What makes a "super-sub?" In today's game, the term is usually reserved for attacking players who come off the bench to score important goals for their team.
As we've seen throughout the 2012-13 season, the definition needs to be extended further. Substitutes who significantly change the flow of play to their side's advantage should also be considered alongside their goal-scoring brethren.
The European club season is drawing to a close. Domestic championships, cups and continent-wide tournaments are entering their final stages. In recent weeks, the importance of well-placed substitutes has shown itself to be the difference between victory and defeat.
Analysing the "Impact Sub"
The most famous and widely credited super-subs have the best job: sticking the ball away. Football history is littered with forwards who change results with a minimal amount of playing time. The likes of David Trezeguet and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have gained immortality through their ability to lace up and perform in pressure situations.
This year's Premier League campaign has been an advert for the impact sub making a huge difference in the latter stages of matches. Javier Hernandez, Edin Dzeko and Adam Le Fondre have stood out as saviours with game-changing goals on a regular basis.
With goals comes glory. The impression made by Hernandez and Le Fondre could prove to be pivotal to both Manchester United and Reading. While Sir Alex Ferguson's Red Devils are on the cusp of yet another Premier League title, the Royals face a tremendous struggle to remain in England's top division.
It's a struggle that would be over if it wasn't for Le Fondre's heroics from the bench. Six of the striker's 10 goals have come as a substitute, including vital doubles in the win over Newcastle and draw with Chelsea. Le Fondre's strikes have helped Reading gain an extra seven points from losing positions—a total that sees the Madejski crowd cling to Premier League life with the faintest of hopes.
Hernandez's substitute appearances have been just as telling for Manchester United. The Mexican forward has scored four league goals when thrown into a match by his faithful manager. This includes a vital winner against Chelsea, and two goals to complete a remarkable 3-2 comeback over Aston Villa. Hernandez's finishing has won six points from the bench, putting room between United and Manchester City in the race for Premier League glory.
Impact subs often change the tide of a match in the most obvious manner. Le Fondre's form saw him mentioned for an England call-up; his particular brand of rescue acts deemed quality enough for international recognition (via Sky Sports).
With players like Hernandez and Le Fondre, teams always feel they have a chance of winning from impossible positions. This places significant doubt in the mind of the opponent, providing a last, slithering of hope for an unlikely turnaround. Quite often, that turnaround happens.
Introducing the "Indirect Impact" Sub
While the aforementioned strikers serve as prime examples of impact subs at both ends of the Premier League table, the super-sub mantra needs to be recognised far beyond the reaches of netting goals.
Many substitutions are reactive. They are often utilised as a means of dealing with unexpected problems during a match. Whether the decision is made to overturn fatigue, formation trouble or poor form, the "indirect impact" sub has just as much responsibility as those sprinting toward the corner flag in celebration.
A couple of recent examples follow this point.
Consider that Rafa Benitez's decision to bring on Jon Obi Mikel in the 2-2 FA Cup draw with Manchester United indirectly changed the game in Chelsea's favour. Replacing Frank Lampard with his team 2-0 down, Mikel entered to a round of jeers from Old Trafford's away end.
How could he possibly have a positive impact on the game?
Fifteen minutes later, the score was 2-2. Mikel's deeper positioning and ability to physically overpower United's midfield turned the game on its head. Suddenly, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley no longer had time to control the middle of the park, especially with Ramires let off his leash in Lampard's absence.
Similarly, Luka Modric's 30-minute Champions League cameo won Real Madrid's Champions League tie against Manchester United. Although Nani's red card dramatically altered proceedings, Jose Mourinho still needed to act upon the home side's disadvantage. Modric trotted onto the pitch, and soon after, United were out.
Even though Madrid's playmaker scored a stunning goal that day, his influence proved to be far deeper than a shot off David de Gea's post. Modric replaced a struggling Alvaro Arbeloa, adding an extra body and pivot to Madrid's previously overrun midfield.
He completed 97 percent of his passes, including three key balls that put United's defence in serious danger. Despite Cristiano Ronaldo's winning goal, Mourinho's decision to bring on Modric changed the game.
Both players should be considered indirect-impact subs. Their influence isn't necessarily measured in goals scored. Instead, they prove to be the catalyst that propels their team to alter an important result. It's this comparison to impact subs that outlines them as candidates for the super-sub title. No matter who pokes the ball away, the result is the same.
Do you believe the super-sub title goes beyond scoring vital goals? Let me know in the comments section below and be sure to follow me on Twitter:
All statistics in this article are courtesy of Whoscored.