The International Football Association Board, the body that governs the laws of football, meets in Northern Ireland on Friday and Saturday. Two items to be voted on are directly related: allowing a fourth substitute in knockout matches that go to extra time, and giving managers access to ‘live’ digital tracking information on their players, which would reveal if they are tiring.
The fourth substitute, if voted in, is widely expected to become a feature of 90-minute matches in future, not least because there is a World Cup in the searing heat of Qatar on the horizon.
Neil Lennon, the former Celtic manager who has had his own successes with bringing men off the bench to turn a game around, told Goal: “If it comes in for extra time, I’m sure it will eventually become four substitutes in 90 minutes.
“The number of subs used makes a huge difference, and the bigger clubs will definitely have an advantage because of the depth of quality in their squads. If the rules are changed to allow four, it will be beneficial for all players and clubs, but the bigger ones will benefit most.”
Stats show number of goals and assists from substitutes from the beginning of the 2012-13 Champions League to the end of this season’s group stage
Lennon, who now manages Bolton Wanderers in England’s Championship, points out that Ancelotti has been able to bring players such as Isco, Marcelo, Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema off the bench in the past two seasons. In the same period Mourinho has sent on Eden Hazard, Didier Drogba and Nemanja Matic at Chelsea.
Statistics from the beginning of the Champions League in 2012-13 up until the end of last year’s group stage illustrate their effect; Mourinho’s substitutes have scored 10 goals and Ancelotti’s provided four goals and four assists in that period.
“It gives them a psychological advantage as well as helping the team on the field,” said Lennon. “The opposition won’t like seeing players like that coming on.”
In last season’s Champions League final – the fourth in 10 years to go to extra time – Ancelotti introduced Marcelo after an hour, and he scored the decisive second Real Madrid goal. Benzema had come off the bench to score in a group game, and Demba Ba, sent on by Mourinho, scored Chelsea’s winner in the quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain.
“Ancelotti is very good at changing strategy during a game, and Rafa Benitez is another who is very good at it,” said Lennon. “But Jose Mourinho stands out for me. He is the master of making game-changing decisions.
“His Real Madrid team [2010-2013] were one of the best counterattacking teams you’ll ever see, and substitutes play a big part. He’ll make a change when he sees a game opening up, or if he needs to be more pragmatic. The games where it shows up best are in the Champions League.
Statistics show win percentage when leading at any time during a match from the start of the 2012-13 Champions League to the end of this season’s group stage
“He’ll make a change two-thirds of the way into a game. Those tight away games in Europe are where it’s most important to use your subs to your advantage.”
One of the main benefits of having a fourth substitute, said Lennon, was fitness and injury avoidance. If it became a feature of 90-minute games it would allow more rotation, more rest, and would reduce the “enormous physical and mental out-take” that players suffer, especially in Champions League games.
He is not keen, though, on the digital tracking of players during games, which is currently not allowed. “I’m uneasy about that, slightly wary,” he said.
“You get all the stats you need before and after a game and it’s during the match that a manager earns his money. You have to use gut instinct sometimes, and this change would be taking away from your judgement. The game could become too digitised – the human eye is part of a manager’s remit.”
Mourinho spoke last season of that gut instinct, after sending on Willian and Hazard in the win at Norwich. “I have feelings,” he said. “I smell things, and I had a smell that they would score a goal. That is why I had Eden warming up at 1-0, because I smelled that.” Norwich did score, making it 1-1, but both Chelsea subs scored and Chelsea won 3-1.
Lennon’s most memorable game-changing substitutions came in the group game at Spartak Moscow, in October 2012. “We exploited the spaces, and it worked,” he said.
Celtic trailed 2-1 but Spartak had a man sent off and Lennon sent on James Forrest, whose shot was deflected in a minute later. Joe Ledley, another substitute, then set up a last-minute goal for Georgios Samaras and Celtic claimed their first-ever away win in the competition.