and Kenny Burns at Forest who gave their teams flexibility when only one sub was allowed. In those days those players were a rarity and often suffered because of the perception that they were too versatile and therefore not suited to the rigours of 4-4-2. In many ways that perception still exists and fans will say with real certainty that a player was bought as a left back and that means he should only be a left back. Personally I think it is off the mark, simply because for a football to become a professional he has to be adaptable. Paul Power at Man City and Everton showed that prerequisite as he performed anywhere down the left with distinction for both clubs. Bryan Robson of Manchester United could have played anywhere and I always thought Roy Keane would be a world class centre half if he played there. Man City’s Paul Lake could play anywhere and play with distinction too and it is these players who I think opened our eyes to the possibilities of flexibility in football, which has led to the impact subs.
As the game has developed alongside the introduction of foreign coaches 4-4-2 is now almost redundant; I believe it shackles ability, is too restrictive and does not cater for the growing adaptability of the impact sub. The new age with the 18 man team enhances virtuosity, provides platforms for players to express their individuality and impact subs in my opinion make the game far more interesting, exciting and intriguing. The tactical nuances that the 18 man game gives the manager are enhanced and the flow of the game is ever changing.
Last evening Raheem Sterling showed the value of the impact sub to great effect against a well marshalled but tiring Everton side. The injection of pace late into games against tiring opponents makes them the football equivalants of the Rugby Union closers.
As the season develops it will be interesting to see how this new fashion for closers develops. If a player knows beforehand he will be playing 60 minutes and the closer the last 30 minutes then the intensity and speed of the game of the game will be enhanced.
It amazes me how such a simple game manages to keep reinventing itself