One Law to Rule Them All…

23 02 2010

So last week my team, Wolverhampton Wanderers were fined for fielding a weakened team against Manchester United back in December. Mick McCarthy chose a team which prioritised the following match with Burnley. That he proved vindicated by his selection is neither here nor there. It was, apparently, not within the spirit of the Premier League, who insist that teams should field their strongest XI wherever possible. Ok.

Tonight Manchester United have played West Ham. Manchester United made five changes to the team which lost at Everton on Saturday. The team which Sir Alex Ferguson put out was by no means his strongest eleven. It included fringe players (Foster, Gibson, Anderson), who, whilst internationals, are not, for all intents and purposes, part of Manchester United’s first choice team.

Now, in an ideal world the FA will send a letter to Manchester United tomorrow morning asking them to explain why the team fielded was not as close to first choice as possible, which it obviously wasn’t. The answer is obvious. Ferguson has prioritised his next match (The league cup final), ahead of this match, one which Manchester United were always likely to win at a canter.

In the real world nothing will be done about this. Manchester United are a big club in the league. A club that the FA doesn’t really want to be on the wrong side of. They have weight to throw around. Wolves on the other hand, do not. They are cannon fodder, there to be used as an example to other clubs, without the rule being applied fairly across the board. ‘This is what could happen, but if you’re a big enough club then we will accept that at times you have to prioritise matches’. Or so seems the attitude. That Wolves are not a big club carries the implication that we do not prioritise matches. Except that of course, we do. The only difference is that the priority is different. It’s relegation which threatens us so emphasising matches we can win over ones we are unlikely to get anything other than stuffed is natural. The trouble is that this attitude is somehow less romantic than Manchester United’s ‘we’re trying to win something, so we are making that the priority’.

If the FA are going to fine Wolves for fielding a weakened team then that’s fine. The rule is there and the precedent set. They must however be consistant with the execution of the punishment. It cannot be one rule for one and another for the rest. That’s not law-enforcement, it’s bullying. In a week where the issue of bullying has been in the press, the FA now need to show consistancy in their approach to this sort of issue. They need to fine Manchester United for fielding an under-strength team and thereby de-valuing the Premier League. I’ll eat my hat if they do.

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