Can A Football Player Refuse To Be Substituted

Can A Football Player Refuse To Be Substituted? (Explained)

Last updated on October 21st, 2022

In a game of football, substitutions are very common. This allows the manager to rest players, and even switch up tactics.

However, is it possible that a player refuses to be substituted? 

Here is what you need to know:

Can a football player refuse to be substituted? 

Based on what was written in Law 3 of the Laws of the Game (IFAB), if a player refuses to be substituted, the game will continue. In this case, the referee cannot force the player to leave the field and must resume the play. Likewise, a player cannot be forced off the bench to enter the game as a substitute.

Here is what is being stated in Law 3, under the substitution procedure:

Player Refuse Substitution Law

If the player refuses to leave the pitch, the referee will wave on to continue the match.

However, the player may receive a yellow card for time-wasting or unsportsmanlike behaviour as the referee deems fit. Nevertheless, the manager is unable to carry out the substitution. 

By the laws of the game, the incoming substitute cannot participate in the game unless another player agrees to be substituted instead.  

Why do football players refuse to be substituted?

Football players refuse to be substituted for various reasons. Here are 4 reasons why this is so:

#1 They are not injured

Many times, managers substitute their players out due to fear of injuries. Usually, after a collision or knock, the managers would hastily prepare substitutions to prevent complications of injuries.

The player himself may not be injured and will refuse substitution to continue playing.

#2 They are not tired

Towards the end of a football game, managers make substitutions to bring fresh energy onto the pitch. By this period, the players present on the pitch are usually tired.

In this case, the players to be substituted may not feel fatigued, and refuse the coach’s decision.

#3 Tactical disagreements

The coach also makes changes to switch up the team’s tactical approach.

The player to be substituted may disagree with the coach’s decision to change the team’s strategy and thus refuse the substitution.

#4 Animosity to the coach

There is bound to be conflict in a football team as in all human relations. Such disputes could be between teammates or a coach and his player. 

If a player feels he has not been treated fairly by the coach, he may resist the coach’s choices. In the case of substitutions, the player may resist due to his ill relations with the coach.

What happens after a player refuses to be substituted?

Although there are no legal repercussions to refusing a substitution, it could seriously impact the player’s career going forward. Depending on how the coach feels, he may sideline the player for as long as he decides to. The player’s influence on the team may also be a factor.

Sometimes, the player is benched for a couple of games before the coach allows him to return. Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga was subject to this consequence after refusing to be substituted.

In other cases, he may decide to leave the club after the coach sidelines him. 

If the player is essential to the team and is on good terms with the coach, he may face no consequence.

Depending on the club’s policies, he may be fined for this lack of respect for the manager.

Some examples

It is uncommon for players to refuse substitution. However, some well-known players have resisted the coach’s decision.

Here are 3 examples of players who refuse to be substituted:

#1 Lionel Messi

The Argentine is one of the greatest players of all time and has had a glamorous career. However, he refused to be substituted in a league match against Eibar in 2014.

The Blaugrana were winning the match 3–0. Towards the end, the coach, Luis Enrique, decided to substitute Messi for his teammate, Munir El Haddadi.

However, Messi refused to come off and gestured his response to Enrique. 

Enrique pleaded with him, but Messi only gave him a thumbs up and went on to play the rest of the game. Neymar was later substituted off in place of Messi.

However, the act bore no consequences for Messi as he was the most important Barcelona player.

#2 Kepa Arrizabalaga

The Spanish goalkeeper joined Chelsea from Athletic Bilbao in 2018. The transfer remains the most expensive deal for a goalkeeper ever. He refused to be substituted in the 2019 Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. 

During the match, Kepa suffered a minor injury and required medical attention. As the game was approaching the end of extra-time and imminent penalties, Maurizio Sarri decided to replace Kepa with Willy Caballero

However, Kepa refused to be substituted, which left Sarri fuming on the touchlines. Sarri was incredibly furious and almost left the field for the tunnel.

The penalties commenced, and Chelsea eventually lost the penalties 4-3 in the EFL Cup.

The club management fined Kepa one week’s pay for his behaviour. He also received backlash from the media. The coach, Sarri, benched him for the next match due to the tensions. 

However, he returned to the lineup immediately after remorsefully mending his relationship with Sarri, his teammates and the Chelsea fans.

Kepa remained instrumental for the rest of the season and eventually won the Europa League at the end of the term. 

#3 Carlos Tevez

The Argentine has shined for several great teams in his career. However, Tevez had one of the most severe cases of defiance in football. 

On 27 September 2011, Manchester City was trailing behind Bayern Munich by 2-0 in a Champions League game. Roberto Mancini decided to switch things up and asked Tevez to come off the bench, but he refused.

This act escalated into a period of strife between Tevez and the club management.

Mancini declared that Tevez would never play for the club again in the post-match interview. As a result, Manchester City suspended him from the squad and investigated the match’s events.

Several pundits and media personnel also criticised the player

However, the saga ended on 14 February 2012 when Tevez returned to training with the coach’s permission. The player apologised for the troublesome events and put all the drama behind him.

Fortunately, Tevez was able to aid Manchester City in securing their first Premier League title at the end of the season. 

#4 Cristiano Ronaldo

In this rather bizarre incident, Cristiano Ronaldo refused to come off the bench to play in the match against Tottenham Hotspur.

What’s more, he walked off the pitch before the match ended, which resulted in him being dropped in the squad against Chelsea.


A player is well within his legal rights if he refuses to be substituted.

Although this may attract consequences from his club and manager, the Laws of the Game do not deem it as an offence, and play will continue!

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