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The International Football Association Board (IFAB) are set to announce the temporary extension of the rule allowing teams to make up to five substitutes in one game for the entirety of the 2020/21 season – a decision that will likely prove controversial.

With a number of leagues around Europe looking to complete the 2019/20 season despite the coronavirus pandemic, the IFAB introduced the five substitutes rule as they looked to provide clubs with a greater chance of protecting their players from injuries and fatigue during a very hectic schedule.

It was initially merely just a short-term measure, but the Athletic now report that the IFAB are set to announce the extension of the rule to cover the 2020/21 season in the ‘coming days’. The report further alludes to the fact that even after the measure was suggested, each league was in charge of deciding whether they wished to implement such a change.

While the Premier League did vote in favour of the extra substitutions, teams such as Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Sheffield United and West Ham all voted against it. With the 2019/20 season ending so deep into summer and with the 2020/21 campaign set to start not long later, the IFAB ‘believes’ that the same ‘player welfare’ concerns will persist.

However, this is expected to be a controversial decision as it has been argued that the rule change does favour the bigger clubs, who have deeper squads. In fact, only Brighton, Liverpool and Manchester United have taken up the option to use all five substitutes in a game so far. Burnley, meanwhile, have only made six changes in total since the resumption of play.


Elsewhere, the IFAB ‘are expected’ to discuss the current issues surrounding the offside rule in the coming months, with a large number of controversial decisions continuing to be made week after week.

The Athletic report that the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has ensured the offside law now doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker.

A potential change could see officials judging offsides on the players’ shoulders, shirt or torso. This would ensure the integrity of the rule, while also abandoning the current approach of judging based on whether a player’s toe is offside.

With regards to the time it has taken for decisions involving VAR to be made, the IFAB are not considering time limits as they look to ensure the correct decisions are made.


Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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