Portsmouth manager Avram Grant recently told the press he may decide not to risk some first teamers in upcoming Premier League games as the south coast club prepare for a much-needed FA cup semi-final against Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday 11th April. Grant claims the recent 9 point deduction on the club is the cause of this decision as the cash-strapped side face a near certain relegation after becoming the first Premier League to fall into administration.
He has received criticism from the Premier League for this and, despite hours of thought on the issue, I still cannot see why. The Premier League claim the integrity of the league is at stake, but still manages to propose the idea that finishing 7th may warrant a Champions’ League opportunity.
It is not for the Premier League to decide who the best 11 players at Portsmouth are, nor is it the decision of anyone else except Avram Grant, no matter how obvious a selection decision may seem to us. By undermining Grant’s decisions the Premier League are suggesting they know more about Portsmouth’s players than the former Chelsea manager, which we can all see is not true. It should entirely be Avram Grant’s choice who represents Portsmouth football club on the pitch as he is the club’s manager, and the act of punishing Portsmouth for team selections suggest there is no need for the manager. Perhaps the Premier League will decide which players are selected for all Premier League games, and in doing so upholding the integrity of the Premier League and saving all clubs of potential punishments regarding selections.
Whether we like it or not, and clearly Albert Riera doesn’t, football, especially at the top level, is a squad game and if a player is good enough to be in a first team squad, then surely he is good enough to start for that team, something I’m sure Mick McCarthy will agree with. McCarthy’s Wolves were earlier punished this season for the chosen team at Old Trafford in December. However, this game fell in the middle of two wins (Tottenham and Burnley) for the current Championship champions so perhaps it was a case of McCarthy effectively rotating his players in order to maintain a place in this league. The Premier League clearly didn’t think so; perhaps Wolves’ punishment will be revoked if they stay up, but perhaps not.
Manchester United also fielded an eleven against Hull City in the final game of last season which provoked discussion. Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s chief executive, revealed his thoughts on Ferguson’s apparent weakened selection and argued that United should have been able to field any side they wanted. Scudamore said “they’ve got a squad, and therefore you can’t argue that they deploy the benefit of that squad in a game on Sunday [as Manchester United were due to play Barcelona the following Wednesday].” It was nice to see Scudamore say the right thing, however it would be even nicer if he demonstrated a bit of consistency regarding the nineteen other Premier League sides. Perhaps this point demonstrates the influence Sir Alex Ferguson has in the Premier League, but that debate’s for another time.
Managers of football clubs pick their teams, it’s up to them to decide what’s best for their respective football clubs, and whether we agree with it or not, it’s not our place to decide. It’s an entirely opinionated issue which is impossible to quantify. Perhaps Joe Cole could ask the Premier League to punish Chelsea as he may consider certain players playing above him poorer footballers, implying Chelsea are not treating the Premier League with the integrity it deserves as they are not fielding their strongest eleven.
When does it end? If Wolves had replaced 5 instead 10 players for their game at Old Trafford this season, the suspended fine may not have happened, or perhaps the Premier League would have even halved it. Again, this reinforces the point that it is not for the Premier League to decide a team’s best 11. They should just let the 20 managers get on with their jobs and they can focus more effort into doing theirs.