Did Benítez Have To Answer To The PL In 2007?
Oh, righteous anger emanating from the press and from Joe Public is threatening to destroy Wolves manager Mick McCarthy after he had the nerve to shuffle his squad for the visit to Old Trafford, his priority having been to avoid further injuries to key players ahead of a relegation six-pointer against Burnley.
He made ten changes to the team that beat Spurs and now some people suggest that points should be deducted from Wolves and the Premier League officially asked for an explanation from him. Everyone cites the rule that categorically expresses that all participating clubs must field their strongest possible XI in any Premier League game.
I'm sorry but that's rubbish, and for a whole load of reasons. First, how do you enforce such a rule? Second, if every team has a clear, certain strongest XI, managers are unnecessary. But please tell me United's best central midfield. Please enlighten me that who is United's best right-back. Tell me, are we better off with a 4-3-3 formation or should we play with two strikers up front? Did Fergie violate the rule by not starting Fletcher ahead of Gibson yesterday?
First team squads are there for a reason. All 20-25 players are paid to compete when called upon, all of them are senior professionals. If any manager fields his reserves or the Academy side, he can be punished. But he should be allowed to field whomever he sees fit out of his first team squad, really.
Back in 2007, Liverpool beat Chelsea 1-0 at Anfield and advanced to the Champions League final. Rafa Benítez therefore decided to give a rest to his key players for the subsequent league game at Fulham which was meaningless for the dippers but vital for relegation-threatened Fulham. The Cottagers won 1-0 against a Liverpool team that contained only two of the players who started against Chelsea.
Fair enough, there was an outcry back then as well. But at least the Premier League did not ask for an official explanation - or is my memory playing tricks with me here? I certainly could not find any evidence of it. And there was no reason for it, either: Benítez did nothing wrong back then and neither did McCarthy yesterday. They both selected senior professional players for a competitive game.
Or to look around our own backyard: last year there were whispers that we will rob Newcastle of any chance to stay up by fielding the second string on the last day at Hull City. The sweet irony was that the fringe players deservedly beat an anaemic Hull side but what if they hadn't done so? I believe that Fergie still could not have been blamed even if we had lost. It might sound cruel and heartless but for us the Champions League final was a little more important than Newcastle's survival...
The Mirror's Martin Lipton wrote that McCarthy essentially gave United a 37-game domestic season as he handed the points on a plate. Correct me if I'm wrong but his team did compete, they even had a great chance to go ahead and they were focused on the job throughout. As for the argument that the players lacked the necessary quality: well, Exeter got a draw at Old Trafford in 2005. Did they have superior players compared to Wolves' second string?
The bottom line is: managers should be allowed to pick whomever they want of their first team squad. I promise that I will have no complaints if McCarthy fields the same XI as yesterday when they host Chelsea in the second half of the season.