Ranking the Premier League's Most Super Super-Subs
On the auspicious occasion of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's birthday, it seemed fitting to take a moment to celebrate the art of the super-sub.
The Premier League has had its share of marksman who were able to take advantage of tired legs late on in matches. Indeed, the brilliant Norwegian tops neither the total Premier League goals scored as a substitute nor goals-per-appearance off the bench charts, but his career is forever synonymous with game-changing late entrances.
Some of those here are in place through weight of numbers—perennial bench-warmers who were used sparingly to maximise their potential impact. Some, though, just have a deadly eye for an opponent's weakness, honed through watching on the sidelines.
Let's take a look at the list of those who have scored the most goals off the bench in Premier League history. They are ranked on total number of goals scored off the bench, with the number of appearances used as a tiebreaker—fewer being better in this case, of course.
The 13 Club
Thirteen seems to be the magic number for the number of goals off the bench. The following players share the spot:
- Victor Anichebe
- Robbie Keane
- Michael Owen
- Andrew Cole
- Darren Bent
- Tore-Andre Flo
Of those, only Anichebe is currently active in the Premier League. He is also the player from this collection with the most appearances as a substitute, having come off the bench an enormous 106 times—a consequence of his role in the Everton side when he broke through as a youngster.
Next is Keane, with 76 appearances from the bench—49 of which were spread over his two spells with Tottenham Hotspur. Owen has 69 appearances as a sub including 25 for Manchester United and 23 for Liverpool.
Thirty-four of Cole's 64 career Premier League substitute appearances came in United's colours. Those 64 appearances give him the third-best goals-per-substitute-appearance (GPSA) ratio of the 13 Club.
Then comes Bent with an impressive 0.21 GPSA. He came off the bench just 60 times to get to his 13 goals; 28 for Spurs, 16 for Aston Villa, 13 for Fulham and three for Ipswich Town in his debut season.
The most super of the super-subs in the 13 club, though, is Flo. With 53 league appearances off the bench for Chelsea and a further six for Sunderland, Flo gives some credence to the idea that there is something about Norwegian strikers from the 1990s and 2000s that suited being a substitute.
Of the players on this list, only Anichebe and Flo are in any danger of acquiring the "super-sub" tag. The rest built their reputations on impact made when part of the first XI but clearly provided a decent option for their managers off the bench too.
Daniel Sturridge: 14 in 72
Daniel Sturridge left the 13 club on December 27, 2016 with his 14th Premier League goal as a substitute, scored late on in Liverpool's 4-1 win over Stoke City. It seems likely he will have plenty of opportunity to move further up the charts as his place in Jurgen Klopp's first XI is anything but certain.
Sturridge's substitute goals were scored across 72 appearances off the bench, giving him a GPSA of 0.19—lower than Bent's, but still very decent.
His early career saw him often get his Premier League minutes off the bench. He started just five games for Manchester City, making 16 substitute appearances then moved to Chelsea. Of his 63 league appearances for the Blues, just 31 came as a starter.
Injury management has meant he has had to be used as a sub a decent amount during his Liverpool career, too, in spite of his status as an established star there. He has started 60 league games for the Reds and come off the bench 23 times.
Sturridge is not a super-sub by nature, but his ability to change the game as a late entrant could prove crucial in extending his career if he continues to struggle with his fitness in the coming years.
Chicharito: 14 in 54
Javier Hernandez is the first player on this list to truly fit the super-sub description, given that was a primary part of his function at United. The numbers tell that story. He made just 49 starts to his 54 substitute appearances.
If this list were ranked by GPSA rather than total goals, Chicharito would be first. On average, he scored in over a quarter of all his substitute appearances, the only player on the list to better 0.25.
There is an interesting debate to be had about whether he possessed a Solskjaer-esque ability to pick up on defenders' weaknesses when watching the game from the sidelines or whether, in truth, he was just a very prolific striker. The 23 goals he scored in his 49 starts perhaps suggest the latter, and his post-United career has continued in that vein.
And while he may have been a questionable fit for Louis van Gaal's possession-based approach to attacking play, it is a real shame United lost him—there have been plenty of occasions this season where Jose Mourinho would have benefited from a super-sub as United struggled to find the back of the net.
Kanu: 17 in 118
Nwankwo Kanu really racked up the substitute appearances during his Premier League career, and not just in his later years with Portsmouth either.
Indeed, his 47 sub appearances for Pompey is fewer than the 56 he made during his four-and-a-half-year stay at Arsenal. That number is put into perspective given he made just 63 league starts for the Gunners.
He was definitely a super-sub in the sense of volume of appearances off the bench, then, with the most of any on this list. That volume means his GPSA is just 0.17, which is why he sits below Solskjaer in the rankings, in spite of their equal number of goals.
Kanu had a reputation as a fun player to watch, with a superb range of tricks available to him and a rangy dribbling style that made him hard to dispossess. He clearly used this to great effect against tiring defences, something which manager after manager found valuable during his time in English football.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: 17 in 84
Chicarito would be top if ranked by GPSA, but if this list were ranked on most remarkable feats off the bench, then Solskjaer would be the undisputed winner.
And he would probably stay top for a long time to come, because the chances of someone scoring four goals in one game in which they were only brought on in the 72nd minute any time soon seem pretty far-fetched.
Solskjaer, of course, did exactly that when United beat Ron Atkinson's Nottingham Forest 8-1 in February 1999. It would not be the last time that season where the Norwegian made a telling impact off the bench, but Champions League goals are not counted here.
His 0.20 GPSA—from 84 sub appearances for United—is around middle of the pack for this list, but his ability to change a game at a crucial moment is hard for his peers to match.
In 2011 he spoke to Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail about his aptitude for, and attitude to, being a substitute:
"Yes I do think I had an advantage of watching the game and thinking tactically, but the big thing was that I was mentally ready to come on. When I decided to stay at United I put my career in the gaffer's hands: Do whatever you want with me, I'm always going to be ready. Other players don't really have that in them.
"Some players are too selfish and think, 'if he's not starting me I can't be bothered.'
"I never had that sulk. I always felt privileged to have the career I had, just sitting behind the manager watching the game."
He was very good at it indeed.
Jermain Defoe: 23 in 101
Jermain Defoe is the man with most Premier League goals off the bench with 23 in 101 appearances.
He does not have the best GPSA, of course, but at 0.22 his is among the more impressive—indeed it is better than super-sub legend Solskjaer.
Defoe is just a goalscorer. It is what he does. Somehow none of the division's top teams ever gambled on him, but wherever he has played, goals have followed. Even playing in a poor Sunderland side, he has managed 14 goals already this season, all of which have come as a starter.
His 23 goals as a sub represent a decent—but not overwhelming—chunk of his 157 career Premier League goals. He falls into the Owen and Cole category of first-choice strikers who could also have an impact off the bench, rather than sub-specialists like Hernandez and Solskjaer.
But that 23 goals does mean he is top of the charts here, and given that he is still active and has a nine-goal lead on his closest current Premier League player rival, it seems likely he will hold on to this spot for a while longer.
Appearance data per SoccerBase.