Clubs are set to continue making five substitutes next season after the International Football Association Board (The IFAB) confirmed the option would be extended beyond the end of the year.
An amendment to the Laws of the Game to allow five substitutes rather than three was approved in May, which covered competitions scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020. However, with the coronavirus certain to put added pressure on the 2020-21 season, it has now been extended for competitions which end by July 31, 2021 and international tournaments in July and August 2021.
The IFAB took conducted "an in-depth review based on stakeholder feedback and analysis of the impact of the COVID-19" and felt an extension was necessary to ensure player welfare.
The decision on whether to apply the amendment, which was adopted by all major European leagues as they rushed through the remaining games of the 2019-20 season over the summer, next season remains at the discretion of each competition organisers. It has been criticised for favouring bigger teams, who tend to have stronger squads and more options from an expanded substitutes' bench. While the Premier League voted it through for the remainder of this season, there was opposition from Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Sheffield United and West Ham United.
ESPN sources revealed on Tuesday that FIFA, which had pushed for the original change to the laws and the extension, and The IFAB would meet on Wednesday to make a final decision on the temporary measure. FIFA and The IFAB had held "productive discussions" last week but were unable to reach a decision due to "the complexity and importance of the issue."
Most top European leagues are expected to start the 2020-21 campaign in mid-September, which will mean a much shorter preseason and a truncated season. The Champions League group stage will begin almost a month later than planned, and played over six consecutive domestic midweeks, which reduces calendar space for domestic competitions.
FIFA has already granted UEFA two additional international dates, meaning most nations are set to play eight matches in the two breaks in October and November. That, combined with a truncated domestic calendar that cannot finish later than usual ahead of the rescheduled Euro 2020 and Copa America next summer, will put added pressure on the demands of elite players.
The IFAB said that "the changing impact of the pandemic on football will be kept under constant review to ensure appropriate action is taken in the future in relation to this temporary amendment."