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The Boot Room


Issue 09 April 2014


Players have to learn how to make better decisions and recognise the state of the game, coping with every eventuality that could occur


The history of the game is littered with tales of great teams losing important matches from winning situations with very little time remaining on the clock.


In 2005, AC Milan led Liverpool 3-0 in the Champions League Final in Istanbul, only for them to collapse and allow a Steven Gerrard inspired Liverpool to make a dramatic comeback to draw level before winning on penalties.


In 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson’s treble chasing Manchester United trailed 1-0 against Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final before the introduction of substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer helped complete a historic treble for Manchester United.


Going back further, England led West Germany 2-0 in the 1970 World Cup Quarter-Final in Mexico with a team many felt was stronger than that which won the World Cup four years earlier at Wembley. The Germans hit back to win the game 2-3 and we were on our way home.


Interestingly, substitutions played a major role in the outcome of all those games. In 1970, with the West Germany game seemingly won, the great Sir Alf Ramsey replaced both Francis Lee and Bobby Charlton in the hope of saving their legs for the next game. Unintentionally, the decisions changed the complexion of the tie.


Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez made an inspired substitution at half-time in the Champions League Final in Istanbul replacing full-back Steve Finnan with defensive midfielder Didi Hamann. The change allowed Gerrard to move forward into a more advanced role, a switch which worked wonders as the Liverpool captain scored an early goal. The rest is history.


As the 1970 example proves, the impact substitute is nothing new. I forget the countless times Liverpool’s original super- sub David Fairclough was brought on to make a major impact on games during Liverpool’s glory years in the 70s and 80s.


Some players resent entering the action for as little as ten minutes, however for the likes of David Fairclough and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer they valued and contributed for every minute they had on the pitch.


Above: Xabi Alonso scores Liverpool's third against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final


Left: David


Beckham is sent off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup in France


Perfecting the timing and impact of substitutions is something all managers and coaches the world over are trying to perfect. From my experience you sometimes get a gut feeling prior to the game about a certain player who can perform that role for that day’s game. As the game goes on your feeling becomes stronger, and when you are thinking about a change your first thought is towards that particular player.


You have to make that judgement call as you see fit, and that’s where your staff and even the players on the bench can sometimes influence your decision as to which player you are going to substitute and which player you are going send on as the replacement. Having someone on the bench that you trust and believe in can be like having an extra card up your sleeve.


When substitutions do bring reward you can praise the manager for their reading of the game and their decisiveness in changing the set up, or you can choose to criticise them for getting the tactics wrong from the outset. The very best coaches are those who are willing to adapt, change and be decisive in order to shape the story of the game.


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