Sporting history is littered with names that have gained a name for themselves as the kingpins of making late impacts as Ciarán Sweeney writes about the supersubs
The supersub sensation; the very idea of it is slightly idealistic. It’s like seeing a football match through the eyes of a dreamy child; biding his time on the bench before coming on and producing a heroic performance.
Yet, despite its apparent farfetchedness, the repeated impact of the supersub is more prevalent in modern day sport than ever. Just think of the continuous string of names, from various sports, where this supersub phenomenon has now become commonplace.
Perhaps the most famous supersub of all time is former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. As is the case for many supersubs, the bigger the occasion, the bigger their impact coming off the bench. This was certainly the case for Solskjaer who, having already proven himself as a prolific striker coming off the bench, came on with ten minutes remaining in arguably his side’s biggest game that season, the 1999 Uefa Champions League Final against Bayern Munich.
After a stroke of genius from manager Sir Alex Ferguson, both Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham were brought on. Like Solskjaer, Sheringham’s impact coming off the bench had been lauded by many on a number of occasions.
Manchester United were struggling to make any major impression on the game in the second half, and the Germans held a 1-0 advantage going into injury-time. It was then that, in the space of only two minutes, the two subs produced a goal each to seal the Champions League trophy; their team’s third of that season. It if had not already been established before this game, both Solskjaer and Sheringham were baptised with this reliable supersub reputation thereafter.
In case one thinks that this double substitution impact was pure coincidence, if we fast forward only a year later, an identical series of events repeated themselves, this time in the final of the 2000 European Championships.
With France eager to become the first team to win the World Cup and Euros consecutively, having secured the 1998 World Cup, they found themselves 1-0 down against Italy in the final. Desperate for some spark within the team, they turned to their bench in a last-ditch attempt to rescue them from what had been a stale performance up to then.
Off the bench first was Sylvain Wiltord, who, just like Sheringham, equalised and revitalised the French team. This paved the way for young striker David Trezeguet to come on and snatch a famous golden-goal winner for France to seal the Henri Delaunay trophy for Les Bleus. Once again, with the starting 11 not quite doing enough, the inspiration came from these trusted supersubs.
Another stellar example of the impact a substitute can make is that of Dublin footballer Kevin McManamon. He has rescued Dublin from the depths of defeat on a number of occasions, not least against Kerry in this year’s Championship.
The first time this occurred was when he came on as a substitute in the semi-final of the 2011 All-Ireland to score an important point against Donegal, before once again coming off the bench in the final to kick a vital goal that would claw Dublin from four points down against Kerry, a game they eventually won by a point. Like Solskjaer, McManamon’s repeated impact has earned him great respect throughout the GAA.
If we go back further, to the 1995 Uefa Champions League final, we can once again see the impact of the supersub phenomenon. That year, the two teams involved were AC Milan of Italy and Dutch giants Ajax. Like many of the circumstances where these supersub sensations tend to shine, the game was a scrappy one.
At 0-0 after an hour, with neither side looking threatening or convincing in front of goal, Ajax manager Louis Van Gaal gambled and brought on teenager Patrick Kluivert to play as a striker with 20 minutes remaining in the game. Kluivert’s presence was felt immediately and Ajax were notably more fluid in their play for the remainder of the game.
Despite his inexperience, Kluivert was influential and scored a goal with six minutes of normal time to play to break the deadlock and send Milan packing, a team he subsequently signed for when his contract with Ajax expired.
Although it may be a case of selective memory, those who are known as supersubs raise their performance as the stakes rise, particularly if they are given the chance to shine in the dying minutes of a championship or league final. Venturing all the way back to the 1982 All-Ireland Football Final, this was certainly the case.
Kerry were closing in on what would have been an unprecedented five All-Ireland’s in a row, and this looked to be assured with two minutes left on the clock as they were two points to the good. With Offaly now running out of options, they turned to their bench in a last gasp effort to save the game, bringing on forward Seamus Darby.
Amazingly, Darby went on to score the winning goal in the last minute with his only kick of the game to deny Kerry their record and ensure that he would never have to pay for a pint in Offaly for the rest of his life.
The impact of the supersub is well documented and, as we have seen, it often has a blistering effect. So, the next time you are put on the bench for a big game, don’t fret; you may well be the supersub sensation yourself.