The number of substitutions or subs, for short, in soccer is one of the most flexible rules of the game. Different associations are free to decide the number of substitutions that are allowed in a particular competition or tournament.
However, the process of substitution remains the same, regardless of the competition. There are myriads of reasons why a coach may decide to substitute an on-field player. However, the three most important are;
- Injury to on-field player
- Tactical change
- Growing fatigue in the team
Nevertheless, tactics and fatigue are top on that list. For example, when a team is winning or losing, a coach may decide to change the formation of the team to either preserve their lead or to cancel out the deficit.
Change of tactics often requires bringing in new players that are better suited for that playing style. However, a coach cannot just bring in a new player any time they want.
There are procedures they must follow when bringing in a new player—and it is almost the same in all the soccer variations. Firstly, subs can only be made during normal in-game stoppages and the referee has to be aware.
If you have been wondering why it takes so much time for a soccer player to be substituted, read on to understand the entire process of subbing in soccer. Meanwhile, you can check out the reasons why soccer limits subs here.
How to sub in soccer?
Rarely will you see a coach substituting a player in the first half except he or she is playing really badly or was injured. Ideally, subs are made for tactical reasons and you will see them coming in around the 60th minute.
For example, if a defender from a team should get a red card, the coach can decide to substitute a midfielder or a striker and bring in another defender to fill the vacuum.
Also, the coach of a winning team may decide to remove a striker and bring in a defender followed by tweaking the team’s formation to make it harder for their opponents to score.
To get the best result from substitutes, the coach will usually wait until deep in the second half when most of the players would have started to get tired. The incoming player brings fresh energy and pace that he or she would try to use against the opponent.
Basically, substitution gives the technical crew of any team a chance to correct any error that may be working against them or to further fortify their team to protect their lead.
In most soccer variations, once a player is substituted, they play no further part in the game—and cannot be brought back. However, IFAB allows return substitution (bringing back an on-field player that was substituted as a new substitute) in special cases like grassroots, disability, veteran, and youth soccer.
Also, while it rarely happens, it is still possible to substitute a substitute. In 2018, during a match between Manchester United and Tottenham, Jose Mourinho, the then United boss, substituted Marouane Fellaini just seven minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Another important point to note is that a sub can only enter the pitch with the referee’s permission. Entering the pitch when the referee has not given the signal for the player to do so can attract a yellow card.
According to the Law of the Game, some of the basic rules that must be strictly adhered to during substitution include;
- The referee must be notified
- The referee must signal for the substitution process to commence
- Substitutions can only happen during in-game stoppages
- Substitute can only enter the field when the substituted player has left
- The incoming player can only enter the field through the corner line close to the technical area
Now that you know the importance of substitution and some of the basic rules that the team must follow during substitution, it is time to look at how to sub in soccer. According to IFAB’s Law 3, below are the procedures to sub in soccer.
Step 1: Names of substitutes must be given to the referee before the match
Before any match, the technical crew of any team is required to send the names of the starting players and the players that will be on the bench to the match officials. If a player’s name is not on the substitute list, they cannot be introduced into the game at any time.
According to the current rule in association football, a team can have up to seven substitutes on the bench. However, only three to five of them can take part in the game depending on the number of substitutions allowed in the competition.
In 2020, Premier League clubs voted to allow up to nine players on the bench. It was generally adopted towards the end of the 2019-20 season.
Step 2: Inform the referee
When the time comes to finally swap players, the technical crew must first inform the referee. The fourth official will input the incoming and outgoing players’ numbers on an electronic board and communicate to the center referee.
The substitute player must wait until the next stoppage (which can be a throw-in, corner kick, goal kick, or free-kick) to enter the stadium.
Step 3: Wait for the referee’s signal
During the next stoppage, the referee will signal to the fourth official that the substitution can now take place. The fourth official will invite the substitute player to stand just beyond the touchline.
The fourth official then raises the electronic board with the number of the outgoing player in red and the incoming player in green.
The outgoing player must completely leave the pitch through the closest boundary line before the incoming player can enter the field.
More than one substitution can be made within a stoppage. However, the players have to come in one after the other.
The procedure for substitution remains the same across association football, beach soccer, and indoor soccer.
The difference is that while in association football, the outgoing player can go out through the closest exit, in beach soccer, street soccer, and indoor soccer, the substitution process can only be completed within an area close to the team bench known as the substitution zone.
The procedure for substitution is pretty simple and the sole aim is to maintain order in the game and minimize disruptions to the flow of the game. Imagine a soccer game where a substitute can walk into the field while the ball is still in play. That will spell chaos.
Apart from strict adherence to the substitution process, the IFAB law has a more relaxed tone towards substitutions. For example, if a named substitute starts a game instead of a named player, the referee will allow the game to go on without any penalties.
Also, if a substituted player refuses to leave the pitch, the player will not be penalized and play will go on. Rarely will a player get a card because of not following the substitution procedure.
At most, such players will get a caution from the referee. Substitutions are also allowed during the halftime break.
When this happens, some of the procedures may be skipped. Nevertheless, the referee must be aware of all substitutions—and validate them.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!