From Fairclough to Solskjaer: Football's most successful super subsAug 29
Better off the bench? In celebration of football's most prolific 'super subs'... and when scoring goals can be a double-edged sword
Flexible BT TV allows you to make unlimited substitutions to your football package throughout the season. Here, we take a closer look at the story of the most successful substitutes to have graced the game, from David Fairclough to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Super sub: "A player who has built up a reputation for deciding matches decisively in his side’s favour when coming on as a substitute, invariably through scoring."
The super sub is a manager’s trump card, his rabbit out the hat. If his side are struggling, he can look to his bench and throw on the player he knows could win him the game.
Super subs are usually players deemed to be more impactful off the bench than from the start due to their specific set of skills – either physical or technical.
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All 53 of his Premier League goals came from inside the area, his alertness in the box a lethal weapon against defenders with tired legs and minds.
The Mexican netted 19 goals in 78 Premier League substitute appearances at an impressive rate of a goal every 80 minutes.
In his 80 appearances as a starter, his 34 goals took more than twice as long to come - one every 180 minutes.
But back in the 2012/13 campaign while on loan at West Brom, manager Steve Clarke used Lukaku to greater effect as a substitute.
The burly Belgian was routinely brought on midway through the second half of games to punish centre-backs after they’d been softened up by Shane Long or Peter Odemwingie.
Lukaku scored six Premier League goals as a substitute that season at a rate of 61 minutes per goal, far better than his goal-per-149-minutes record as a West Brom starter.
His famous hat-trick off the bench against his future employers, Man Utd, in Sir Alex Ferguson's final game in charge of the Reds is one of just six trebles ever scored by a Premier League substitute.
Better off the bench?
Le Fondre averaged a goal every 64 minutes as a substitute for Reading in 2012/13 but just one every 245 minutes as a starter
The 2012/13 campaign saw another super sub emerge in the form of Adam Le Fondre at Reading, with his tally of eight still the Premier League record for goals by a substitute in a single season.
In January 2013, Le Fondre netted braces off the bench in back-to-back matches – securing a 2-1 victory at Newcastle and a 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea. Yet it was still not enough to earn him a place in the starting line-up in the next match.
The Royals would be relegated that season and manager Brian McDermott might reflect that he should have started Le Fondre more often. Yet the striker’s four goals in 11 appearances as a starter came every 245 minutes, with his eight in 23 as a substitute netted at a rate of one every 64 minutes – so you can understand McDermott's logic.
One-time England U21 star Luke Moore was another striker similarly burdened by his effectiveness as a substitute throughout his Premier League career.
Incredibly, of his 145 appearances in the top flight with Aston Villa, West Brom and Swansea, 97 were as a substitute – a ratio of 67%. It’s the highest ratio of any player with more than 100 Premier League appearances.
The Super Sub’s introduction frequently signals a shift in tactics, often as a team grows more desperate in a bid to get back into the game.
Standing at 6ft 7in, BT Sport’s Peter Crouch holds the record for the most headed goals in the Premier League (40) and his presence naturally encourages a more direct approach.
As Crouch’s manager at Tottenham, Harry Redknapp, summarised in 2010: “If you are going to have Peter Crouch in your team you have to use him…
“He is an option when teams fill up the midfield and you can't pass through them. We have that great option to miss out the midfield, hit him and pick things up around the box.”
Throughout his career, Crouch was viewed by managers as ‘Plan B’. “At least I’ve been a plan!” he joked when asked about his status within England’s squad in 2006.
It’s no surprise Crouch also holds the record for the most Premier League appearances as a substitute.
Spain’s dominance of the international football scene was built upon the success of tiki-taka, the mesmeric short passing style fostered by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. But for each of their three tournament successes, they brought with them a Plan B. In Euro 2008 it was David Guiza and at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 it was Fernando Llorente.
But does any player truly want to be known as a super sub? If a substitute is so super, then why isn’t he in the starting line-up? Or is he only super as a substitute?
Often they are unlucky enough to find themselves lower down the pecking order behind more illustrious strikers. In Crouch’s case, he was behind Fernando Torres with Liverpool and Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney with England.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, for instance, was fourth choice among maybe the greatest quartet of strikers the Premier League has ever seen at Manchester United, with Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham blocking his path to the starting XI.
But rather than sulking, Solskjaer made the most of his time on the bench.
“I had to think about how can I do the most damage to the opposition if I came on,” the current Man Utd manager recalled. “I sat there studying football games… analysing and paying attention to what the defenders and full-backs were doing wrong.”
The Norwegian, of course, will forever be defined by the iconic winning goal he scored in the treble-clinching 1999 Champions League final as a substitute.
Yet three months earlier, he also scored four times off the bench as United hammered Nottingham Forest 8-1 at the City Ground. He remains the only man in Premier League history to achieve this remarkable feat.
Of course, none of this is to say that the Super Sub is content with his place on the substitutes’ bench - far from it, in fact.
“I didn’t want to be seen as a substitute. Who wants to be a substitute? Everyone wants to be starting games," said Crouch in an exclusive interview with btsport.com.
When Charlton Athletic’s Keith Peacock looks back on his moment of history as the first substitute used in English football against Bolton Wanderers in 1965, he remarks: “I remember quite clearly I was disappointed at not playing."
Peacock was the first but he certainly wasn’t the last to feel that way.
A Google search for ‘frustrated to be left out of starting XI Premier League’ returns 58,200,000 results and includes an interview with current Chelsea superstar Christian Pulisic, who admitted he was “very frustrated” with his lack of starts under Frank Lampard in his early months at Stamford Bridge.
Strikers are in the business of scoring goals, so it follows that substitute forwards leave a more tangible impact on the match. And despite most teams playing with just one or two up top, they are more often summoned from the substitutes’ bench for this reason.
Midfielders are used with less regularity, defenders usually only due to injury or a formation change and goalkeepers almost exclusively as a result of injury.
Of the top five substitute appearance-makers in Premier League history, only one – James Milner – is not a striker. The most famous Super Subs are all forwards: Solskjaer, David Trezeguet, Nwankwo Kanu.
Yet the original concept of the Super Sub is routinely traced back to one man – David Fairclough, a player so defined by his impact off the bench that he even named his autobiography 'Supersub'.
Fairclough fits the bill perfectly. In Bob Paisley’s all-conquering Liverpool side of the late 1970s and early '80s, Fairclough contested for playing time with some of the greatest forwards in English football history – the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Kevin Keegan, David Johnson and John Toshack.
Yet Fairclough took his opportunities off the bench, most notably with the winning goal in the 1977 European Cup quarter-final against St Etienne. “Supersub strikes again!” roared commentator Gerald Sinstadt.
In truth, the academy product only made 61 of his 153 appearances off the bench for Liverpool and made seven straight appearances as a starter during the 1980/81 season.
But the nickname stuck and Fairclough’s reputation lived on. “Often he’ll start a match and play for 90 minutes without doing a thing,” his team-mate Emlyn Hughes said at the time, “yet he’ll come on as a substitute and score the most amazing goal ever".
As Fairclough himself later told BT Sport: “It was given to me as a nickname as I kept coming on late on in games and scoring a few goals… I was a victim of my own success.”
Find out how you can make unlimited substitutions to your football viewing line-up this season with our flexible BT TV packages.