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Premier League Again Fails to Act on Substitution Rule

League executives did not consider switching back to five substitutes at recent meeting.

KRC Genk v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League - Group E - Luminus Arena Photo by Mike Egerton/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Despite growing calls to allow teams to use five substitutions per match, Premier League executives chose to not even bring up the topic for discussion when representatives from each club met on Thursday. This is just the latest and most disappointing failure of club and league executives to look out for player welfare.

For months, Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have led a growing number of managers in calling for the Premier League to reinstate this rule to help them navigate an absurdly packed schedule of matches. Despite one very outspoken opponent who has managed his team to exactly 1 point thus far, most managers have either shown some level of support or simply kept quiet.

At a November meeting of Premier League managers, as many as 14 or 15 of the 20 managers expressed a desire for the league to go back to the five substitution rule adopted during Project Restart. This led to much speculation and hope that the tides may be turning in this debate.

Even though the clubs have twice voted down proposals to return to five subs, there was some belief that another vote would be successful after so many managers expressed support.

For a rule change to pass in the Premier League, 14 of the 20 clubs have to vote in favor of it. That means if the clubs of the managers who supported this change would vote for it, the league would finally join the rest of European football in allowing five substitutions per match.

Unfortunately, club executives are the ones with voting power, not club managers. Managers and their clubs are clearly not on the same page on this subject as the executives did not vote to return to five substitutes. Not one of them even brought up the topic for discussion. That includes Liverpool and Manchester City, the employers of the two managers who have been banging on this drum for months.

The anger I felt when reading this news is hard to describe. I’m tired of writing about this. I’m tired of talking about this. I’m tired of thinking about this. So many people see this as an obvious (if maybe underwhelming) solution to relieve some of the burden of playing so many matches over such a short period of time. That the executives would not even talk about it at their meeting is infuriating.

It is possible, maybe even likely, that the club executives have a pretty good idea of how the vote would turn out. Maybe those who support it know the votes simply aren’t there, so they decided not to commit time to another doomed vote. But that’s not a good enough reason to not even discuss it.

Non-contact muscle injuries have increased by nearly a third compared to this point in the 2019-20 season. That is extremely worrying when we are only a quarter of the way through this campaign. In all likelihood that number will only go up as players rack up more and more minutes.

For the clubs to not at least discuss this topic when it is front and center of nearly all Premier League discourse at the moment is absurd. Even if the votes aren’t there, it needs to be talked about. Something must be done to help these players and managers cope with this season.

I have so many more thoughts that I had intended to include when I was drafting this piece in my mind, but I simply do not have the energy or desire to flesh them all out. I’m so tired of this debate, and I don’t want to keep ranting about it. I’m just so incredibly disappointed that the clubs had another chance to at least try and make this right, and they couldn’t even be bothered to give it a go. The players, the managers, the physios, and the fans all deserve better.

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