Can a Soccer Player Refuse to Be Substituted? 3 Examples

Substitutions are a foundational element of soccer. But not every player wants to be substituted when the time comes. If this leaves you wondering if a player could refuse to be substituted if they disagree with the coach’s decision, here’s the answer.

A soccer player can refuse to be substituted. Soccer rules don’t require a player to leave the field simply because their coach decides they want to substitute them. The player has the freedom to stay on the field or leave.

However, you probably don’t need me to point out that if a player declines to leave the field of play, then they will not be in their coach’s good books!

In this article, I am going to show you:

  • What the rules of soccer say about substitutions
  • Some examples of when players have refused to be subbed
  • The potential consequences of refusing to be substituted
  • And why a player may refuse to leave.

Let’s jump right in!

player about to be substituted
Player about to come on as a substitute

Rules of substitutions

All substitutions in soccer have to abide by the rules set out by FIFA and the IFAB.

I’ve covered the rules of substitutions in-depth in my guide to the 10 Soccer Substitution Rules if you want to see the rules in detail.

But to give you a quick overview here regarding a player choosing to leave the field, there is one line in the rules that specifically applies to this situation.

“If a player who is to be substituted refuses to leave, play continues”

IFAB Laws of the Game

The soccer lawmakers knew that there would be occasions when a player would refuse to be substituted. Players can make up their own minds during a game and may choose to continue participating.

Instead of letting this become a cause for delay in a game and increasing the stoppage time, the rules allow the referee to simply continue the game in this scenario.

The rules don’t require players to leave if they wish to stay on the field.

And this isn’t just a hypothetical situation. Several times, players have insisted on continuing playing even when their number comes up.

Three examples of players refusing to be substituted

One of the most well-known occasions where a player refused to be substituted was Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017.

Cristiano Ronaldo – 2017

In April 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo was still playing for Real Madrid.

Real Madrid had made it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where they faced Bayern Munich. Real were losing the second-leg of the game 2-1 when coach Zinedine Zidane decided he would substitute Ronaldo for Asensio.

However, when the fourth official held up the board to signal the substitution, Ronaldo simply waved the decision away and refused to leave the field.

Thankfully for him, this turned out to be a great decision.

Zidane ended up substituting Kroos instead of Ronaldo, and Ronaldo went to score two more goals in the game to complete his hat-trick and win the game for Real Madrid on aggregate.

Check out the highlights of the game below.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 2010

Soccer legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic is another player who has refused to be substituted when his coach wanted him off the field.

While playing for AC Milan in 2010, Milan’s coach Max Allegri decided to substitute Ibrahimovic when he seemed to suffer an injury after scoring against Fiorentina.

But Zlatan had other thoughts. He wanted to continue, and nothing was going to change his mind.

Allegri accepted the decision and the game continued with Zlatan Ibrahimovic very much a part of the team.

Lionel Messi – 2014

In the past, Lionel Messi has also refused to be substituted.

Back in 2014, Barcelona were playing against fellow Spanish side Eibar.

Luis Enrique, who was then the head coach of Barcelona, decided he wanted to remove Messi and give him a rest for the last few minutes of the game.

At this point, Barca were leading by three goals, and Messi had already scored.

However, Messi decided he didn’t want to be substituted and believed he had more to offer the game.

After a lot of hand-waving from both Messi and his coach, Messi continued the playing, and Neymar was replaced instead of him.

Have a look at the event in the video below.

Players Who Disobeyed Their Managers & Angry Substitution - Kepa, Messi, Ronaldo I 2019 HD


The consequences of refusing to be substituted

As I mentioned right at the beginning, you don’t need me to tell you that any player who refuses to leave the field when their coach asks them to leave will not be popular.

They should probably expect a dressing down from the coach after the game and have to explain their actions.

They may also lose their coach’s trust when it comes to following orders and directions in a game.

If they can justify their choices, they may find themselves back in the good books sooner than expected. And if they follow Ronaldo’s lead and go on to score two goals to win the game, they may already be in the coach’s good books before the game has even ended!

Although it is a dangerous game to refuse the coach’s wishes, there are a few reasons why a player may make that choice.

Why a player may refuse to be subbed

When it comes to the reasons why a player may refuse to be substituted, we have to see the decision in light of what is happening in the game.

One major factor for players refusing to be substituted is that they are taking part in an important game.

There are only so many times in a player’s career that significant games come along, so if a player feels like they are enjoying the experience, they may not want it to end.

It may also be the case the player still has something to prove.

Suppose they have made a mistake earlier in the game, or they feel like they are about to contribute in a significant way. In that case, they may want the extra time to continue their involvement.

Whatever the reason is that a player wants to continue playing, it takes a brave player to reject their coach’s wishes.

For more helpful soccer info I recommend having a look at one of my previous articles below.

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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