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Paying clubs and win, and not playing your strongest team, are linked.

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.

15 comments to Paying clubs and win, and not playing your strongest team, are linked.

  • Gerry Lennon

    I’ll repeat what I said in reply to Walter’s blog earlier … I can see Coventry putting out a ‘weakened’ team tonight because their priority will be not only to win their first league win, but also to avoid having their confidence being knocked further.
    By matching Arsenal’s team with a mixture of experience and youth, it will not be the greatest shock if they lose? Nor are they likely to be penalised with Arsenal doing the same?
    On the bigger question of third party teams becoming involved over teams selections, via induce payments, that wants stamping on very hard. Thin end of the wedge to ‘supporting’ a team to play a weakened side?

  • insideright

    The passing of money between clubs – in all its guises – needs investigation. It almost inevitably leads to corruption but I’m sure that there are clubs who might not even exist today if they hadn’t had this extra source of income.
    How can a manager truly claim to be managing a club for the benefit of players and fans if he is at the beck and call of the Finance Director who effectively picks the team according to who is paying what in incentives?
    Speaking of moral lowgrounds I saw Tony Adams interviewed on Sky at the weekend and heard him say that, at one point in his career, he was earning £75k a year and was offered £90k to move to Man Utd. – the message (i.e. tap-up) being passed to him from Alex Ferguson by his then England team-mate Bryan Robson. We would be very naive to believe that every rule is always stuck to by every club and individual involved, but wouldn’t it be great for us all to know that it isn’t (as Ivan Gazidis described it when he first arrived at Arsenal) ‘like the wild west’ and that ‘it wouldn’t be permitted in America’. Perhaps the new proliferation of American owners in the EPL might be a step towards putting a stop to such all such dubious practices.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    Tony,
    Interesting points but it’s a moral maze.
    What if we suspected that certain teams (without naming them, some teams managed by former Manure players) were deliberately rolling over at Old Trafford? Let’s say that the managers are doing this for access to United loanees. Is that match fixing? There’s no provable benefit, no money changes hands, no improper favours are done.
    Is resting key players match fixing if the tactical system used by the manager adapts to suit the players involved? Swapping Arshavin for Andy Carroll in a hoof-ball side is very odd, swapping out one utility midfielder for another is quite different.

  • I wonder who ever come out with the rules and punishment must have nothing to do. There are bigger things to stamp out in the league. Poor refereeing, diving cheats, bad tackle, goal line technology and the list will go on and on which either directly or indirectly influence the game outcome. That is the things the FA should look upon.

    Is there is should be a weaker team? Are the team suppose to be free to choose anyone they want as long as it within the 25 man squad they register and the under 21 which was registered under the club. So I cannot see anything wrong with it even if the team put all the under-21 player play.

    If they think there should be a stronger squad and a weaker one, then the FA should come out with different rules.

  • Sam

    Very good article. I was unaware of the Laudrup quotes, but if they are real it seems extremely realistic that such payments are influencing squad/team selection.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    I think that perhaps there need to be two different rulings here, one for the League and another for knockout competitions. For leagues each club has to submit a 25 man player list to the FA (plus unlimited U21s) and I am sure this ruling was partially intended to allow for rotation of players. Naturally the difference between the “first team” and backup players varies between clubs, but if a team is predominantly from that 25 man list there should be little to carp about. If a team of predominantly U21s were fielded then I think the FA would be right to ask questions and impose suitable fines if deemed appropriate.
    For knockout competitions, the embarrassment of being knocked out by minnows should be enough to ensure manages select an adequately strong team, if they don’t and loose on their own heads be it . Questions will then be asked by the club’s fans and owners and managers face a severe sanction with regards to their continued employment.
    With regards to one club making a payment, or offering loan players or any other form of inducement in an attempt to influence the result, in any way, this is cheating and should be investigated very thoroughly and the heaviest possible penalties imposed.

  • tommyt

    I would very much love to get to the end of the season and know we have won or even just come fourth (for this fantasy it’s worth it trust me!) and then to be playing against a team, say QPR and to know that if QPR win, Spurs go down. I would be in complete and utter support of us putting out our under 8’s side for the match and would even offer up some of my own wages, say 5 years worth? 😉 COYG

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    Tommyt,
    Have you seen our juniors? They’re like the Barcelona of their age group!
    You have to admit that in that scenario, it would be very difficult for some of our Gooner-gunners to give their all on the pitch knowing that a simple ‘Gerrard’ pass could relegate Spurs.
    On that subject, Steven Gerrard’s passing, is he passing to the opposition deliberately or is he just inept? See also Joey Barton.

  • tommyt

    @woolwhich, I know mate. and I would hope that Wenger would do the right thing and make sure the team knew not to win!

  • GodWoreTen

    Na na na na na gi – roud!

  • Capital cup draw chel$ea vs Mannure, Reading vs D Arsenal,pool vs swasea ,norwich vs spunks cant wait to watch.

  • Fred

    “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…”

    And of course “Man U” won the game against Hull with ease, which puts paid to your attempted smear. Good effort though. 😉

  • Sammy The Snake

    Two 6-1 score lines in 11 days… Not bad at all!
    It’s so good to be a gooner.

  • ARSENAL 13

    OFF TOPIC..

    Now that we have won 6-1, I clearly understand why Mr Wenger is against the idea of having an Arsenal B team in the lower league…

  • Tram

    If they passed a rule allowing teams to field non-regular players they may well take the opportunity to repair a different anomaly, that if a player is suspended, league cup games count for the ban
    , even where there was every probability he would not have played, so making him eligible for later league games for which he would otherwise be suspended. In the past Arsenal have both benefitted and suffered from this rule. If it is logical to change one it would seem to me just as logical to change the other. Can of worms.