In Soccer Can You Substitute a Substitute?

post header image of soccer substitutions

Knowing the rules regarding substitutions in soccer is important. Part of these rules concerns the question of whether or not it’s OK to substitute a substitute during a soccer game. Once a substitute soccer player has come onto the soccer field, do the rules allow that player to be substituted off the field again?

You can substitute a substitute in soccer. The laws of the game of soccer allow the coach of a soccer team to substitute a player that has previously been brought onto the field as a substitute and replace them with another player.

When you take the time to understand the rules of soccer and how they apply to substitutions, you will see how it works and why substituting a substitute sometimes not only makes sense but can often be the best decision a coach can make.

I’ll explain why below, but if you’re also interested in finding out why soccer limits substitutions during a game, click here to go to an article I wrote explaining the reasons why.

When You Can Make a Substitution in Soccer

In almost every game of soccer, you watch or play, you will see the coach make a substitution. It’s as common a feature of a soccer game as scoring a goal is. Thankfully, because it is so commonplace, the rules of soccer are reasonably clear regarding the rules around substitutions.

For example:

  • There’s a limit on the number of substitutes a team can use in one game.
  • There are specific times a team can and can’t substitute a player during a game
  • , and a player must follow certain instructions when they’ve been substituted

But some things are acceptable under the rules of soccer because, rather than specifically allowing them, the rules don’t specifically restrict them. Substituting a substitute is one of these.

Nowhere in the rules of soccer is there any restriction on a team substituting a substitute. Any player who is taking part in a soccer game is free to be substituted whether they started the game or whether they came onto the field as a substitute later in the game.

In fact, to replace a player with a substitute, the substitution procedure is as follows:

“The referee must be informed before any substitution is made;

The player being substituted must: receive the referee’s permission to leave the field of play and go immediately to the technical area or dressing room and takes no further part in the match(game);

and if a player who is to be substituted refuses to leave, play continues”

IFAB Laws of the Game

As you can see in this substitution procedure above, there is nothing that prevents a team from substituting a substitute, and although it is not something you see take place in every game, it does happen occasionally.

Why a Team Might Substitute a Substitute

If the number of substitutions allowed during a soccer game is limited and there are only a specific number of players permitted to be on the field at one time, you may be asking yourself why any coach would take off a player they have only recently brought on.

But there are a number of reasons why the coach of a team may want to substitute a substitute.

  • For tactical reasons
  • Because a player is injured
  • or because a player is tired or not playing well

If partway through a game, the coach decides that they want to change the team’s tactics, either dramatically or by just a small amount, they may decide that substituting a player is the best way to achieve what they now want to see happen.

It may be that they want to bring on an extra forward player to increase the team’s attacking capabilities, or alternatively, they may want to bring on an extra defender to strengthen the team at the back. Either way, they need to remove a player from the field, as each team is limited to only fielding 11 players at a time.

In this scenario, there is no reason why a player who has been previously brought on as a substitute could not be the perfect player to make way for another substitute to come on. Because of this, the coach may decide to substitute this player to allow the new substitute to enter the game.

Another reason to substitute a substitute is that the player may be injured.

When a soccer player comes on as a substitute, they are at as much risk of getting injured as another player. During a soccer game, there are multiple opportunities for a player to pick up an injury. It may happen during a tackle or a sprint up the touchline or even waiting for a corner to be taken.

If a player who has come on as a substitute picks up an injury during the game then it’s in the best interests of both the player and the team for them to be substituted off the field and be replaced by another player.

For an example of this, have a look at this video below, where midfielder Marco Medel came on as a substitute in a 2015 Chilean first-division game for Santiago Wanderers and within seconds suffered an injury which meant he needed to be substituted himself before he had even touched the soccer ball!

This must be one of the shortest substitute appearances ever!

La lesión más rápida de un futbolista // Marco Medel
Marco Medel’s substitution for Santiago Wanderers in 2015

The last reason why a substitute may be substituted is that they are becoming tired or they are simply not playing well enough to continue.

If a player does not have an adequate level of fitness, or they came into the game as a substitute near the start of the game, then they may find themselves running out of energy and stamina before the game is over. If, because of this, they are no longer able to perform at the level required of them, they may be substituted to make way for a player with more energy.

Sometimes a coach will bring on a player as a substitute, but after a while, the coach will decide that that player is not playing well enough to justify their continued inclusion as part of the team. So, in the best interests of the team, the coach will substitute them and replace them with a better player.

Can a Substituted Player Come Back On?

The last question that many people want to know is, once a player has been substituted off the field, is it possible for them to come back on again?

A substituted player can’t come back on again in soccer. Once a player has been substituted off the field, the soccer rules clearly say that the substituted player must go immediately to the technical area or dressing room and take no further part in the game. [source]

The only times a player may return to the field of play after being substituted is during a youth, veterans, disability, and grassroots soccer game, and even then, it is subject to the agreement of the National Soccer Association, confederation, or FIFA. [source]


Hopefully, you now feel you recognize that the rules of soccer do permit a substitute to be substituted and understand why it happens.

To find out more about the rules of soccer, check out one of my other posts:

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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