James Shield's Sheffield United Column: I thought this was a good idea but actually, it isn't

Admittedly, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Friday, 12th June 2020, 8:04 am

But then again, so did buying that skinny fit suit for the work Christmas party and getting your hair done like a young Paul Weller after turning 40. Most of us, in some form or another, have all been there. And still shudder at the memory.

And the more I think about it, the longer I consider the potential implications and effect it could have on the remainder of the Premier League season, the greater my belief that increasing the number of substitutions top-flight managers can make is a big, big mistake. Even if normal service is scheduled to resume when the new campaign gets underway.

When Sheffield United return to action at Aston Villa on Wednesday, following an enforced 14 week break, Chris Wilder will be able to make five changes to his starting eleven during the course of the match rather than the usual three. So long as they take place during three prescribed windows to avoid time-wasting.

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The temporary amendment to the rule-book, endorsed by the International Football Association Board last month, is designed to protect players against injury as top-flight clubs squeeze 92 games into a 46 day window following the halt in competition brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Easing the workload on their star performers has always been a priority for chairman, directors and marketing executives. They follow the science and the science is obvious - after taking part in 40 or so gruelling matches, an athlete’s body clearly benefits from being whisked halfway around the world to take part in some half-baked but lucrative friendly against an A-League eleven or the Singapore All-Stars. Who am I, therefore, to argue when those petitioning for this measure to be introduced claim it is a sensible safeguard given the gruelling fixture programme? As anyone who has watched me sweat my way through a gym session can testify, I’m no conditioning expert.

Still, I’ll give it a go. And not just because I can be an awkward sod who enjoys a bit of a wind-up.

We’ve heard a lot about protecting the integrity of the competition since it became apparent that folk were committed, for financial reasons or whatever, to fulfilling the 2019/20 schedule. Quite rightly so.

Enda Stevens of Sheffield United goes off injured during the Premier League match against Norwich City at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

But what this actually does is damage it still further, because the laws have suddenly changed during the closing stages. And when you consider who the change’s most enthusiastic advocates were - Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea being among them - one suspects they know it is going to benefit them in the race for Europe. Not sides like United who, despite forcing themselves into the Champions League conversation, don’t possess the same depth of quality within their squads.

Spurs, for example, have already been boosted by the knowledge Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son will now be available for selection after recovering from fitness issues which would otherwise have ruled them out of the run-in.

This extra layer of complexity is loaded - surprise, surprise - in favour of the establishment.

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The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

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Sheffield United can now employ five substitutes for the rest of the season: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire.