In the eyes of supporters, the ‘super-sub’ is a term used to hail those who can influence matches with time rapidly running out. They are, by definition, superheroes capable of rescuing results when all appears lost.
They can fashion chances or find the back of the net when no one else can. They can spare the blushes of the elite or secure unlikely points for the minnows. It’s an affectionate tag for all, except those who are labelled with it, as it basically means you aren’t quite good enough for a place in the starting line-up.
The most iconic super-sub is without question, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The former Manchester United striker acquired the nickname ‘baby-faced assassin’, thanks to his youthful looks and prolific nature in front of goal. However, his crown of ‘most revered substitute’ in Premier League history is under threat, with fellow United forward Javier Hernandez (16) swiftly closing in on the Norwegian’s record of 28 goals from the bench.
Yet there is more to this pint-sized poacher than meets the eye. Whereas Solskjaer grew to accept he was unlikely to upset the lethal partnership of Yorke and Cole, Hernandez harbours the same movement, link-up play and eye for goal as his supposedly superior team-mates. The mindset of the modern footballer has evolved, meaning players will no longer settle for a prolonged stint on the substitutes bench.
Over in the blue half of Manchester, Edin Dzeko seemed genuinely offended when journalists bestowed him with the title of super-sub, after he emerged from the bench to complete another remarkable comeback in the recent fixture against Tottenham Hotspur.
“In the last few games the situation has been like this and I’m just happy to be scoring goals. But I will never be a super-sub, I want to play.” (Eurosport)
The Bosnian is right to feel aggrieved, having netted more goals than his equally expensive strike partners despite having started fewer games. Roberto Mancini is well aware of his desire to start matches on his feet rather than his backside, which has served only to heap more pressure on a man struggling to juggle a squad bulging at the seams.
The outspoken Italian will do well to satisfy all four members of his envious strike force, especially as his persistence with the inconsistent Mario Balotelli will inevitably push Dzeko closer to the Eastland’s exit.
Theo Walcott is another frequent bench warmer slapped with the tag of super-sub, thanks to his impressive auditions to replace the goals of Robin van Persie. The case of Walcott is curious, having been confined to the bench until a resolution is reached concerning his expiring contract. The standoff is causing unrest amongst fans, who remain helpless as their team continue to suffer on the pitch. The club simply cannot afford to lose another high-profile player, but if they won’t play him in his desired role, they risk losing him to another team that will.
It’s not just the starting XI outcasts that could be heading for the exit in the New Year, as those enjoying a rich vein of form will often find their names gracing the transfer gossip columns. Take Charlie Austin for example, I dare say Norwich and Sunderland are weighing up a move for Burnley’s goal machine in an attempt to find a cure for their impotence in front of goal.
Demba Ba finds himself decorating both columns. The Senegalese striker has rediscovered his shooting boots this season but still appears disillusioned with his part-time role in Pardew’s attack. It’s becoming increasing apparent that both Ba and compatriot Papiss Cisse cannot effectively exist in the same line-up, which coupled with his £7m release clause could see the vultures start to circle Tyneside when the window reopens.
Managers are tasked with the impossible job of keeping their 25-man squad content across the course of an entire season. This is perhaps why we witness nearly every team adopting a fairly rigorous rotation policy, but this has a habit of unsettling the team and can have a disastrous effect on results. Transfer deadline day may be all the worse for it, but you can see why so many managers concentrate on preventing their stars leaving the club rather than bringing in reinforcements.
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