Was McCarthy taking the mick at Old Trafford?
Did Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Mick McCarthy damage the integrity of the Premier League or did he make a valid, pragmatic choice to help keep his side safe by playing a virtual reserve team that lost 3-0 at Manchester United on Tuesday?
Most Wolves fans felt cheated when they saw that the team he fielded at Old Trafford showed 10 outfield changes from the side that beat Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday with only goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann keeping his place.
They paid 42 pounds for a ticket as well as making the long trip from Wolverhampton to Manchester on a freezing night and most did not appreciate what they perceived to be a totally defeatist act by the manager.
The message the fans got was: “We’ve no real chance of beating United, so I’m keeping the first choice players for the important game with Burnley at the weekend — one we CAN win.”
McCarthy defended his action by saying: “They were all first-team squad players who played tonight, not reserves and I have to say there were some really good performances. That team did as well as we did against Arsenal and Chelsea.
“It was my decision and I took it and the responsibility lies with me. Burnley are having a good season and we have to be fully at it…I’m not prepared to get injuries before Sunday because then we have Liverpool, Manchester City and West Ham.
“I’ve got 20 players in my squad and I’ll need all of them between now and January.”
But what if he had done the same thing at Spurs on Saturday. Virtually no-one, not even the most diehard of Wolves fans, thought they would win that match, yet they did.
It was also not a foregone conclusion United would have beaten Wolves’ first team either.
The champions are experiencing one of their worst injury crises for years, have not been playing all that well and lost at home to Villa on Saturday. Wolves’ first XI may have been good enough to force a draw — or even win it if they were lucky.
McCarthy is right to put the needs of his club before those of any other and to do all he can to keep them in the Premier League — but his action unbalances the competition.
Will he play a weakened side every time he now prepares for a game he does not think Wolves can win — saving his best players for the games he thinks they can?
Premier League Rule E20 states that clubs are required to field full-strength sides in every match, and they are also supposed to field full-strength sides in FA Cup and League Cup games as well.
As every fan knows, the nature of both those competitions has changed over the last decade — and not entirely for the best. Managers field weaker teams in the cups to save their top players for Premier League (or Champions League) matches.
There is nothing wrong with the squad system per se, but I think it would do great harm to the Premier League if managers began to bring the same practice to the league competition on a regular basis.
We will no doubt soon find out what Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger think about Wolves virtually gifting three points to United in the race for the title.
Mr McCarthy has taken a bold, but curious step and only time will tell whether anyone is brave enough to follow his lead.
PHOTO:Wolverhampton Wanderers coach Mick McCarthy REUTERS/Nigel Roddis