Date: 18th February 2010 at 11:27pm
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Wolves have been fined 25,000 for fielding a ‘weakened’ team at Old Trafford. Mick McCarthy made ten changes for the game after they beat Spurs at White Hart Lane on December 12. Wolves promptly lost 3-0 and there was outrage. Arsene Wenger who fielded a team with the average age of 21 in a Champions League game that was crucial for their opponents and for another side in the group claimed that Wolves disrespected the competition and that United have to compete over one less games than the rest.

Never mind the fact that the Wolves XI actually put up a really good fight; never mind the fact that they actually named full internationals and proven league performers: this was a weakened team and they had to be punished! The Premier League obliged, ignoring Wolves’ attempts to refer to earlier cases, such as Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat at Fulham in 2007 or our second string beating Hull three days before the 2009 Champions League final.

Basically, by punishing Wolves the Premier League declared that it’s their right to decide what a club’s strongest XI is. Mick McCarthy felt that his tired players who had been battered at White Hart Lane, needed a rest and he gave it to them – but that, apparently, was a breach of the rule E20 which states that each participant of the competition shall field a full-strength team. Ten outfield players plus a goalkeeper, all of them members of the first-team squad, tied to the club by a professional contract – for me, that is the definition of a full-strength team.

The League, however, clearly disagrees: they think that the XI that won at Spurs was definitely stronger than the one which lost at Old Trafford. But what right did they have to decide it? United won 3-2 in Milan on Tuesday; if on Saturday Fergie opts to field Obertan instead of Park and Anderson instead of Scholes, will that be a punishable offence?

It is a dangerous precedent. And there’s another angle here: all the players put out at Old Trafford by Wolves were professionals, members of the club’s first team squad. This decision is an insult to them: they are treated as a bunch of 16-year-olds, bound to lose against opposition with much more experience and strength. Yet these were no 16-year-olds who were thrown in at the deep end after a couple of Reserve games. They should speak up against this.

I wonder if something similar will happen next season when all clubs will be asked to register a squad of 25. Those registered should be treated equally when it comes to applying the rule E20 – that is to say, if the starting XI is made up of any combination of those 25 players then the decision-makers should be satisfied. Otherwise they have to ask every club to name not a 25-man squad but a starting eleven and 14 squad players. Oh, and they need to apply a doctor at every club whose job would be to verify reports of injuries as those might be used the bend the rules.

Complicated, isn’t it? Yes. But right now it seems that a manager isn’t allowed to use his first-team squad as he wishes which just about negates the point of employing a manager. Members of the Premier League disciplinary committee should do the job from now on. Come to think of it, Liverpool might be better off that way!