Why Andros Townsend is wrong about the new five subs rule and Jürgen Klopp

Daniel Zambartas highlights how all clubs and players in the English top-flight could benefit from the 2022/23 rule change, after Klopp’s consistent support for its introduction was criticised by Everton winger Townsend earlier this week…

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The Premier League has confirmed that clubs will be allowed to make five substitutions within games next season – a rule which was implemented across many leagues, as well as European competitions, approximately two years ago, when top-level football returned following the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns. The PL was then the only top European league that opted to return to three substitutes from the start of 2020/21.

In one sense, English football has finally recognised that the players need protection in an extremely strenuous fixture schedule, also taking into account that there is a particular virus flying about that has a tendency to infect squads and even cause match postponements, worsening fixture congestion. All the other European leagues have introduced the five-sub rule, so it makes sense that the Premier League should follow suit, right?  

Not according to the philosophical Andros Townsend, who suggested on TalkSport Breakfast that it is in fact Jürgen Klopp “moaning” that has caused this change.

He said: “I love how Jürgen Klopp has found a way to get his way. He’s been moaning for years. They have been pushing back, and finally, they have given him his five subs.

“I think we saw last season, even the season before, constantly banging on and banging on. Votes on votes on votes. Getting pushed back, then all of a sudden, they announced the five subs eventually.”

First of all, anyone who uses “I love how” in a sarcastic sense to construct a serious argument is already struggling. But aside from any personal pet peeves, this is a seriously flawed statement.

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Where to start? Well, you could argue that at least 14 clubs had to agree to this rule change before it was implemented. It was not just Klopp, it was not just Pep Guardiola – it was 14 clubs. If the Liverpool manager always gets his way when it comes to moaning, then surely he would never have to put up with disastrous officiating from Paul Tierney ever again?

The German coach may “bang on” about it but, given his motivation, he is absolutely justified in doing so. There is a trope, and frankly a misconception, that Klopp and the other managers from the top six have pushed for this change because they feel it will benefit them as they have superior squads. This is what Townsend is implying by the fact he is clearly unhappy with the news.

The reason Klopp has been so vocal on this is actually out of protection for the players’ well-being, not for a competitive advantage. He has made this clear on several occasions, and it is not a red herring. In fact, many brought the hectic match schedule into question after Christian Eriksen collapsed with a cardiac arrest in June 2021 at the Euros, just hours after the global football players’ union FIFPRO issued a warning over player exhaustion in regard to the constant run of games.

If the Liverpool manager really believed that voting for five subs would allow his side to benefit from a competitive advantage due to a gap in quality, he would be shooting himself in the foot. His greatest challengers for the title, Manchester City, often have a far more expensive bench and probably one of better quality.

Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, West Ham United, Aston Villa, and Everton, Townsend, have spent more on their squads in the last decade. So, is the argument that this is unfair against teams that have spent more? Or is it unfair against teams that have spent badly?

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It will take years to lighten the fixture schedule, if that happens at all. This rule change at least goes some way to ensuring more safety for footballers. The pandemic has changed football and worsened the burden on the players in an unprecedented manner; catching the virus can take them out for several games. This then spreads throughout the squad, piling on the pressure for uninfected players to play week in week out.

A circumstantial change such as this being followed by a rule change is logical, not unfair.

Klopp said after Liverpool’s draw at Brighton in November 2020 that he felt teams should be allowed more substitutions, because in that particular game, for example, he wanted to bring Kostas Tsimikas on for Andy Robertson. With all due respect to the Greek, who is wonderful, Klopp did not wish to bring him on because he is a million times better than Brighton players and too much for them to cope with. He wanted to rest Robertson who was tiring from the fixture congestion.

The teams at the top have better squads, yes, but they also play far more games, and they are likely to have more players called up for international duty. If people want a solution for this supposed huge gap in quality, they should be focusing on issues far deeper than clubs being allowed two more substitutions.

This new rule compensates for the extra games and COVID-19. It protects the players. If this rule only applied to clubs in European competitions, describing the change as unfair would make more sense, but that’s not the case. This change will reduce injuries and absentees for everyone, which is why it is quite bizarre to hear it described as unfair when, in fact, that makes it the opposite.

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Daniel Zambartas

Journalism student at Liverpool John Moores University

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