Bundesliga News

German clubs to make decision on five-substitute rule

By Peter Weis   @PeterVicey

German clubs are considering whether to keep using the five-substitute rule.
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Photo: GEPA Pictures/Sven Sonntag
As the 36 clubs competing professionally in the DFL-administered first and second Bundesliga prepare for an important committee meeting next Thursday, a highly significant decision affecting the coming season stands on the docket. German footballing magazine Kicker reports that, in addition to what should be a routine vote affirming next season’s “Hygienekonzept”, clubs will decide whether to continue to allow five substitutes in league fixtures.


DFL-clubs collectively possessed few qualms about expanding the number of substitutes permitted from three to five when prepared to restart the 2019/20 campaign after the COVID-enforced lockdown. An intense concern for player health, fitness, and safety drove the decision.

The considerations compelling the initial decision certainly remain. The 2020/21 season shall feature an abnormally condensed schedule, placing players at risk of physical depletion whilst a global pandemic still rages. The Bundesliga’s famed “Winterpause” will not take place.

All UEFA club tournaments and the Nations League will not pare back their schedules. FIFA also plans to hold its Club World Cup competition in December. A club such as Bayern München, for example, may play as many as 57 fixtures in the next nine months.

Organizations such as FIFA and the IFAB have more or less effectively given domestic leagues the green light maintain five substitutes should they wish to. As European leagues scrambled to complete their 2019/20’s in the peak of the Summer heat, it appeared as if widespread acceptance of the overture might gain some traction.

English Premiership clubs, in an August 6th vote, played a large role in shifting the pendulum in the opposite direction. The EPL’s decision to revert back to three substitutes now appears to ensure that other European clubs will guide their FAs in the same direction. The DFB-administered 3. Bundesliga has already approved a return to three subs.


Kicker reports that a majority of clubs in country’s second division favor nixing the five-substitute allowance. Given the scheduling demands of some of the top-tier Bundesliga clubs, however, the final outcome of the vote is not a foregone conclusion. The larger clubs may be able to lobby others to switch course.

Football fans who stand firmly against the use of five-subs raise very legitimate points about how the allowance adversely affects the late flow of a match. Any extension of a five sub apportionment risks blurring the lines between matches of genuine contention and experimental exhibition games. Kicker quotes eminent German footballing figure Ottmar Hitzfeld as calling the rule-change “a catastrophe”. Former Bayern left back Bixente Lizarazu’s anti-five-sub sentiments are also given space.

It can be argued that the substitute issue itself cuts to the very core of what many football enthusiasts consider the sport’s most important facet: unrelenting physical endurance. It is thus unsurprising that the topic engenders such strong opinions. Either way, the DFL’s ultimate decision will have profound implications on the state of football both in Germany and around the world.


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