This time last year, Burnley’s James Tarkowski had spent longer sitting on the bench than any other outfield player in the Premier League. Since then he has worked his way into not only the Clarets’ first team but the England squad. No player aspires to spending a career on the sidelines and Tarkowski has shown that there is hope for anyone who finds themselves frozen out of the first team.
We’ve crunched the numbers to reveal the players across Europe who are looking for a similar turnaround in their fortunes: those who have spent the most time on the bench this season, including the time before and after a substitution is made. These are listed in the graphic below, including a timeline for each player’s season showing (in yellow) the time they have been sat on the sidelines.
Sean Dyche’s aversion to squad rotation has continued this season and, while Michael Keane’s transfer to Everton has paved the way for Tarkowski’s turnaround in fortunes, there is a new Burnley player at the top of the league’s roll call of benchwarmers: Ashley Westwood. The former Crewe and Aston Villa midfielder has spent over 38 hours on the bench this season, but he is already seeing his patience rewarded and has played the full 90 minutes in each of the Clarets’ last five matches.
Dominic Solanke won the Golden Ball at last summer’s Under 20 World Cup but his summer transfer from Chelsea to Liverpool hasn’t resulted in much first-team exposure. Jurgen Klopp turned to the England starlet in the Merseyside derby last weekend, opting to rest Roberto Firmino ahead of the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final with Manchester City, but Solanke is only 85 minutes short of Westwood’s tally and could climb to the summit if he sees out Saturday’s match against Bournemouth from the bench.
At least Westwood and Solanke have spent some time on the pitch this season: Crystal Palace’s Pape Souare has watched 16 whole matches from the sidelines without making a single appearance for the Eagles. That equates to a nice round 24 hours of bench time this season, and Souare will surely have cut a frustrated figure as Roy Hodgson failed to make use of any of his three allowed changes in the 2-2 draw against Bournemouth last weekend.
Spanish journeyman Francisco Molinero – who sits atop the pile of La Liga’s benchwarmers – is not a household name, but the man running him close in second place certainly is. After starting the first game of the season for Atletico Madrid, Fernando Torres has been waiting in the wings for more than 36 hours of football this season while Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa and Diego Costa have provided the team’s firepower.
Overall though it looks as though Spanish clubs like to get value out of their squad players: the longest that anyone has spent on the bench this season without getting a look-in is a mere five matches. That dubious honour falls to Leganes’ young Ivorian forward Mamadou Kone.
Hannover appear to have done enough to consolidate their top-flight status this season but they have mainly done so without the services of Florian Hubner. The German centre-back has played the full 90 minutes only three times this season and has been a token late substitute on four occasions, while 16 whole matches have played out in front of him as he sat on the bench.
Reece Oxford is one of a growing number of Premier League emigrants plying their trade in the Bundesliga but the teenager has not had much chance to demonstrate his abilities this term, as he has struggled to pin down a place in the Borussia Monchengladbach side.
Napoli are mounting an exciting challenge to Juventus’ monopoly on the Serie A title this season, but at least two of their players are probably feeling less than thrilled. Midfield duo Adam Ounas and Marko Rog have struggled to impress Maurizio Sarri this season, having spent more time on the bench than any outfielder in the division apart from Fiorentina’s Sebastian Cristoforo.
The Uruguayan has sat on Viola’s sidelines for just seven minutes more than Ounas to claim the title of the biggest benchwarmer in the Italian top flight, with team-mate Maximiliano Olivera also among the top 10.
It has been a frustrating campaign for Rennes right-back Romain Danze, who has made an average of 28 league appearances per season for the club all the way back to 2006/07 but has found himself sidelined more than any other outfield player in the division this term. With his club having soared to the relative heights of fifth place, he unfortunately isn’t being missed much on the pitch.
There’s also a familiar name in the top 10 for fans of the Premier League: Clinton N’Jie lit up the division as a young star at Lyon before being poached by Spurs, only to be farmed back to France on loan when he didn’t make the grade. Marseille converted that loan into a permanent deal but seem to be having some buyers’ remorse of their own given how often the winger has found himself among the substitutes.
Belgian Pro League
The Belgian top flight has entered the play-off stage now, but we’ve kept our focus on the regular season to keep things fair. Eupen – who only avoided finishing bottom thanks to goal difference – employ two of the season’s three most forlorn players: the midfield duo of Alessio Castro-Montes and Odeni George spent over three days on the bench between them but barely more than three hours on the pitch combined.
Charleroi also have two entries in the top four with centre back Gjoko Zajkov and midfielder Enes Saglik both riding pine for long periods, although both enjoyed more playing time than their counterparts at Eupen.
In the three divisions below the Premier League there are six outfield players who have spent over two days of their lives on the substitutes’ bench this season. Leading this unhappy pack is Sheffield United’s Northern Irish left-back Danny Lafferty, who was a first-team regular in their promotion campaign last season but has fallen out of favour this term.
The other five hail from the lower two divisions and include former Leeds and Manchester United man Alan Smith, still going strong at 37 but having only managed an hour of first-team football for Notts County and surely tempted to move into coaching full-time.
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