Off The Ball

Supersubs to the rescue

When West Germany's Horst Eckel entered the field of play in a 1953 friendly against Saarland, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in football's development. Eckel was none other than the first substitute in the history of the sport, and ever since that distant October day many a player has come off the bench to change the course of a game.

Perhaps the most moving example of all was provided by Borussia Moenchengladbach playmaker Gunter Netzer in the 1973 German Cup final against Cologne. Still coming to terms with his mother's recent death, Netzer relegated himself to the bench, coming on 20 minutes from time to score the winner and earn a place in the nation's hearts. A year later he would cement this undying affection by helping West Germany win the 1974 FIFA World Cup Germany™.

Two decades on, Oliver Bierhoff maintained the tradition of goalscoring German substitutes by single-handedly winning the UEFA EURO 1996 final against Czech Republic. When Bierhoff came on with a little over 20 minutes remaining, the Czechs were leading 1-0. The centre-forward pulled his side level just moments later before attaining hero status in extra time by scoring the first golden goal in the tournament's history.

Twelve months later it was Lars Ricken's turn to show the impact substitutes can have. Introduced late on in the 1997 UEFA Champions League final against Juventus, the Borussia Dortmund forward took only 16 seconds to score his side's third goal and put the result beyond doubt.

Ricken is not the only sub to have had a say in the destiny of European club football's most prized trophy. In 1995 Patrick Kluivert came on as a second-half replacement to fire Ajax's late winner against AC Milan, while Henrik Larsson rescued Barcelona in the 2006 final against Arsenal. Entering the fray half an hour from time and with his side trailing 1-0, the Swede set up Samuel Eto'o and then fellow substitute Juliano Belletti as Barça stormed back to win 2-1.

Solskjaer succeeds Fairclough
Yet the honour of the Champions League's most famous substitute goes to Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It was in Barcelona that the Norwegian - already known as supersub for his knack of scoring late goals from the bench - capped an unforgettable comeback by the English giants by scoring a memorable stoppage-time winner in the 1999 final against Bayern Munich.

Leading 1-0 at the end of normal time, the Germans had already been stunned by a dramatic equaliser from Teddy Sheringham, who had also been thrown on in desperation by Alex Ferguson late in the second half. "When I saw Teddy score I said to myself, 'Great. I'm going to play another 35 or 40 minutes in a Champions League final. It's going to be amazing.'" Within seconds, however, the Scandinavian popped up at the back post to win the game.

Solskjaer retired in 2007, bringing an end to a fruitful 11-season stay at Old Trafford. In that time he made an indelible mark on the United faithful and put together some highly impressive statistics despite his supersub status. He gave the fans a taste of what was to come in his very first appearance for the Red Devils in a 1996 match against Blackburn Rovers, unzipping his tracksuit and scoring a brace to earn United a 2-0 win. Over the next decade he would score 126 goals in all, many of them after coming off the bench.

Perhaps his finest hour came when he netted four times in ten minutes in a league meeting with Nottingham Forest in February 1999. Known fittingly as the Baby-Faced Assassin, the Norwegian striker would have walked into the starting XI of most teams. Yet as Solskjaer acknowledged on many occasions, he was happy to play the role of Old Trafford understudy: "I'd rather be a sub here than a first-choice player anywhere else."

Nowadays substitutes are seen as a fresh pair of legs capable of changing a game, but back then if you were on the bench it meant you weren't good enough to get a starting place.

Described by his club manager as the "best substitute of all time", Solskjaer actually supported Liverpool as a kid, the club where the concept of the supersub was born in the 1970s. It was a time when the Reds reigned supreme in England, with competition for places so fierce that capable performers such as striker David Fairclough struggled to gain a place in Bob Paisley's staring line-up. The flame-haired forward showed what he could do in his very first season, scoring seven times in 14 appearances, nine of them from the bench.

One of his most memorable substitute cameos came in a 1976/77 European Cup quarter-final against St Etienne, where his late goal took Liverpool through to the last four of a competition they would go on and win for the first time.

"It was a tag that didn't help my career at all," Fairclough later explained. "Nowadays substitutes are seen as a fresh pair of legs capable of changing a game, but back then if you were on the bench it meant you weren't good enough to get a starting place."

One player who always had fresh legs, even at the age of 38, was Roger Milla. At Italy 1990 the Cameroonian front-man played an instrumental role in the Indomitable Lions' run to the quarter-finals, making late entrances against Romania and Colombia and scoring twice both times.

Nelson Cuevas produced some substitute heroics of his own in Paraguay's final pool match against Slovenia at Korea/Japan 2002. Needing a win to advance, Los Albirrojos were losing 1-0 with half an hour remaining, at which point coach Cesare Maldini decided to play his joker. Cuevas pulled his side level four minutes after his introduction and snatched a second and his side's third in the closing stages. His mission accomplished, he was himself replaced in injury time.

Coaching nousSome coaches have a knack of making the right change at the right time. Egypt supremo Hassan Shehata risked the ire of a nation when he sent on Amr Zaki for local hero Mido during a tight 2006 CAF Africa Cup of Nations semi-final against Senegal. As the infuriated former Marseille striker raged at his coach on the touchline, his replacement scored the winner with his very first touch, sending the Pharaohs through to the final against Côte d'Ivoire, which they would win on penalties.

Another coach entitled to pat himself on the back is Roger Lemerre, who engineered France's comeback in the EURO 2000 final by making some inspired substitutions. Sending on David Trezeguet as his side trailed 1-0 to Italy, Lemerre looked on with satisfaction as Trezegol teed up Sylvain Wiltord for a last-gasp equaliser and then grabbed an extra-time golden goal after being played in by Robert Pires, another of his late introductions.

As Bolivia's Marco Etcheverry can vouch for, however, not all substitutes have a happy tale to tell. Just 180 seconds after coming on against Germany in the opening match of USA 1994, the man they call El Diablo promptly found himself heading back off again after picking up a red card.

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