By Tony Attwood
There is an article on the Daily Telegraph web site today which asks if the Football League should be penalising clubs for not playing their strongest team in the competition – just as the Premier League did in February 2010 after Wolverhampton changed their team a couple of months earlier.
In that case Wolverhampton were playing Man U and seemed to rest players, knowing perhaps that they would get beaten anyway. The idea was to keep certain men fresh for games they could win – against Burnley.
In 2007 Rafa Benitez gave most of his team a rest from playing Fulham, so that they would be ok for the Champs League final. The protest was muffled – the feeling was that it was somehow in the nation’s interest for Liverpool to be at full strength in the cup final.
But each time it happens someone somewhere can get quite uppity. I remember Neil Warnock, then of Sheff U having a rant about the situation (although not last night!)
The fines dished out for weakened teams are equal to about a morning’s salary for Robin Van Persie, so they don’t matter much. But the ruling is very inconsistent. I don’t think Arsenal got fined for putting out a weak team against Stoke in the FA Cup, in order to protect the side from broken legs and the like. Maybe protecting the player against a future injury is fair enough.
More dodgy though was the time Man U put out a reserve team against Hull knowing that if they lost then Newcastle would go down. In fact Newcastle failed to win the game they needed to win, so it was all forgotten – but the story keeps buzzing back and forth.
And now combine all this with the current speculation about how many big clubs are paying little clubs to win matches and suddenly it all starts to make sense.
The notion that top clubs might pay little clubs to try and win looked silly, given the fact that surely little clubs would always try and win. But now, if you consider Michael Laudrup’s claim on 21 September, that “If Swansea play the last game against a team and a third team pays Swansea to win the game, I really don’t see anything bad about that,” it begins to make sense.
What the team paying out the money is doing is saying, “don’t put out a reserve side and roll over and let the big boys win. Go for it, put out your first team, try like hell, and if you do that we will pay you £££ for putting out your first team, ££££ for a draw and £££££££ for a win.
Two things are now affecting football as it looks at this issue. The first is that money is changing hands between clubs in relation to what team is picked and how hard they play. The other is that the number of times clubs put out weakened sides is increasing by the day.
Now as far as I know, no media outlet has linked the two issues (the Laudrup payment allegation and the playing of weakened teams) together – until today, with this article. But they are so likely to be linked that really they ought to be taken seriously.
I don’t have proof of the fact that there is something very amiss going on – but there is a possible case to answer, and so an issue to be considered. It is like refs. I can’t prove that a particular ref was offered use of a villa for his family each summer by a club chairman – but through Walter’s work I can point to various oddities in the way in which refereeing is run in the country and ask, “why don’t you do something about it?” since it looks like there is something amiss.
Basically, no one wants fixed matches. But equally most Arsenal fans like the fact that they can catch a glimpse of the up and coming stars in league cup games. You can’t really say that Arsenal Youth v Coventry is going to be a fixed match – because quite often Arsenal Youth beat lower league teams. But if the league cup is exempt from the rule, that ought to be made clear. “Play your best team in all competitions and all matches except the league cup,” is a rule that could be introduced.
That however still leaves the problem. Arsenal leave Podolski out of an FA Cup match against a 3rd division team because of a “hamstring twinge” from which he recovers completely for the game the following weekend against Man U. Fair enough or does every player have to be tested by a team of medics from the League?
That seems stupid, and personally I like the current system whereby we can choose who we like – including in the Champs League when we have qualified and can use the last game to give the kiddies a go.
Mind you, this season, we have so many mid-fielders we could rotate the lot of them twice and still put out an astonishingly wonderful team. But how would I feel if Chelsea bribed a team in midtable to play their best team against Arsenal, rather than resting a few players as they were planning to do, for the forthcoming FA Cup semi-final.
Not happy is the answer.