Mick McCarthy has been centre of attention all week have choosing to change ten players to face Manchester United, after their 1-0 victory of Tottenham Hotspur days earlier.
Arsene Wenger claimed McCarthy had the intentional credibility of the league at stake whilst Gary Megson has looked to the rules of the Premier League.
“I have got more integrity and honesty in that little finger than most of those who are accusing me. Whoever it is, I am not bothered,” McCarthy blasted in response. “I go through the season and I complain not one jot about anybody. I try my best not to complain, I try my best not to get involved in anyone else’s politics or football club or anything like that and I am not going to get involved. It is laughable. I have had lots of messages of support, not because anyone thinks I need it because of the decisions that I made, but because of some of the ridiculous, scathing, outrageous comments that have been made about me and what I did. I had a lovely letter from Tiger Woods thanking me for taking the pressure off him. I believe he is now driving round Florida in an open top car singing ‘super Mick McCarthy’. My latest email is from Thierry Henry who seems to think I have taken the heat off him as well. The one person who has the right to bleat at me is Owen Coyle. He has seen it was the right thing to do and said it. No-one else has any bearing at all. He is a proper bloke. He has come up through the school of hard knocks. I don’t give a monkey’s about anyone else.”
Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger
It’s sad but what can I do? It’s not up to me. We will compete with Manchester United over 37 games instead of 38 this season. This is a problem for the international credibility of the Premier League.
So what did Wenger do for the “credibility” of the Champions League when selecting a load of teenagers to play in their final group stage match? Surely Wenger wouldn’t be so hypocritical to talk about credibility when he had pulled exactly the same trick as McCarthy? Course he would! Arsenal fielded a team with the average age of just 21-years-old and unsurprisingly lost to Greek champions, Olympiacos. Had Arsenal beaten Olympicacos, as they had done easily when playing Fabregas, Gallas, Vermaelen, Arshavin, Eboue etc., Standard Liège would have been the team to qualify if they won their final match of the group stage. Did Wenger think about making things fair for Standard Liège when selecting a team that would best suit his challenge for the Premier League at the weekend? Course not. So why on earth he thinks he’s in a position to criticise managers for team selection is beyond me, given he did exactly the same thing six days prior to United’s match against Wolves.
Owen Coyle, Burnley manager
I think people should look at the big picture and realise what a big part he has played in restoring Wolves to the Premier League. Those players he named (against United) were bona fide first team players. A lot was made of it but Wolves are working like ourselves to try and maintain their Premier League status.
Jez Moxey, Wolves chief executive
The fans do not have the benefit of training with the team day-in, day-out and Mick McCarthy’s job is to pick the team that he feels is best to win games and keep us in the Premier League. He did that with the best interests of the club at heart.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager
We looked at their performance against Tottenham and the amount of running they had to do. I said five or six of those players could not play. In addition to the actual match, they had been down to London, then they had to travel to Manchester and they also play Burnley at the weekend. We didn’t think they would play their full side. We worked through the ones who did all the running and worked out who we thought it would be. We didn’t expect 10 but we weren’t far wrong. The Wolves side that played on Tuesday did exactly what a lot of sides have been doing to us recently. They never gave us a minute on the ball. They worked their socks off. To my mind, there was no discernible difference in the Wolves team that could have played to the one that did.
Gary Megson, Bolton manager
In terms of the Premier League, there are rules there which state you must play your strongest team. That is down to the Premier League to deal with that as they see fit. It is a rule, not a guidance. From a football point of view I know if I’d been a player I’d want to play at Old Trafford. I understand why Mick’s done it but it will also galvanise Burnley as well because they are looked at as the team that is beatable so they (Wolves) can put that team out.
It makes you wonder if Rafael Benitez was asked to explain his team selection in the lead up to their Champions League final in 2007, which they went on to lose against AC Milan. Immediately after the winning semi-final against Chelsea, he dropped nine players for their next league game against Fulham. Now, you would imagine the team put out in the European Cup semi-final would be Benitez’s strongest team, so for only two players to feature in their next game suggests he didn’t select his strongest team in the Premier League?
Liverpool 1 – 0 Chelsea
Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise, Pennant, Gerrard, Mascherano, Zenden, Kuyt, Crouch.
Fulham 1 – 0 Liverpool
Reina, Arbeloa, Paletta, Hyypia, Insua, Pennant, Alonso, Sissoko, Gonzalez, Fowler, Bellamy.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Charlton
Padelli, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa, Gerrard, Mascherano, Zenden, Riise, Kuyt, Fowler.
Fulham stayed up with 39 points, Charlton went down on 34, Sheffield Wednesday went down with 38. Had Fulham drawn with or lost to Liverpool, they would have been relegated and Wednesday would have stayed up.
Last season, United faced Hull away on the final day of the season, after we had already been crowned champions and they were deep in the relegation battle. We were also playing in the European Cup final just three days later, leaving Ferguson with no incentive to play people likely to start in Rome. Darren Fletcher, Nani, Brown, Neville and Rafael were amongst the first team players to start, but were joined by the likes of Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and Lee Martin.
Unlike Liverpool, our team selection had no negative impact on the league, with us still going on to win 1-0 and Hull managing to stay up because of other results.
Regardless, do I think Benitez or Ferguson were wrong to start weakened teams? No. Sorry, but it is not Liverpool’s job to keep Sheffield Wednesday up, just as it wasn’t our job to keep Newcastle up. There are 38 games over the course of the season and if you don’t want to go down, make sure you do something about that before the 38th. I wouldn’t agree with us playing a weakened team just for the sake of it, but why on earth should United risk injuries three days before a European Cup final for the sake of the security of Newcastle? The same applies to Liverpool. The manager’s priority has to be the well-being of their own club, not the impacts their decisions make on other clubs.
In resting so many players against Manchester United, the Wolves manager believed he was doing what was best for his club, not anybody else’s. He anticipated a defeat at Old Trafford so rested some of his best players for what he regarded to be a more winnable match five days later at home to Burnley. Would Wenger disadvantage his own club for the sake of Wolves? Course he wouldn’t, he would be mad to! So why should Mick McCarthy care less about what impact his team selection has on the title race? He’s got his own problems to worry about, a relegation battle, and that has to be his priority.
That doesn’t mean there were no unfair casualties in McCarthy’s decision. The fans who travelled 75 miles to be in Manchester for an 8pm kick off on a Tuesday night have every right to feel aggrieved. As the chants of “we want our money back!” were belted out, clearly irked at the fact they had spend £42 to watch their weakened side get beaten by United, you had to sympathise with them. Remember, these were the same fans that travelled even further to London a few days before and saw their strongest side beat top four challengers, Spurs, away from home. If they could beat Spurs, then why not United? Of course, I’m not saying I think Wolves’ strongest side would have won, but you never know what can happen in football, and what number of points Wolves may have denied us of.
Then there are the players who were forced to sit out, denied the opportunity to play in front of 74,000 fans, in what we might mockingly dub their “cup final”. I imagine Sylvan Ebanks-Blake would have loved a run out against his former club, whilst Kevin Doyle would relish the opportunity to score against United as he did against Spurs.
However, those two issues are something for the club to sort out amongst themselves, and have very little to do with any other manager or team.