Soccer Substitution Rules: Know In Detail!

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Soccer is a competitive sport where players get heated. Some incidents can happen, both controllable and uncontrollable, in the game.

And you might notice that substitutions would often occur. But soccer substitution rules provide that you can only use subs for a limited number of times. 

Usually, a soccer team has 11 players on the playing field. And you probably already know their roles vary from being defenders, midfielders, forwards, and goalkeepers.

On the bench, you can find 5 or more players ready to sub for the initial players. But are you aware each of the roles has its substitutions? Read on and find out how substitutions are done!

What Is the Substitution Rule for Soccer?

Substitutions are made when a player gets injured or performs poorly. However, the reason for these substitutions is not limited to the ones mentioned.

What are these other reasons, you ask? One of them includes how tired the player is; another forms part of the strategy.

Substitutes on the bench get called to the field. They can replace one of the 11 players that were initially playing and enter the game.

These subs can range from 5 or more players on the bench, depending on the league or tournament they compete in.

But take note that when substitutions happen, depending on the league you’re in, there are different rules about the time limit.

In a professional soccer game, for example, the clock doesn’t stop for the subs. But you’ll find that, in college soccer, the clock will stop for a specific amount of time for them.

Substitutes are only allowed to enter during a stoppage play. A stoppage play is a stopping point when a player gets injured when there is a foul, a goal, or when the ball goes out of the boundary line. So, if you’re ready to sub, wait for either of them to happen.

How the Substitution Limit Has Changed Over Time?

It wasn’t until 1958 when substitutions were first introduced. This was when the traditional rules of soccer progressed. Although they limited the number to only 1, it was still a big step!

From then on, rules on substitution increased from 1 to 2 subs, and eventually to 3 in 1995. We followed the 3 substitution rule for more than two decades.

But 2018 changed the game by increasing the number of subs to 4 in the Champions League and Europa during extra time.

When 2020 hit, FIFA increased the number of subs increased to 5. This number was retained in 2021, which was favored by the IFAB and has continued up to this day.

Although subs have increased in number, there are still strict rules to follow.  Like what, you ask? Well, the usual rule is that only a maximum of 5 substitutions are allowed during a game. This limitation ensures little interference since the clock won’t stop for subs. With this, the pace of the game won’t be affected so much. 

But these rules don’t apply to all games, like friendly matches or youth matches, which don’t have a limit. 

Can a Player Who Has Been Substituted Come Back On?

The answer is both yes and no. Return substitutions can be permitted. But this solely depends on which league you’re playing in.

In the professional league, whether the cause of substitution is due to an injury of the player or just a bad game, once the coach decides that certain players need to be switched in the game, the player that was substituted cannot come back to the field for the rest of the match.

By assessing the gameplay, the coaches would decide when to make substitutions and who would be the substitute.

The substituted player cannot return to the field to avoid game disruption and confusion. Coaches must be strategic in deciding when to make subs.

In cases when the sub is injured or doesn’t perform well in the game, the coach can still choose another player to be a substitute, considering how his team dynamics will change.

On another note, non-professional leagues allow return substitutions. This league includes youth, veterans, disability, and grassroots soccer.

They have more freedom and flexibility, unlike the professional league. Moreover, they can also change the number of substitutions they make, including return substitutions.

How Do the 5 Substitutions Work?

The rule provides that each team gets several 5 substitutions in a match. 11 players are initially chosen to play on the field, but each role has substitutes reserved on the bench.

How does it work? When a coach decides that a substitution is necessary, especially when one of the players gets injured, the coach has to let the referee know. Only then would the referee even allow it. 

But before any substitution can happen, the coach has to wait for a stoppage. This usually happens when a foul, injury or goal occurs, when the ball goes out of bounds, or when the game reaches halftime. It is strictly imposed that substitutions are only allowed during a stoppage. 

Once a stoppage arrives, the referee will raise a jersey number to signal the number of the player to be replaced. If the player has not left the field, the substitute cannot enter.

Once the player has completely exited the field, the referee will then signal the substitute that they can enter the game.

The sub must enter the game at the center line and head to the designated substitution zone. The match can now continue after the substitution steps are complete.

However, if an errant substituted player re-enters the field without the referee’s permission, the player can be issued a yellow card or even a red card.

Not only will he be ejected from the field, but he can also be disallowed to take part in any of the matches of the game and also be penalized with a fine. 

This can disrupt the game and affect the performance of his teammates. No matter how much the subbed player wants to go back into the game, once he is substituted, he is not allowed to come back to the game.

So it is important to note that, before any change can happen in the field, the coach and the players should always get the permission of the referee first.

Why Can’t You Sub Back in Soccer?

Substitutions are not just made for injury and for the welfare of the players. Substituting one player with another is a tactical decision that the soccer coach has strategized. 

If a player doesn’t follow it, the game can be jeopardized, and your team won’t be able to perform well. So, word of advice, trust your coach, and don’t ruin the strategy! He knows what he’s doing and what’s best for the team.

We have mentioned this a few times; team dynamics plays a huge role in how you play the game. You cannot win the competition when you don’t work well with your team.

If you go back to the field, there is a chance that the flow of the team’s performance will be affected. The constant adjustments they have to make for a new player will tire them out. 

As competitive as soccer is, like all sports, it follows the rule of fair play. Getting substituted and then being a returning substitute will not uphold that rule.

If the substituted player returns to the game to showcase his skill that is specific to a circumstance in the game, this will be unfair to the opposing team and, especially, to the substitute, right? This would be advantageous, yes, but it would be unfair. 

Team dynamics and fair play aside, return substitutions will also add confusion to the game, and it would affect the pace of the match.

Plus, it can be quite predictable if you see the same players act on the same strategy repeatedly, don’t you think? It would be refreshing to see other players play the game and give them the chance to prove their capabilities.

This, however, does not apply to all the soccer leagues. Non-professional leagues use the rolling substitution system. This allows soccer players to re-enter the game.

Can a Player Refuse a Sub?

A player can refuse a sub when he doesn’t want to be out of the game. Whatever his decision is, there is nothing that the referee can do but to continue the game. The referee has no power to force a player to be substituted. 

However, the player can only refuse the substitute for his reasons. Since substitutions are made because of injuries and for the concern of the health and welfare of the players, they get a say in whether they can continue playing or not. 

Players can communicate with their coach about their circumstances and their ability to play. The player must first be examined by the medical team and be cleared before he can go back to the field to play.

But no matter what the outcome is, the decision lies with the coach whether he will grant the player’s request to continue to play or not. 

But when the player is adamant about continuing the game despite knowing there is a strategy and the coach does not accept his decision to stay, this will cause a rift in the team. Once again, this affects the team’s dynamics.

A player putting his desires over teamwork will be seen as disrespectful towards his coach and his team, and he could be disciplined.

He will only add tension to the team. To be considered a successful soccer team, there should be trust among the members and a strong bond. 

Soccer is competitive, but you shouldn’t compete with your team. Don’t lose sight of who your real opponent is. Don’t lose sight of your goal. You can refuse the sub, but don’t be the cause of a failed team.


Soccer can be fun, and it can be heated with team rivalry and disagreements between coaches and players. But this is all part of the game. And like any game, strict rules and regulations should be followed, especially rules involving substitutions.

Substitution has helped improve the game on the field. Coaches have more flexibility in forming strategies, and players can be subbed when they face injury or fatigue. However, subs are limited to only 5. So you better use them wisely!

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