The role of a substitute is one most Premier League players are not particularly fond of, warming the bench after being given an initial watching brief by the man in charge.
That said, the role is a unique one and players must always be ready to influence proceedings, entering the the fray from the dug-out as a ‘plan B’ with the chance to become a hero.
Throughout the Premier League era there have been many perennial benchwarmers, but those on this list can take some comfort in being their manager’s go-to selection when a change is needed.
Here is every Premier League player to make over 100 substitute appearances:
Louis Saha – 101 substitute appearances
The French forward would enjoy a successful Premier League career taking spells at several clubs, including impressive stints at the likes of Fulham, Manchester United and Everton.
Having burst onto the scene with the former he made 20+ league starts just once after leaving Craven Cottage, Saha proving a regular super-sub with his highest tally being 14 substitute appearances for Everton during the 2008/09 campaign.
Despite his regular stints amongst the back-up options, however, Saha scored an impressive 85 goals throughout a ten-year Premier League career, winning two league titles.
Adam Johnson – 105 substitute appearances
Johnson came through the Middlesbrough academy ranks before earning a move to Manchester City, helping the club to Premier League and FA Cup success and establishing himself as an England international.
Almost half of his appearances at the Etihad would come via the substitutes bench, however, part of a tally of 105 cameos from the bench throughout his Premier League career.
The winger joined Sunderland in search of regular first-team opportunities in 2012, his career ending in disgrace after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a child and jailed for six years.
Victor Anichebe – 107 substitute appearances
The Nigerian forward proved to be the archetypal ‘plan B’ during a Premier League career that took in spells at Everton, West Brom and Sunderland, appearing off the bench for more than half of his 197 top-flight appearances.
The burly striker proved to be an effective substitute for his various sides, however, scoring 14 goals when entering the play – the eighth highest tally of any substitute in Premier League history.
Ryan Giggs – 110 substitute appearances
The most decorated player in the history of English football with 13 Premier League titles, Giggs spent over two decades at the very highest level as a key figure for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
An undisputed starter at his breathtaking best, Giggs remained a fundamental part of the United set-up until his late thirties, often influencing proceedings from the bench during his latter years.
His longevity means that Gareth Barry is the only player to better his 632 Premier League appearances, 110 of which came via the substitutes bench.
Kanu – 118 substitute appearances
One of Africa’s greatest footballers and a fine centre-forward, Kanu’s position on this list is down largely to the presence of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp ahead of him in the Arsenal pecking order.
The Nigerian remains a firm fans’ favourite following some magical performances in north London and is the sixth-highest scoring substitute in Premier League history, later moving on to West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth, scoring the winning goal as the latter won the FA Cup in 2008.
Theo Walcott – 121 substitute appearances
Selected by England for the 2006 World Cup before making his Premier League debut, Walcott’s career has perhaps not quite delivered on that initial promise despite a solid career at the highest level.
Debates surrounding his best position would often circulate during a 12-year spell at Arsenal, the uncertainty leading to Walcott often being used as a super-sub, his lightning pace a nightmare for tired defences.
Walcott made a century of substitute appearances for the Gunners, adding a further 21 and counting for Everton following his £20m move to Merseyside in 2018.
Joe Cole – 123 substitute appearances
The ultimate teenage prodigy after emerging at West Ham, Cole’s career proved to be one that divides opinion.
Three Premier League titles, three domestic cups and over half a century of England caps are fine achievements for any player, though there are those who perhaps expected more of the twinkle-toed street footballer from west London.
The finest period of Cole’s career came during a trophy-laden seven-year stay at Chelsea, however, he often struggled to convince a succession of managers of his best role and made a third of his league appearances from the bench.
Those appearances contributed to a tally of 123 substitute appearances, with only six Premier League players having made more.
Carlton Cole – 129 substitute appearances
A handful for any Premier League defence on his finest day, it just happened that those occasions were not too often for the former West Ham forward.
Cole spent over a decade at the highest level and was capped on seven occasions by England, despite a modest goal record that saw him score a career-best haul of just ten league goals – a feat he managed for two consecutive seasons under former Chelsea mentor Gianfranco Zola at Upton Park.
Cole’s inconsistencies led to a perennial role as super-sub, making 129 appearances from the bench throughout a top-flight career that also included spells at Chelsea, Charlton and Aston Villa.
Shane Long – 133 substitute appearances
The Ronseal of Premier League footballers in that Long does exactly what it says on the tin, the Irishman will run, run and run some more with ever willingness in the forward line.
One of just three current Premier League players in this feature, Long could rise further up these rankings in the coming seasons having spent a large portion of his six-year spell at Southampton amongst the substitutes, including making six appearances off the bench so far this season.
Far from a prolific goalscorer, the 33-year-old’s industry and desire to chase lost causes has instead made him a regular impact player.
Shola Ameobi – 142 substitute appearances
A player who holds a special place in the hearts of Newcastle fans, Ameobi spent 14-years at his boyhood side and earned cult status amongst the fanatical Geordie support.
The former Nigerian international may not rank alongside the likes of Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand, but his penchant to deliver against local rivals Sunderland means he will always be welcome at St James’ Park.
Ameobi, to his credit, remained loyal to the Magpies despite a frustrating amount of time on the substitutes bench, with almost half of his 312 league appearances beginning in the dug-out.
‘The Mackem slayer’ later spent a brief period at Crystal Palace, failing to start a single league fixture and appearing off the bench on four occasions.
James Milner – 144 substitute appearances
The highest active Premier League player on this list, Milner’s remarkable consistency has seen the midfielder spend almost two decades at the highest level, emerging as a 16-year-old and continuing to thrive into his thirties for league leaders Liverpool at present.
Milner is now just one appearance away from entering the all-time top five for Premier League players after spells at five clubs, the 34-year-old currently on 534 appearances with 144 of those coming from the bench.
The majority of those cameos would come during his five-year spell at Manchester City, Milner winning two Premier League titles at the Etihad before his switch to Anfield in 2015.
Jermain Defoe – 149 substitute appearances
The Premier League’s most prolific substitute, Defoe has guaranteed goals wherever he has plied his trade throughout a career in English football that has seen him plunder 162 top-flight goals.
Only six players in the divisions history have ever scored more than the former Tottenham and Sunderland star, though no player can better Defoe’s record of 24 goals when coming off the bench.
That tally has been scored in 149 substitute appearances, the second-highest in Premier League history, Defoe often the man turned to when looking for a late goal.
Peter Crouch – 157 substitute appearances
It’s almost as if Peter Crouch was manufactured in a factory as a footballing ‘Plan B’, a forward introduced to tower over opponents as desperate managers sought a late direct approach.
In truth, Crouch’s height was perhaps both a help and hinderance, making him a popular and useful option for a succession of managers at several clubs but often meaning he was left out from the start for more mobile options.
Peter Crouch’s amazing scissor kick goal for Liverpool against Galatasaray in 2006. I could watch this over and over again!#LFC | @LFC | @petercrouchpic.twitter.com/RLzaVQySWV
— Footy Moments (@Footyments) March 13, 2020
Crouch, however, proved his worth on countless occasions, scoring 108 Premier League goals throughout his career including 16 when introduced off the bench.
No Premier League player has ever scored more headed goals than the former England man, whilst no player has ever featured more times as a substitute.
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