Every team has one - a player to come off the bench and save the day in the dying embers of a competitive encounter that will either secure a much-needed point or deliver a victory in the face of adversity.
It’s the myth of the super sub that has regularly left football fans scratching their heads as to who can occupy such a role without the need to complain about a lack of first team action. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United fame netted 29 of his 126 goals in all competitions from the bench, his most famous of which came in the 1999 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich.
The baby-faced assassin has since been dubbed the ‘superest’ of super subs as a result, with 23% of his United goals coming from the bench. In the modern day, many have attempted to replicate his threat, only to fail to emulate the quality of the Norwegian on the frontline.
Most notably, Reading striker Adam Le Fondre has looked to mirror the quality of the current Molde manager, having made 21 appearances as a substitute this season, a figure that ranks him level with Valencia’s Nelson Valdez, and only behind Alexy Bosetti (22), Jens Hegeler (22) and Nelson Oliveira (24), of Nice, Bayer Leverkusen and Deportivo La Coruna, respectively.
However, it’s Le Fondre who has netted the most goals from the bench across Europe’s top five leagues this season, having scored seven of his 11 (63.6%) Premier League goals when introduced from the sidelines.
The player closest to that is Barcelona’s Lionel Messi who, following a recent spell out injured, has been forced to start encounters from the sidelines by head coach Tito Vilanova.
Yet, that hasn’t stopped the Argentine from continuing his impressive goal-scoring record, with the striker netting six goals - three in the Blaugrana’s last two games - from his four substitute appearances this season, although those six only account for 13% of his 46 goals in La Liga this term.
With five goals, Edin Dzeko is the third highest scoring substitute in Europe this term, with the powerful Manchester City striker netting five times from 15 appearances from the bench, a rate of one every three games he hasn’t started but replaced a teammate instead.
That represents an impressive return for the 27-year-old, with 38% of his 13 Premier League goals coming when he hasn’t started a Premier League encounter, and while he is likely to leave the Etihad Stadium this summer due to a lack of first team football, the stats reinforce Roberto Mancini’s decision to introduce the Bosnian from the bench rather than name him in the starting XI.
Next up with four goals a piece from the bench are Roque Santa Cruz, on loan with Malaga from City, and Valencia’s Valdez, the latter of whom has made 21 appearances as a substitute, like Le Fondre.
However, unlike his Reading counterpart, Valdez has just four goals to his name as a sub - three fewer than Le Fondre - meaning the Paraguayan has netted from 19% of his appearances from the bench. However, in scoring five goals in La Liga all season, 80% of his goals have come when manager Ernesto Valverde has called on the striker from the dugout.
In comparison, Santa Cruz’ 15 appearances from the bench have seen him strike in 27% of those matches, although his 4 goals as a sub make up 50% of his overall Primera Division total (8) for Malaga this season.
Although Le Fondre has scored the most goals as a substitute, the Reading striker has only scored two of the big chances that have been created for him in the matches that he's come off the bench. That's two less than Andrija Delipasic, Giampaolo Pazzini and Messi, of Rayo Vallecano, AC Milan and Barcelona, respectively, all of whom are on four apiece.
Furthermore, Le Fondre has also missed three of the big chances that have fallen his way when he's come on as a substitute, compared to Messi’s one, further highlighting the latter’s prolificacy in front of goal when coming on from the bench.
When compared to Santa Cruz and Valdez, the pairing also fair better when presented with a big goalscoring opportunity as a substitute than Le Fondre, having both netted three of their four goals when presented with a guilt-edged chance, whilst missing three and two big opportunities, respectively.
Dzeko has also converted three of the big chances presented to him, but in missing six, his conversion isn’t as impressive as Santa Cruz or Valdez, further justifying Mancini’s decision to continuously start him from the bench.
While each team may have that substitute who is deemed super, their goal-to-game ratio when coming on from the bench, Le Fondre and Messi aside, isn’t overly remarkable, further dismissing the myth of the modern day super sub, especially when compared to the exploits of Solskjaer from the past.