Craig Brown: SUBSTITUTION PROTOCOL

In my previous article I made reference to SUBSTITUTIONS and said there were at least 11 reasons for making a substitution. This prompted quite a number of requests from readers mainly reprimanding me for not enumerating the reasons. In response…

From being someone who played in the 1960s when there were no substitutes, to being a manager at World Cup and European Championship finals when there are more players on the bench than in the starting team, I have always been intrigued by the substitute issue.    

I was privileged to play for one of the two legendary Shankly brothers, Bob, the manager of Dundee F C when we won the Scottish Championship in 1962, and the following season reached the semi-final of the European Cup. I often wonder how he would have handled the use of many substitutes, especially today in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic when for league games 9 replacements are permitted.

Boss Shankly did not allow us to be injured which nowadays is one of the main reasons for having to leave the field and be replaced.   When Football Director at Stirling Albion with Alex Smith his manager, Mr Shankly scowled at player, Rab Duffin, who was doing exercises for a shoulder injury with his arms wide.   Nervously Rab explained what he was doing by saying, “I’m doing my exercises, Boss, and I feel like Christ.”    The gruff Shankly response, “The difference, son, is that Christ was back in three days and you’ve been out for three weeks!”      The hard man from Glenbuck insisted that we had not to let the opposing team see we were hurt as they would adjust their game plan accordingly.    In short, we had to feign fitness whereas now some players are feigning injury.

At the start of every season I found it beneficial to have a team meeting centred around the issue of ‘Reasons for Substitutions’as this was a contentious issue fraught withpotential discord. Similarly, in the international context, it became an important theme at the start of a campaign to ensure that there were no misunderstandings and importantly no what I call “sulking substitutes”.

When at this meeting players are asked for the number of reasons for a substitution to be made the usual response is 3 or maybe 4. However with further consideration and discussion the flip board will fill up to reveal at least a dozen possibilities…

# Tactical

# Injury

# Disobedience

# Risk of a 2nd yellow card which could result in a red

# Introduce (blood) a new or young player

# Run the clock down

# Acknowledgement of the crowd after a good performance

# Negative crowd attitude

# Penalty decider – better taker or better goalkeeper

# Poor performance

# Squad bonus implication

# Opponents’ adjustment

Most are self explanatory but a couple may require explanation. Seldom, if ever, is the goalkeeping change at a penalty shoot-out mentioned.

That was until the Dutch Manager, Louis Van Gaal, substituted his goalkeeper, Jasper Cillessen, and brought on the intimidating Tim Krul, an alleged penalty specialist, before the shoot-out against Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

There was a well documented incident a few years ago when Emmanuel Emenike of Fenerbahce was pleading to get off in a game against Besiktas alleging that his own fans were abusing him.  He was duly replaced at half time!  

The other reasons are self-explanatory maybe with the exception of the bonus one. This applies in some clubs where the agreement is that the bench players get half the match bonus and only the full amount if they go on. It gives the manager the opportunity to reward a guy whose attitude is deserving of an appearance and therefore the full bonus.

On the topic of SUBSTITUTIONS there are two important related subjects. The first is the nature and quality of the warm up which, unless the replacement is instant and for injury, must be diligently undertaken. I always asked the physio to take the pulse count of whoever is going on to ensure that it’s at least ¾ of his maximum. The player knew that failure to attain that target would result in a delay in him getting into the action. I’ve seen, particularly in Rugby League, but also at St Mirren FC in Scotland, a fixed bicycle being used to get the heart rate to the appropriate level. Some teams, including the one first seen by me, the Brazilian U 21 side in the annual Toulon Tournament, have a designated coach to ensure that there are players warmed up at all times throughout the match.

The second issue, an important one as far as I am concerned, is the attitude of those initially not selected and also of those leaving the field. For me the substitute players have to be supporters on the bench and, although not happy to be left out, must display favourable attitude. The perfect example I never tire of citing is when doing TV analysis on a game on14 June in the 2000 European Championship,co-host country, Belgium against Italy, as part of my preparation I read the headlines in the Italian morning paper, Gazetta dello Sport. The exclusive was that Francesco Totti,wearing No 20, was starting for Italy, withAlessandro Del Piero relegated to the bench. Very big news! Why do I regularly refer to this match when talking to a team? It’s because of Del Piero’s attitude when, after just 6 minutes play, Totti scored a fine goal. From the superb commentary vantage point in the King Baudouin Stadium the Italian subs’ bench was easy to see. When the ball hit the net, punching the air with genuine delight was the dropped super star, Del Piero. Then in 65minutes when he replaced youngster Totti, the handshake exchange and genuine hug was a tremendous example of favourable dispositionand great team spirit.

“ALEX DEL PIERO’S SOCCER SHOES” by Oishi Kuranosuke is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

To add to that key issue is another, of even more importance. I always insisted on a cordial handshake with the player coming onbut that there would be no handshake from the manager or any staff member.   This is not out of lack of respect but our business is to concern ourselves with what is happening ON the pitch and, to be consistent, even the scorer of three goals would not receive a handshake while the one removed for indiscipline would most certainly not receive one.

I made this recommendation when speaking on a Pro-Licence coaching course.  Maurice Malpas, a very good manager who was then with Swindon Town having been an outstanding player with 55 caps for Scotland, said I helped him to get the sack in November, 2008.   By carrying out my recommendationhis relationship with the players was questioned by the Chairman, Mr Andrew Fitton, who accused him of not even shaking hands with players being replaced.  This astonished me because the last thing anyone could accuse Dr Malpas, possessor of an honorary degree, of is a lack of courtesy or respect.   The message here is to be sure to advise the chairman, board members and director of football, etc., of that policy!

I’d not expect everyone to embrace my final policy point because opinions may be polarised but without debate, deliberations and discussion I’d insist that the replaced player takes his seat in the technical area and makes no comment on the game. Why insistence on this. It’s because the player who has come off inevitably thinks it’s for “Poor Performance”so what does he say? “Look at Joe Bloggs: he’s having a nightmare, and I’m sitting here!” Criticising a colleague is one thing, but the next temptation is to complain about the manager, deliberately just within earshot, by moaning about being replaced. My experience is that the players agree that either of these scenarios displays lack of dignity and loyalty well worth a fine of an agreed amount determined in advance of it occurring.

With the current increase in substitution provision a full understanding and appreciation of the situation as decided by each club is essential.

Managers, rightly or wrongly, are often judged by the timing and quality of their substitutions. As someone who was lucky (or unlucky!)enough to have had 2 of my 6 managerial posts, Aberdeen and Scotland, held in the past by the doyen of bosses, Sir Alex Ferguson, I often was reminded of his expertise in the use of substitutions. Didn’t John Hewitt come off the bench to score the winner in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final against Real Madrid in 1983? What about another of the Sir Alex masterstrokes when two substitutes scored for Manchester United against Bayern Munich to win the Champions’ League final? On 67 minutes Teddy Sheringham came on for Jesper Blomqvist and in the 81st minute, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Andy Cole.

“The UEFA Champions League Trophy on Display in the Manchester United Museum” by edwin.11 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Luck or good judgement?   No need to answer that question.

It’s easy to determine the merit of a substitute if he scores the winning goal(s) but surely the half time change by Liverpool in the 2006 Champions’ League final in Istanbul must take some beating.

A C Milan’s 3-0 half-time lead prompted Rafa Benitez to introduce Dietmar Hamann to replace Steve Finan.   This, and another substitution, Djibril Cisse for Milan Baros (Vladimir Smicer had already come on for Harry Kewell), allied to a change of team structure, proved to be inspired decisions. What is incredible is that all 3 replacements scored in the 3-2 penalty shoot-out win!

There have been some impressive examples of pre-arranged substitutions, none more so than Didier Drogba being carried off by his team colleagues half an hour into his final appearance for Chelsea to acknowledge his massive contribution in front of the home fans.

Very embarrassing was the change I made in a friendly against Bobby Gould’s Wales at Kilmarnock in May, 1997. Our Wimbledon goalkeeper, Neil Sullivan, was on the bench and since I didn’t like the thought of him making his first appearance in a competitive game, it was agreed that he would get some exposure in the second half. John Hartson and Craig Bellamy we’re giving us a hard time and Bellamy had scored for Wales. The wonderful Tartan Army fans are also quick-witted because when I replaced the legendary Jim Leighton (45 clean sheets in 91 internationals) and brought on Neil, a voice could be heard, “I’ve seen it all noo, Broon. We’re a goal down and you’re bringing on a goalkeeper!”

Coming in at half-time two goals down and in a rage the then Hibernian manager, Bertie Auld, instructed two subs to get ready.

After a blistering team talk, 10 minutes only at that time, he sent his team out only to be told by one of the last leaving the dressing room that he’d put two on but not taken anyone off.   He angrily instructed the last two players leaving to stay behind.  No restructuring, no shape adjustments, they won 3-2 making Bertie a “tactical genius”!

I’d like to say the same about one of my own substitutions, bringing Ally McCoist on in the 71st minute against Greece at Hampden on August 16th 1995, to score the winning goal 2 minutes later.   The truth is I got lucky and when the press corps asked Ally why he ran in his delight to hug me Ally’s explanation was typical, “I didn’t run to hug him.  It was to ask him why I wasn’t on from the start!”

That’s the game of football. Some you lose and some you win. The late Sir Bobby Robson introduced me to one of his closest friends, Joe Mirmovich, manager of Israel, whose catchy phrase I always remember…

                             ONE GOAL MORE !

If your substitute can provide that you are indeed a lucky man.

One thought on “Craig Brown: SUBSTITUTION PROTOCOL

  1. I remember you taking me off one time at Shawfield Craig. I immediately headed for the tunnel, and you quite rightly laid into me in front of the other players at full time, as you deemed me to be “in the huff”. As I tried to explain, I wasn’t huffed, but I was so disgusted with my own performance that I just wanted to get in the dressing room out the way! Thankfully you accepted my explanation, and even commented that I wasn’t “having a nightmare” as I had suggested, but that the substitution was for other reasons. Whether you were being kind or not, your support was appreciated. I think a player’s embarrassment at being subbed needs to be taken into account, so if there is a laid down protocol like you have outlined, the player knows that irrespective of his feelings, he needs to man up and go by the rules. It’s the same for everybody.
    Enjoyed the article Craig.

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