Blackpool manager Ian Holloway has come out criticising the Premier League and the men running it in the build up to Saturday’s crucial match against Manchester United at Old Trafford. In what could prove to be one of the toughest days in his managerial career, Holloway is furious that United could be fined for fielding a weakened team and feels this undermines his battling Blackpool side. But does Holloway speak for most football supporters when he claims the men running the Premier League are ‘not in the right World’?
Holloway has already felt the wrath of the Premier League for fielding a weakened side having been fined £25,000 in November of last year after the club’s defeat by Aston Villa. With the Champions League final scheduled for next weekend and with the title already won, there has been speculation that Sir Alex Ferguson might put out a weakened side in order to protect his key players. But, Blackpool are involved in a bitterly close relegation battle and their rivals will hope United field a strong side. A similar scenario led to Sheffield United’s relegation in 2007 after West Ham won at Old Trafford.
But surely it is up to managers to pick the team and field whichever side he feels appropriate? In the current age of fifty-plus games a season more and more clubs have adopted systems of squad rotation to deal with the increasingly busy fixture schedules. Yes, the men running football do have a rules and conventions to stick to, but surely they must understand the challenges faced by managers. If, for example, Ferguson was to lose certain key players to injury during a seemingly meaningless game against Blackpool he could jeopardise the club’s chances of Champions League success and face criticism for both the club’s owners and fans.
The sad reality is that the men running the Premier League and in control of much of the money in football these days are increasingly detached from the reality of the game. The governing bodies seem to be increasingly compelled to run it as a business rather than a sport. For example, take Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore’s insistence that the calendar requires a 39th game. The majority of managers were opposed to the idea and it would cause havoc with an already overcrowded fixture schedule. Yet, due to the undoubted value it would bring to the marketing potential of the game, he continues to campaign for it.
Yes, modern-day football businessmen have done wonders to bring huge wealth into the game. But, they must remember that football is, first and foremost, a sport which, in the case of the Premiership, is contested on the pitch over the course of 38 90-minute matches. Most of the players, managers and coaches are people who have devoted their lives to nothing but football. And, to them, perhaps many of these football businessmen are aliens.