LONDON • The Premier League is the only competition out of the big five European leagues that has not permitted five substitutes this season – a rule change world football authorities have approved to deal with fixture congestion caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
This has sparked intense debate since the start of the season, with the matter taking on greater importance over the weekend after rival managers Pep Guardiola of Manchester City and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp jointly implored the English top flight to relook the issue for the sake of player welfare.
Reds defender Trent Alexander-Arnold suffered a calf injury during the 1-1 draw at the Etihad and both bosses blamed his projected four-week absence on the lack of flexibility.
When Project Restart got under way in June, five substitutes were allowed but in early August, clubs overwhelmingly rejected the reintroduction of the measure.
In September, the proposal was again put forth, but the BBC said that only 11 clubs were in favour – at least 14 out of the 20 clubs must give their support for the motion to be passed.
Both rejections were down to a perception that it favours bigger clubs with deeper squads.
But the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) on Monday lent its support to the growing calls, telling Sky Sports: “We told the Premier League we would support such a move on health and safety grounds for our members before the first vote and our position has not changed.”
Vincent Gouttebarge, the chief medical officer of players’ union Fifpro, has also called the resistance “peculiar”, telling The Guardian last week: “By contrast, it (five subs) is allowed in the other major leagues in Europe and in the Champions League and Europa League, and it is obviously one of our recommendations.
“It would be nice to have the same everywhere because it provides the manager with an opportunity to rest some of his players and perhaps manage workload better.”
However, many of the Premier League’s lesser lights remain steadfast in their opposition, although West Ham manager David Moyes, whose club rejected the two earlier motions, said last week he was willing to reconsider even though he still feels it “benefits bigger squads and clubs with bigger budgets”.
Sheffield United chief executive Stephen Bettis insisted his club will continue to reject the rule as it affects the competition’s integrity.
It would be nice to have the same everywhere because it provides the manager with an opportunity to rest some of his players and perhaps manage workload better.
Any change of rules mid-season will clearly affect the integrity of the league… The 20 clubs have voted not once but twice to reject five subs.
“We remain suspicious that big clubs simply want to be able to sub off players to rest them to keep them fresh… the bigger the club, the stronger the bench,” he told Sky. “Any change of rules mid-season will clearly affect the integrity of the league… The 20 clubs have voted not once but twice to reject five subs.”
The Premier League has already made one rule change – over handballs – after the season started.
Bettis added yesterday: “So far this season, clubs playing in Europe have endured a similar workload to clubs in the Championship and we don’t hear them complaining, do we? Here at Bramall Lane, we have not seen an increase in muscle injuries.”
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith agreed, telling the BBC: “We have not got the biggest squad in the world and we have to manage our players. I made my feelings known from the off that I thought they were right to stay with the three-subs rule and now that we have started with it, we should certainly continue with it.”
It is unclear whether there will be a third vote. According to the BBC and The Guardian, there are no plans at the moment.