Welcome to Bleacher Report's Weekly Why, a place where we discuss world football's biggest questions that may go neglected and/or avoided. Ranging from the jovial to the melancholic, no subject matter is deemed off-limits.
Why Aren't More Players Allowed to Play?
International breaks spur an inner madness.
They make my appreciation for club football greater, but serve more as annoyances than anything.
Heading into this season's third hiatus—preceding January's transfer window—I can expect the ever-spinning managerial merry-go-round to continue and tsunamis of transfer rumours in which to drown.
I must admit, though, I'd rather ignore fanciful stories about transfers I know won't happen. It's a burden I'm sure you share.
Nevertheless, as a football writer, I'm tasked with diligently exploring the beautiful game, whatever the surrounding circumstances. Thus, I propose I've discovered (or just realized) a glaring oversight in our beloved sport—most notably in the Premier League.
This neglect comes in the arena of substitutions, specifically the number of players allowed to be included in matchday squads and, subsequently, the number of changes a manager's allowed to make. Some may be perfectly content with the template of options managers have at their disposal, but I'm not convinced it's optimal given the modern climate.
Contemporarily, a manager can place seven players on his bench and can change three of his starting XI. One position is, invariably, taken by a goalkeeper—who is seldom required but always a necessary precaution in the event of red cards or injury—so, for all intents and purposes, a manager has six players to change a match.
While one player is frequently the impetus required to influence proceedings (see "super-sub"), I've often thought what would happen if managers were permitted more than three substitutions or allowed more players on the bench.
The cry from nearly every Premier League football supporter is wanting more youngsters brought through their club's ranks. An influx of foreign talent has reduced the number of positions for homegrown, English talent in EPL squads, and subsequently that leaves many cut adrift from regular first-team minutes, especially in massive sides.
Chelsea, for instance (current holders of the UEFA Youth League), have rivers of young talent crying for an opportunity, but their first team is filled with veteran internationals who warrant first-team minutes (or so we think). Roman Abramovich stockpiling burgeoning footballers has produced the most extensive loan system in English football, and some talent, regrettably, falls through the cracks.
Suppose, though, the Blues had a 23-man squad, and the Premier League (in conjunction with the Football Association) insisted three of the five new openings were filled by homegrown-eligible U21s. Suppose Jose Mourinho had the autonomy to change seven players instead of three. What impact might that have on both the development of young players and the fitness levels of his squad?
I contend a massive leap forward in youth development and, in turn, English football (including on a national level) would occur.
The upper echelon of English teams play four competitions per season: Premier League, League Cup, FA Cup and either the Champions League or the Europa League.
It cannot be disputed, with any level of credence, that English football isn't the most physical and intense product Europe's five major leagues offer—include the Christmas schedule and you have the makings for disaster.
Clubs are generally shot by March. Lack of attrition (with the Premier League's much-improved middle class) explains England's recent slump in European football.
What if allowing managers to experiment with expanded squads and more substitutions allowed their footballers to stay relatively fresher during a rigorous, 10-month marathon?
I argue the results should find the league bearing more fruit in Europe, while not sacrificing its own quality as the domestic campaign progresses.
Arguments against go (1) you cannot permit massive substitutions because the game would take forever and (2) some teams would have a competitive advantage, filling their benches with supremely gifted talent others couldn't dream of employing.
To the first point, football is a unique game in that it's unlimited.
As it stands, matches can go well over the allotted 90 minutes. Stoppage time is a thorn for some, but it allows for leeway and common sense. Managers abuse the rule now to waste time; they will abuse it in 50 years. The question is what's better for the game, not necessarily the clock. What football would gain would be worth two minutes of extra stoppage time.
The second point is moot because imbalance already exists.
Albeit on paper, a Manchester City 18-man matchday squad is miles better than Bournemouth's. Suggesting a 23-man matchday squad would be any more profitable or impotent to either side would be asserting the current situation isn't already lopsided—but it is. There are haves and have-nots; in many ways, I find that depressing, but not in a footballing context.
Remembering when substitutions didn't exist or were limited to one, I'm sure some are vomiting in their mouths at my proposal. Purists, pining for the days of muddy pitches and brash challenges—back when football "was played by men," your grandfather might say—but times have changed.
No longer do teams rely on the same core of 11 to 13 players; Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest, of the late 1970s, aren't winning the European Cup back-to-back anymore; a top-flight club needs at least 23 members to compete—much less win trophies.
Rotation, rest and recovery are vital instruments to managers, and allowing more of each can only enhance a club's performances. Placing footballers worth millions of pounds in the stands, wearing posh street clothes, rather than at the disposal of their manager seems an unforgivable crime to that aim.
But hey, I don't have any club football to watch for the next two weeks, so I just might be going insane.