Monday, 31 January 2011

Being Punished For Being Small

Collins rose beautifully as the corner was swung in. He cushioned the ball gently into the net past the keeper’s flailing arms and one minute from time and Aston Villa got their first win in five games. Blackpool walked away with nothing to show for their efforts in a five goal thriller. Indeed, much less than nothing. Because despite scoring twice and only conceding a crushing third in the 89th minute, the Seasiders efforts have been deemed unacceptable by the league and they have been fined £25,000.

The issue of clubs being fined for fielding a ‘weakened’ side has been discussed in many papers and blogs. But it is hard to express how truly idiotic the Premier League have been on this issue. Never ones to be accused of competence in the first place (see 39th game etc), the intransigence they are showing over managers playing whatever side they want is utterly ridiculous. The rule is flawed on two counts. Firstly, it isn’t applied equally as the bigger sides apparently have total immunity and secondly the idea behind each team having to register 25 players before the season starts was to set limits on squad size.

In the interests of fairness, the reason given for fining those who put out weakened sides is to preserve competition in the Premier League. This is totally legitimate. In a league competition, all results affect teams not involved. This is less the case in cup competitions and therefore it is accepted practise for youngsters to be blooded the Carling and FA Cups. La Liga is currently suffering from the problem of sides not caring because very few teams feel they can beat Barcelona or Real Madrid so just don’t try. Why bother in games you cannot win? Indeed there is not the same huge gulf in the Premier League as there is in Spain, which is one of the attractions of the English game. But while the intention of the Premier League is good, the execution is pathetic and unfair.

We all know that Wolves and Blackpool did put out weakened sides. But so did Manchester United in 2009 for their final game against Hull before losing to Barcelona. Just because Darron Gibson scored to beat the Tigers, does this somehow mean that United weren’t playing a weakened side? Of course not. When Fulham performed their miraculous escape from relegation in 2007, it was in no small part due to Liverpool putting out a virtual third string side because the north-west club had a Champions League final coming up. There are numerous other examples but in not a single case did the league act. The big clubs, because they have European commitments are not fined when they do the exact same thing. The inequality and blatant favouritism leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.

Secondly, all clubs have to register a squad of 25 players eligible to play in the Premier League at the end of the summer transfer window with any player under the age of 21 not needing to be registered. So given that the league forces clubs to limit how many squad members it has, in the interests of preventing the larger clubs hovering up vast reserves of talent it seems ludicrous to then suggest that 14 out of the 25 cannot be selected. Football has evolved into a squad game. Managers have submitted their squads and can therefore utilise them in any way they wish.

A rule prohibiting fielding an entire team of unregistered players (i.e. an under-21’s side) would make sense. Even going so far as to force teams to select a certain number of senior players is fine. But the insinuation that the smaller clubs must play their best XI for every game, regardless of opposition or fatigue is just wrong. Holloway feels that players like Jason Euell are part of Blackpool’s bid to avoid relegation. And judging by the performance of the side that lost so narrowly to Aston Villa, he has far better judgement than the Premier League.

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