Game Changers: The 7 best ever substitutions made in a football match

Sometimes it’s an inspired decision by the manager. Sometimes it’s just pure luck.

Greatest ever substitutions


A lot of the time, football managers get substitutions wrong. Sometimes they get them very wrong indeed.

Anyone remember, for example, that time Stuart Pearce put David James up front in the closing stages of a Premier League match back in 2005?

Pearce’s Man City needed to beat Middlesbrough in order to ensure European qualification, but scores were level at 1-1 after 75 minutes. The City manager had Jon Macken, a striker, on the bench but instead decided to take off the creative Claudio Reyna in favour of sub-keeper Nicky Weaver. James then swapped his goalie’s shirt for an outfield equivalent and, to the disbelief of everyone present, including himself, took his place up front alongside Robbie Fowler.

It didn’t pay off: Fowler – perhaps still stunned by having to share forward duties with a goalkeeper – missed a penalty, while James spent 15 minutes lumbering around the pitch kicking people before badly mishitting a late chance to win it.

“I thought he was going to get on the end of things but he ended up playing as a number ten,” said Pearce 14 years after the crime. “He ended up tripping over the ball. He had the worst impact of all time.”

You said it, Stuart, not us.

On other occasions, though, managers make changes that work out so perfectly you’re left to marvel at the sheer magnificence of their foresight. Here are seven of the greatest substitutions we can remember.

MANCHESTER, GREAT BRITAIN - MAY 15: David James the Man City goalkeeper changes his shirt and plays at centre forward during the FA Barclays Premiership match between Manchester City and Middlesbrough, held at City of Manchester Stadium on May 15, 2005 in Manchester, England (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Andy Cole, 1999 Champions League Final

You knew it was coming, so we’ve got it out of the way nice and early.

Chances are that if you asked anyone over the age of 25 what they thought was the most famous substitution of all time, they’d come up with this one straight away.

And it’s hardly surprising. Solskjaer’s showing in Barcelona that night against Bayern is still considered one of United’s most memorable performances, even if he was on the pitch for less than a quarter of an hour.

After 81 minutes, Alex Ferguson’s side were 1-0 down with the life being strangled out of the game by the Germans. Fergie then sent on Solskjaer in place of Andy Cole and 10 minutes later United were level thanks to Teddy Sheringham.

Solskjaer then won it with a famous toe poke timed at 90+2:17′, handing his team a historic treble. Thankfully for the rest of the football world, though, United fans rarely mention it.

Oliver Bierhoff for Mehmet Scholl, 1996 European Championships final

Three years prior to Solskjaer’s winner, several members of that Bayern side had been on the other side of the coin in the Euros final against Czech Republic.

One of whom was Mehmet Scholl, who had himself come on as a far less successful sub in the 1999 final. In 1996, however, Berti Vogts had hauled Scholl ashore in favour of centre forward Oliver Bierhoff, with Germany a goal down at Wembley.

The big man’s impact on the game was profound. He scored three minutes after entering the fray before going on to nab the first-ever golden goal winner in a European Championships final.

Sylvain Wiltord for Christophe Dugarry, David Trezeguet for Youri Djorkaeff, Robert Pirès for Bixente Lizarazu, 2000 European Championships final

Following Bierhoff’s exploits, the Euros didn’t have to wait much longer for a golden goal.

After 92 minutes of the 2000 final, it looked as if Italy had done enough to beat reigning world champions France thanks to a Marco Delvecchio strike. At that point, Roger Lemerre’s substitutions kicked in with a vengeance.

With 90+3 on the scoreboard, Arsenal’s Sylvain Wiltord fired in an equaliser having replaced the ineffective Christophe Dugarry half an hour earlier. The match then went to extra time and David Trezeguet won it with a crashing finish from a Robert Pirès pull-back. The trio had all entered the field of play as subs.

Talk about value for money. That’s three for the price of one, so don’t @ us later saying we’ve only included five in this list.

Tim Krul for Jasper Cillessen, 2014 World Cup quarter-final

Unlike Stuart Pearce, Louis Van Gaal knows the right time to bring on a keeper. Which, of course, is after 120 minutes of a World Cup quarter-final.

Back in 2014, Netherlands were level with Costa Rica with a shootout merely seconds away when LVG gave the hook to starting keeper Jasper Cillessen and sent on Newcastle’s beefy gloveman Tim Krul.

Cillessen, a ball-playing sweeper-keeper, wasn’t known for his penalty-saving ability, but Van Gaal’s decision was possibly more of an exercise in mind-games than a tactical masterclass.

Either way, it paid off.

Krul saved two Costa Rican penalties and sent the Dutch into the semi-finals. It was a masterstroke from the manager, who had already signed a contract to become the next Manchester United boss.

Mario Götze for Miroslav Klose, 2014 World Cup final

Argentina had knocked out Van Gaal’s Netherlands in the semi-final that followed Krul’s spot-kick heroics, and in the final they met a Germany side who’d just beaten hosts Brazil 7-1.

Surprisingly, the match failed to turn into a goalfest with Argentina nullifying the more expansive Germans. Until, that is, Mario Götze entered the fray in the 88th minute.

The Bayern midfielder replaced Germany’s (and the World Cup’s) all-time top scorer Miroslav Klose. Some may have seen this as a slightly unusual choice from manager Jogi Löw, considering Klose’s prowess in front of goal, but the move was justified 13 minutes into extra time when Götze notched the winner with a cool finish.

Find a full range of odds across a broad spectrum of sports over on

What do you think?