Here’s Ian Holloway’s defence of his decision to make 10 changes to his side for Blackpool’s game at Aston Villa.
Unwittingly, I think, the Blackpool manager has raised a couple of interesting points.
First, he is, despite what The Guardian’s Paul Wilson might think, quite right to insist on the difference between his fielding of a reserve side against Aston Villa on Wednesday and Mick McCarthy’s against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season. Holloway’s claim that the league’s new requirement that managers name a 25-man squad means that he is entitled to pick from that list as he chooses is pretty straightforward, it seems reasonable too. That the Premier League are ‘looking into’ his selection for the game suggests they think otherwise. I would have thought that one of the League’s reasons for establishing this rule might have been to prevent teams from fielding full on reserves; apparently not, since if that were the case there would be nothing to look into.
This is a bit of a problem, if this wasn’t a consideration then what was? There are other elements of the rule that legislate over a squad’s Englishness and age and the like, which is good, but why have they limited the squad size?
Manchester City’s massive wealth suggests itself as a possible reason, perhaps the Premier League were genuinely worried that they had to prevent City from buying everyone (this sounds far-fetched but it’s pretty much what Rangers and Celtic have done in Scotland for years). If this is the case then the rule must be motivated by a desire to prevent prime talent from slipping into obscurity in the ranks of big clubs. By limiting the squad size, the league ensures that as much of its talent is given the opportunity to shine as possible, that the league’s 26th best player (Dirk Kuyt maybe?) plays every week. That’s fine, except that by ‘looking into’ Holloway’s team selection the League are suggesting that, at the same time, they don’t really want to see Blackpool’s 22nd best player (Brett Ormerod?). This all seems horribly big-club, big-player centric (especially since no one complained about United starting with Owen and Macheda up front at Sunderland earlier this season), which is pretty cynical and unpleasant.
Secondly, the Premier League justified the suspended fine meted out to Wolves last season on the grounds that they had short-changed supporters. This sounds reasonable, noble even. Perhaps.
The problem here is twofold. On the one hand, it would be difficult to claim that a fan who has paid 40quid for a ticket, the same again for a replica shirt (which, in the Blackpool fan’s case is emblazoned with the logo for a company offering short term loans at 3000%+ levels of interest) a fiver for a program and two pounds for a Mars bar is ever going to get good value for his or her money. On the other, this claim rests on a weird sort of assumption that the game would have been better if Blackpool had played a different team. This is patently absurd when the game in question ended 3-2 and Blackpool only lost to a last-minute winner. If they fine Blackpool, the Premier League will effectively be saying that whatever the fans thought of the game (presumably they enjoyed it), it simply wasn’t good value: not what the Premier League’s about.
That they can’t just decide if they’re going to fine Blackpool or not is absurd. Maybe the delay is to allow them to run endless simulations (Formula 1 style) of Aston Villa v Blackpool in an attempt to calculate exactly how badly the attending fans were short-changed. ‘Muppets’ indeed.