I often see the manager of a winning team making substitutions as the end of the game nears (sometimes as late as during injury time).

The player being replaced is not injured, and doesn't time get added on to make up for the time lost for the substitution to take place?

So, what are the tactics behind this? Is it related to giving the player another cap? (perhaps pay related for an appearance?) Is it a mind-game to try and break up a run of play which may have been in the opponents favour?

  • In basketball, coaches put in bench players in 'garbage time' to a) teach them to play under real game conditions b) let them try to impress the coach c) give them the 'pride' of being able to say that they played in X games. This is especially evident in playoffs. For example, in the 2001 NBA playoffs, the 76ers coach Larry Brown knew that losing was inevitable. So he took out his stars and put in bench players so they could say that they played in the NBA playoffs. Commented May 27, 2012 at 23:44
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    @you786 Not to disagree with you but I just want to point out that in football the situation is quite different in the sense that, the time is really little to do anything meaningful for a youngster. In basketball really short time could actually have a lot of meaning as clock stops very often. That's not the case in football, especially not in the injury time.
    – posdef
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 20:32

10 Answers 10


I always thought those substitutions are just used to buy time. The clock doesn't stop during a sub, the player that is substituted never hurries, so it buys some time for the team. The referee has to add the time to overtime, but it will not be the same amount.

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    I've heard (on the grapevine... I couldn't find a reliable internet source), that the referee adds 30 seconds per substitution.
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 10:42
  • @Matt - 30 seconds is about average, I believe. The laws of the game state that the allowance is made in either period for all time lost through: • substitutions • assessment of injury to players • removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment • wasting time • any other cause The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee. So basically, whatever the ref thinks is correct.
    – Ste
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 18:53

I have often wondered about this myself. I cannot bring up any references for this, but I can bring up logical conjecture.

In such a situation, one of five conditions will apply:

  • You are ahead of your opponent by a large margin they can not feasibly come back from

    Put younger players in there to get them some playing time, more experience. Protect your star players from unnecessary injury during inconsequential minutes.

  • You are ahead of your opponent by a margin they could feasible come back from

    Put a fresh pair of legs out there to increase your odds of thwarting your opponent's attempt to tie or win the game.

  • Your opponent is ahead of you by a significant margin you cannot feasibly come back from

    Put younger players in there to get them some playing time, more experience. Protect your star players from unnecessary injury during inconsequential minutes.

  • Your opponent is ahead of you by a margin you could feasible come back from

    Put a fresh pair of legs out there to increase your odds of tying or winning the game.

  • You and your opponent are tied

    Put a fresh pair of legs out there on offense or defense where you feel it is necessary. (Sort of a combination of the two other 'fresh legs' responses.)

This has been my theory on that. Sometimes you'll see it in other sports too. You see it in baseball and American football often. At the end of the game, some people just get tired and have to come out. The benefits you lose by taking out your senior/star players are gained by the fresh energy of the incomer, as well as their willingness to impress (after all, they'd like to start earlier.)

In football, where you often have a limited of subs, why not use them to your advantage when you need them the most. Similar to how in american football most teams use their time outs at the end for strategic purposes.

  • I can see substitutions been made when you have 5/10/15+ minutes left for these reasons, but I'm literally talking about substitutions being made in the 89/90th minutes/ during injury time. Surely if the motivation of the manager was for these reasons, they would do it sooner?
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 16:51
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    Well the injury time is typically 5 minutes or so, so at the 89th minute you have 5 minutes left. I think it would apply less when there's 15 minutes to go. Your fresh legs are out there so they can burst onto the scene. It's like the difference between sprinting and distance. You give it all you have in sprinting. If you did distance like you sprinted, you'd exhaust very quickly. These fresh legs go out there and sprint, giving them a huge advantage. But the longer they're out there, the less effective they are. I'd say you only want them out for 5, maybe 8 minutes.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 17:48
  • Aye, you have a point there; I forgot how long injury time can be these days.
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 10:41
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    +1 - Out of all the answers, I am shocked that you are the only person who mentioned the 99.99% of the reason. It is to prevent your key players from unnecessarily getting hurt. PERIOD.
    – Dunk
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 21:03
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    @Dunk the reason why he's the only person who mentioned that is perhaps that others wanted to add on to what corsiKa wrote, instead of redundantly restate it. ;)
    – posdef
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 20:59

In addition to other answers, manager do sub players already on a Yellow to avoid the chance of getting a second Yellow i.e. a sending off. It's also a known opposition tactic to provoke such players into getting that second yellow.

In some tournaments getting a red means a ban for a few matches as well.

Now as you're specifically referring to 89th minute substitutions, I imagine it could also be to give a "match feel" to the benched players and perhaps a bonus goal from one of them.

Torres came on in the 80th minute and scored the winner for Chelsea against Barca in the 2012 UEFA CL semi-final


I'll not repeat what the other answers have already correctly stated but I will provide an answer relating to a subpart of your question:

Is it related to giving the player another cap? (perhaps pay related for an appearance?)

This can, indeed, be a factor. Although it's less likely that a manager brings on a player to earn his appearance fee, the number of caps a player has earned in a season can be important.

Sometimes a club may loan a player to another team but, as a requirement, they may stipulate that the loanee player must complete a certain number of minutes or games for the agreement to go through.

More often though, is that certain competitions will only give winners' medals to players who have made a certain number of caps in the said competition.

One example that springs to mind is when Martin Keown needed one more cap to qualify for a EPL medal with Arsenal. Ray Parlour jokingly pretended to get ready to come on as their last substitution to frighten him (Keown) into thinking he wasn't going to play and get his medal.

Another point not mentioned is that sometimes a manager will bring off a star performer in the final minutes/seconds of the game so that they get the ovation that they deserve.


In addition to all these answers I'd also like to point out that a sub in the OT could also serve to "cool down" a hellbent fierce opposition who's trying desperately to get a goal. With some 30 sec.s of pause, you give your players some little time to catch their breath, hopefully help them think properly while the opposition will most certainly be annoyed by the pause and will be force to remount an attacking position. With only a couple of minutes to go, it could take them sometime to get back in to the rhythm.


Wikipedia states:

In association football, a substitute is a player who is brought on to the pitch during a match in exchange for an existing player. Substitutions are generally made to replace a player who has become tired or injured, or who is not performing well; there may also be tactical reasons such as bringing a striker on in place of a defender when goals are needed. Players who are noted for scoring important goals when coming off the bench or frequently making appearances as a substitute are often known as "super subs".

Most competitions only allow each team to make a maximum of three substitutions during a game, although more substitutions are often permitted in non-competitive fixtures such as friendlies

Strictly as conjecture, a manager in this situation (large lead, with an almost sure victory) may want to reward some of his bench players for practicing hard against the starters, so he grants them playing time with the outcome already assured. The desire to reduce the risk of injury to key starters might also be a factor.


The other answers are all good, but I wanted to emphasize that "fresh legs" are good for more than just running. Changing the composition of the team, even by one member, can have a great effect on momentum. You play differently with a new player, and the other team responds differently (or fails to, and you take advantage of it).

Some guy running up the field, taking a shot, running all the way back to defend, then up again (etc.) because he's only got 5 minutes can be pretty inspiring and provoke a last boost of energy from the other members of the team. This effect can be surprisingly strong and you'll often see a team losing thoroughly that equally thoroughly dominates the end of game after a sub.


In soccer, an injured player may only be substituted for if the coach hasn't already used up his maximum 3 substitutions. Many coaches bring out subs #1 and #2 at, say, 55' and 70', then defer the 3rd and final substitution until there is so little time remaining in the game as to make a game-ending injury to one of his players a remote possibility. In, say, the 89th minute, a coach can comfortably use his final sub, knowing that he's making a very calculated gamble owing to their being so little time remaining. A coach deploying all 3 subs prior to the 80' mark is vulnerable to an injury requiring his team to play the balance of the game with ten men. These substitutions are almost always the 3rd and final substitution. The previous answers are valid only with respect to the player chosen to go in and the one removed.


As far as I am concerned substitutes are used late on for one thing i.e. to appease the dressing room. I say this as all players get an appearance fee. Paying to 14 players instead of 11 makes the collective team happier


One additional reason would be to avoid a second yellow card turning to red and then a ban.


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