You can’t please everyone, and that’s something that has to be kept in mind when looking the fixture list – managers will always complain for one thing or another, and just last week I wrote an article asking if the fixture list was in fact as random as the FA would have us believe. That aside, the latest problem regarding the scheduling of games is over the time between matches – specifically Liverpool’s league game and subsequent Carling Cup tie against Chelsea, which has been moved to a mere 48 hours later.
Cue a fit from manager Kenny Dalglish, who called it a ‘disgrace’ and then called for the fans to effectively boycott the tie in protest under the ruse of saving them money due to him having to field a youth side against Chelsea. Whilst some may disagree with the way Kenny has dealt with this, it cannot be ignored that there have been more than a couple of managers in recent seasons who have questioned if the timing of fixtures help or hinder English sides, especially when it comes to European competitions.
It is something that Jose Mourinho noted more than once during his spell at Chelsea, finding it incredulous that the FA, who should want representatives of their league to have the best possible chance in European competitions, steadfastly refused to move fixtures to give an extra day of rest before a tie in the Champions League, something that other league associations across Europe are more than happy to do.
Tony Pulis has reignited this debate claiming that English clubs suffer in Europe because of the fixture system, with Stoke facing eight away trips after Europa League fixtures, and has suggested that the ‘powers that be’ consider such scheduling issues in the future – not exactly an unreasonable request – it is perhaps the teams playing in the Europa League who suffer more than the rest.
It is usually at this point in the scheduling debate that someone wheels out the idea of a Christmas break, with the fact that all other major European Leagues have at least 14 days off during a period in which English players face five fixtures in 18 days. Does this then put players at risk of both injury and fatigue? If you argue that yes, that is the case, then in order to protect the players and get the best from them, not to mention allowing them the best possible chance to challenge for trophies in Europe at the business end of the season, a winter break would be required?
Of course there will be those of you reading this shaking your heads, thinking that modern day players are soft and should be more than capable of playing twice a week – at least – especially given the money they receive, yet surely the focus should be on protecting the player for as long as possible and avoiding both over exposure and burn out, especially with players breaking through at such a young age now?
By making clubs to play multiple competitions in such quick succession, it does force managers to prioritise competitions and field weakened sides in certain games, and no one can blame clubs for then not putting as much effort into the Carling Cup as the Champions League. Let’s be realistic- which would you rather win?
Whilst he may come under criticism for telling fans not to waste their money on the Carling Cup tie, King Kenny does have a point – the prices of tickets these days are extraordinary, and for a fan to pay not only for the ticket but to travel to and from the game, you are looking at an amount of money that would keep Balotelli in fireworks for a year. Normal fans cannot justify spending this to watch a half-hearted youth team turn out because the first team are being rested due to the fixture pile up. The FA need to recognise this, and have no right bemoaning the attendance at games or the team fielded if they are not willing to give a little when it comes to both scheduling fixtures in the first place or rescheduling them due to unforeseen circumstances.
Yes the more successful a club the more fixtures they will have to play, and generally clubs like Chelsea and United have big enough and good enough squads to deal with this, and you will not hear either players nor fans complaining if in May they have to attend an FA cup final and the Champions League final in the space of a week, but for clubs to challenge at their peak right up until the end of the season, a little flexibility and help from the FA would not go amiss.
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