On December 12th 2009, Wolves fought to win three points away at White Hart Lane. A couple of weeks earlier Spurs had beaten Wigan 9-1 at home so this was definitely a great result for Wolves. They had scored after three minutes but as the game progressed, had to pull out a massive performances to secure all the points.
Spurs had 7 shots on target to Wolves’ 2, 11 shots off target to their 2, 8 blocked shots to their 1, and 70% possession of the ball to their 30%.
Three days later, they had to travel to the home of the Champions, who should be up for the fight after losing to Villa at Old Trafford days earlier. Wolves also had to consider they had lost 1-0 in the League Cup to United’s second string, and that was with us going down to ten men after 30 minutes.
So Mick McCarthy rested his tired players who had beaten Spurs and picked ten different players for Old Trafford.
Premier League rule E20: In every league match each participating club should field a full-strength team.
Wolves have now been handed a suspended £25,000 fine for changing the team around.
1. Why were other teams not punished?
April 29th 2006 – Chelsea are crowned Premiership champions after thrashing United 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Cech, Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas, Makelele, Joe Cole, Essien, Lampard, Robben, Drogba.
May 2nd 2006 – Chelsea lose 1-0 to Blackburn.
Cudicini, Geremi, Carvalho, Gallas, Del Horno, Maniche, Diarra, Lampard, Wright-Phillips, Crespo, Gudjohnsen.
Carvalho, Gallas and Lampard are the only players to have started both games.
May 7th 2006 – Chelsea lose 1-0 to Newcastle.
Pidgeley, Ferreira, Huth, Carvalho, Gallas, Johnson, Diarra, Maniche, Robben, Joe Cole, Duff.
Chelsea lost five games all season, with two of them coming for the last two games of the season where they changed their team around, clearly indicating they did not play their “full strength” team for these games.
May 1st 2007 – Liverpool book their place in the Champions League final after beating Chelsea 1-0.
Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise, Pennant (Alonso 78), Gerrard, Mascherano (Fowler 118), Zenden, Kuyt, Crouch (Bellamy 106).
May 5th 2007 – Liverpool lose 1-0 to relegation candidates Fulham
Reina, Arbeloa, Paletta, Hyypia, Insua (Finnan 75), Pennant (El Zhar 65), Alonso, Sissoko, Gonzalez (Kewell 77), Fowler, Bellamy.
Reina and Pennant are the only two players who started both games, with Pennant being subbed off on both occasions.
Out of interest, Fulham escaped relegation by one point that season, thanks to the three points gifted by Liverpool’s second string. Sheffield United were relegated in their place and haven’t returned to the Premiership since.
May 16th 2009 – A scoreless draw at Old Trafford against Arsenal secures the title for Manchester United.
Van der Sar, O’Shea, Vidic, Jonny Evans, Evra, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney (Anderson 89), Tevez (Park 67).
May 24th 2009 – United beat Hull away in a game that could relegate them, despite playing a weakened team.
Kuszczak, Rafael Da Silva (Eckersley ,60 ), Neville, Brown, de Laet (Possebon 79), Nani, Fletcher, Gibson, Welbeck (Tosic 87), Martin, Macheda.
Darren Fletcher is the only player to appear in both games (and that was down to the fact he would miss the Champions League final three days later through suspension).
The worry ahead of this fixture was a weakened United team would lose to Hull and therefore save them from relegation, like Fulham two years earlier. As it was, our second string team was good enough to beat Hull but they escaped relegation by one point because of results elsewhere.
2. Who decides what a club’s “full strength team” is?
Football is a squad game these days and I’d love for someone to tell me what Manchester United’s “full strength team” is. We play different formations depending on our opponents and we use different players in midfield depending on who we are up against. Park is often used on the wing against a more attacking team, whilst Nani might be used when we’re looking at how to break a team down, for example. Some people might have had Wes Brown or Gary Neville starting against AC Milan, for the experience they possess, but it was teenager Rafael da Silva who was chosen to deal with Ronaldinho.
So where do the Premier League draw a line? How can they argue to know what your first team is, based on injuries, opponents, and how well the players have done in training? Quite simply, they can’t.
“I played Ronald Zubar, who cost £2million from Marseille and played in the Champions League,” said McCarthy after the game. “I played George Elokobi, who has had 200 league games, Matty Hill, who has had 350 league games, and Michael Mancienne, who we actually couldn’t buy from Chelsea because he is so good. An American international in Marcus Hahnemann, Greg Halford was £2million from Sunderland, an Ecuadorian international who plays every time in Segundo Castillo, Kevin Foley, who is our Player of the Year, George Friend, who has been on loan at Scunthorpe, an Austrian international up front in Stefan Maierhofer and we had Andrew Surman, who was about £1.5million from Southampton. So I played a first team. I had lads who couldn’t play, so there is my explanation. Put it all down in writing. I maximised my resources at Wolves Football Club. I am sad we lost at Old Trafford but we won on Sunday and have got nine out of 12 points.”
As far as I’m concerned, every Premier League manager should be entitled to pick a team that best suits his club. Last season, the fans of teams in the relegation battle were furious about the prospect of United fielding their Reserves against Hull, which is totally understandable. But we had a European Cup final to play in three days later so why on earth should we risk injuries and tiredness ahead of our biggest game of the season for the sake of Newcastle and Middlesbrough? It should be the manager’s job to put his club in the best position possible, not spoil their chances of success for the sake of being “fair” to other clubs.
The results shouldn’t really matter. We can say United would have probably beaten Wolves regardless, given that the ten men of our Reserve team beat them a couple of months earlier in the League Cup, but really, that is irrelevant as far as these rules go. The belief is that Wolves have done us a favour and therefore caused damage to Chelsea’s title challenge so should be responsible for it.
If the tables had been turned and Chelsea were the team facing a different Wolves side, I’d probably be a bit miffed (whilst again recognising that Chelsea would probably beat them at home anyway) but it doesn’t change the core issue here, that clubs should be entitled to play whichever team they see fit to benefit themselves. The fact that the Premier League have chosen to pick on Wolves for this, when plenty of other teams have done the same, adds to the ridiculousness of it all.
See what the Wolves fans think of this decision.
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. Everyone who buys a copy enters a competition to win the new home shirt. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.