The five substitutions and the breaks during the game change football as we have known it until now.
Did football need substitutions? Until 1970 they were not allowed. Over 70 years, thousands of matches and always 11 against 11. Beyond serious injuries, sprained ankles or broken eyebrows. If the player couldn't go on, his team would be left with 10, 9, 8... Benches were for coaches.
At the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, FIFA allowed teams to make two changes. It broke the rule after seeing how Germany and England had authorized them for several years. The figure of the substitute was introduced. An outfield player to defend a result or to be more offensive.
The 1994 World Cup in the United States marked the arrival of modern football. The oppressive heat that was expected allowed three changes to be made provided that one of them was the goalkeeper. A rule extended the following season when FIFA improved the rule and removed the condition of the goalkeeper. That World Cup, for example, was about the names on the players' shirts. It was also the event of the three points for the winner. FIFA wanted to promote attacking play and the following year forced leagues such as the Spanish one to impose that system.
Over the years, the regulations have undergone minor changes. The rule of the transfer, the eternally controversial offside, the violent tickets, elbowing, the golden and silver goal... modifications that football was demanding. Until the VAR came along. The VAR system was always present after every controversy that a TV camera would have solved in minutes. Gallas' goal on November 18, 2009 at the Stade de France was the straw that broke the camel's back. In the 103rd minute Henry controlled a ball with his hand, gave the goal pass and France's qualification for South Africa 2010 against Ireland. The football blushed.
The coronavirus pandemic leaves another possible milestone in the world of football. The five changes and the breaks during the game. These are variables that didn't come to stay but are blending into the landscape. The rule was introduced as an exception to complete that reduced preseason that the teams have had to do after three months of standstill. The pause for hydration was an oxygen balloon in anticipation of the high temperatures likely to occur in June and July in Spain. But football changes everything.
And what do coaches say? The bubble in which they live in First and Second division allows little spontaneity when it comes to expressing an opinion, but if we give voice to other professionals in football benches we find the need not to mention this sport any more, should it seem a different one. Indoor footballers' eyes shine when they see that the unlimited changes and dead times of their sport have a place in the football showcase.
Jesús Candelas is the most successful coach in the world of indoor football. With Jose Maria Garcia's Inter he conquered Spain and Europe and laid the foundations for Iran as a national coach. He reads the new rules as quickly as his brain works on a bench in indoor football. "With the technology in football, downtimes and breaks are used to keep the coach ahead of what is happening on the pitch. In indoor football we look in the rear-view mirror when making decisions, but football can change a lot. The five-a-side rule is a reflection of a guy who works on lateral thinking like few others: "With five-a-side you can play with the mentality of the players who perform best to line them up together and change the game.
Juanlu Alonso passed through the same bench. Pupil of Candelas next to whom he lifted titles while waiting for his chance. His experience in Italy and his time on many first division benches in Spain until his final tour in Peniscola led him to discover more benefits of the rule and to aim directly at the substitutes. "The five-a-side rule can benefit the smaller teams because they tend to get worn down by the big boys and mistakes appear in the second half".
Basketball and indoor football are the sports that make most use of downtime. Juanlu Alonso explains that "they're done for dynamic reasons. You're suffering and you make a break that benefits your team and hurts your opponents. They are also made for tactical corrections as you can address all the players. There is another time out that serves to recover a key player who is getting tired and you need him on the court". Candelas says that coaches are a "necessary evil" for presidents but the rules can transform them. Alonso finishes off the master's reflection by assuring that now soccer coaches "have more influence in the game and must have maximum concentration to make decisions".
"Five changes are too many," says Morocco U-17 coach Sergio Piernas. His work with Lopez Caro in the Saudi Arabian senior team allowed him to see football from another angle, that of the assistant coach who has to anticipate what the starter cannot process during the game. "The five changes would not affect the reading of the match, but they would affect the profiles of the players chosen to make the changes. The 25-man squads that are now filled with players from the affiliate could be scrutinized and that "would aggravate the difference between the big teams and the modest ones," he says.
One example, in the Real Sociedad-Real Madrid game played after the pandemic, Real Sociedad introduced all five changes before scoring the first goal. Januzaj (who had one goal disallowed) and William Jose, among them. Real Madrid put Mariano and Asensio on the field with the 0-2 but with the 1-2 gave way to two internationals like Modric and Mendy to control the match. And they still didn't play Hazard or Bale.
Both grassroots and regional football look closely at what the professional is doing to adapt. Álvaro Gómez-Rey is the coach of C.D Galapagar, and he believes that the five changes rule applied to non-professional football "can be a tool to increase the number of calls and use more players". From his experience as a trainer of future coaches and observing how the game is played in First and Second Division, he explains that "I would not be a supporter of professional football. A nice part of football is how you adjust after the fatigue of the game. When the players are tired the spaces open up. The more changes, the less fatigue and the less spectacle.
Alvaro gives the example of Sarri, coach of Juventus, after the match against Milan. His words about the changes shed more light on this situation. "I was wrong to change three players at once. I was enthusiastic about the five substitutions. At that point we lost control of the game and perhaps I should have made substitutions more evenly distributed.
The hydration break is justified in the summer for players to drink water, but we see how coaches give orders even with the board in hand as was the case of Garitano to Athletic players in the game they played at San Mames against Betis. Here the break takes relevance as a time out. "I don't see it necessary in the future to give instructions, it's cleaner to do it at half-time," said Sergio Piernas, explaining that it is something that "breaks the dynamics and the rhythm of the game".
Álvaro Gómez-Rey also expresses himself along the same lines. "As a coach I like the breaks to give directions, but if we go to the show, I wouldn't be in favour of giving that time out. The nice thing about football is that you don't have that interval to give directions. If indoor football has been singled out for years because the board has consumed the creative player, the same thing can happen in football. "If the change is approved, the games would become more tactical, whereas when the game is on the line it is more difficult to change them".
Four coaches, four different profiles from two sports that have a lot in common. Too much, according to the Olympic family. The debate has been intense. Few conclusions and many points of view of situations that only bench owners can reveal.