Fourth substitute in extra time is a good idea, says Gerard Houllier

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Former France and Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier believes it’s time the International Football Association Board reconsider the stance on allowing teams a fourth substitute during extra time.

It’s a concept that was proposed to the IFAB, the game’s law-making body, two years ago but it failed to win the necessary 75% majority and was not passed into law.

The policy behind the proposal is straightforward – to limit the risk of injury in the later stages of knockout games or finals.

Houllier, who is the senior member of FIFA’s technical study group TSG that analyzes trends and tactics at the World Cup, explained his rationale to a group of reporters, including Reuters, on Wednesday:

I think it would be a good idea and I think the TSG (through FIFA) will put it back to the board….

I personally think it’s time. You have probably noticed at this World Cup everything is so quick, the tempo has been so high and we have seen 29 goals scored by substitutes, a record….

But among the technicians, we think we should have the possibility of another substitution.

The problem, of course, is that nothing happens quickly or pain-free within the IFAB, which is notoriously conservative in its attitude to changing the laws. The hope is that the creation of Houllier’s TSG, which comprises the four British associations and four representatives from FIFA, will be the difference maker in speeding up the proposal process.

The advantage the fourth substitution proposal holds is that ultimately, it comes down to player health. In Brazil, FIFA went so far as to protect players from oppressive heat by instituting the now infamous ‘cooling break’, seen for the first time in last Sunday’s match between Holland and Mexico. The three minute chance to hydrate at the end of each half was clearly savored by the players, even if Louis van Gaal controversially used the opportunity to change tactics.

Of course, an extra substitute could create some backlash as fitter teams may deem it a hindrance to their game plans. Why should less fit teams be rewarded for their lack of preparation? The purists are also likely to argue that such a move creates a slippery slope.

But when it comes to player health and team safety, a single added sub allowed during the short window of extra time feels like a smart way to up the intensity and drama.