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.





Football Thoughts…

19 04 2009

It’s been a busy week for football this week. As I’m now sat watching the second FA Cup semi-final instead of finishing an essay, I thought I would do at least some writing.

Yesterday’s semi-final between Arsenal and Chelsea was an interesting tie. Won late on by Didier Drogba, the tie was played in the shadow of the Hillsborough tragedy (of which I have previously written), with presentations made to members of the Hillsborough families. The teams were meant to play wearing black armbands as a sign of respect. Yet Arsenal played the first half armband-less. Which was a point of criticism undoubtedly. Until Chelsea came out in the second half, without their armbands. They did, it appears, somehow jump onto the Arsenal players arms at half-time. This seems both bizarre, and slightly disrespectful. Was there only one set of black armbands at Wembley yesterday? I had always thought that the armbands were little more than black tape, so why would there need to be ‘proper’ bands? Did the FA simply forget the second set of bands? Whatever way you look at it, only having one set of armbands is distinctly unprofessional from the FA, and two teams could have simply made do with the traditional tape, as opposed to apparently sharing the armbands.

Secondly, briefly, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the next Manchester United manager will be David Moyes, who, to my mind, has many of the same traits as Sir Alex Ferguson, and who has proven himself consistantly with hardly any money at a high standard.

Finally, I cannot finish a football related blog on this day without mentioning the success of my own team. Wolverhampton Wanderers have been promoted to the Premier League two games before the season ends. Barring any freak results, they will go up as Championship Champions too. It has been a roller-coaster season, our autumn was brilliant, our winter less so. Our spring has been necessarily strong, and our summer will be exciting. Sitting atop the league since October, Wolves have proven themselves to be the best team, scoring the most goals and having the league’s top scorer in our ranks. Congratulations to Wolves, and here’s hoping for a solid season next term!





Mind Games…

11 01 2009

I am one for history repeating itself, and, over the past couple of days, I think it has happened again. When Rafa Benitez pulled out a list of various misdemeanours committed by Sir Alex Ferguson over the course of this season, it was apparent though that this was so very much the same, yet so very different.

Everyone remembers Kevin Keegan’s famous outburst as his Newcastle team faltered as the season drew to a close, allowing Manchester United to win the league. Many were praising Alex Ferguson and his team of kids. Ferguson had won, both on the pitch and off it. Fergie, one of the best managers of the modern era, plays the mind games so well, and he broke Keegan so completely that the latter fell apart so publically, letting Fergie take the glory. Keegan had no answers to Fergie’s questions.

As Ferguson has gone on and had so much more success, no-one, and nothing has fazed him. Yes, he has complained (in pretty much every press conference), yes he has moaned (about all manner of things, including fixtures, referees, the FA, other managers, and players), but he has never been beaten when it come to the mind games.

As Liverpool have moved to the top of the Premier League this season, so Ferguson has played his cards, and so he has got under Benitez’s skin, to the point the Liverpool boss cracked on Friday. The trouble is, everything Benitez said was true. His points were considered, they were thorough, and they were all correct. Benitez, in his mind, was merely airing an opinion and substantiating it in a very precise manner. Many pundits have agreed with his views, as have the fans. But that really isn’t the point any more. For everyone now, it is about how Ferguson has got to Benitez, forcing a response.

Such an attack has been read as Benitez failing to cope with the pressure of being top of the league. It has been read that Benitez has been affected by Ferguson’s various indirect snipings. I don’t agree though, to me it seems that, for someone who has won two league titles in Spain with Valencia, pressure isn’t an issue. I’m not sure Ferguson has won any mind games, yet. All Benitez was doing was highlighting the inconsistancies that occur when the FA deal with Ferguson as opposed to other managers. The outburst may have had the affect of increasing the pressure on his players, but such pressure exists anyway. Maybe it could have been saved for a later date, say, when Liverpool had won the title. The point though, had to be made, and hopefully the FA will sit up and take notice of Benitez’s comments, and take a good look at itself, as it is so badly run that it is painful to most football fans.

In the long term, I think Liverpool will lose the race for the title, and Manchester United will win it again. Whether this does, or does not happen will be irrespective of Benitez’s comments on Friday.

On another note, it is nice to be able to say I was right with regard to Manchester City and their fortunes this season. As they flounder around near the foot of the table, Mark Hughes has a real job on to save the richest club in the world from problems.