When Portsmouth were deducted the nine points for going in to administration then relegation to the Championship was all but confirmed. Now, the manager Avram Grant has hinted that he could be tempted to play weakened teams for the rest of the season, and knowing that they have nothing to play for apart from an FA Cup semi-final, he is of the opinion that what matters is his club and not maintaining the integrity of the Premier League. He said: “We don’t have a duty to the other Premier League teams. The Premier League has a duty to the other teams. We have a duty to Portsmouth, and I have a duty to football.”
Not only does Grant want to keep his best players fit for the semi-final at Wembley but apparently the idea of resting certain players is down to the fact that some of them will be going to represent their countries at this summer’s World Cup. With their being so much player power in football is it right that the likes of David James and Nadir Belhadj can choose not to play if they are indeed thinking that? Surely the club comes first and international duty or not, the whole Portsmouth squad owes it to the fans, most importantly, that they turn up for the remaining games of the season and play to the maximum of their capability and give 100%. The south coast club has arguably one of the league’s most loyal set of supporters. Fratton Park may not be the most picturesque ground in the league but the fans that turn up there can always guarantee an electric atmosphere, and the stadium seems to be full to capacity even at times like this.
Should Grant’s protest, that he will field under-strength teams, at the docking of points actually happen then the Premier League will be forced to take action- otherwise there are likely to be noises coming out from the Wolves camp. The Midlands club were fined by the Premier League for fielding a weak team against Manchester United, and even though the circumstances were different, it should be one rule for all. Grant’s comments about how his club are his priority are well within his rights and during his time in England he has shown that he gives the game of football respect and has shown interest in doing the best for Portsmouth- just witness Saturday’s result against Hull. It is easy to sympathise with Grant’s and Portsmouth’s situation because in no way would a manager want to ruin his reputation and risk getting the Premier League involved for a matter over how weak a team he chooses to field. It seems like his threat was made more in the direction of the club’s board- they are the ones that need punishing, not the manager or the players. Therefore Grant, being a true professional, will not take it out on other clubs in the relegation zone just because the south coast club are virtually relegated.
As if Portsmouth were not already in enough trouble, there are two factors that have come out of this. One is that the club has been given permission by the league to sell players between now and the end of the season to ease their financial crisis, so that raises the question: just how can you define what a weak team is in these specific circumstances? If they manage to sell players then the squad will be thin and Grant may have to choose players that were no way near first team duty several months ago. Secondly, if they managed to keep on to the bulk of their squad, but played a weaker team anyway then it will bring up the Sheffield United-West Ham farce from a few seasons back where Neil Warnock took his anger out on Sir Alex Ferguson because the Manchester United boss fielded a weaker team which eventually saw West Ham win at Old Trafford and stay in the Premiership.
It seems that with the clean reputation Portsmouth have had during their years in the Premiership, along with some outstanding results and an FA Cup success in 2008, they have become a club that has not upset others in the past and Avram Grant is clever enough to know that fielding weak teams is a delicate issue. As much as it is within his rights to think about Portsmouth first and foremost, he could well take to the situation as to bow out of the league with pride. In the remaining eight fixtures that they have, plus a minimum of one game in the FA Cup, Pompey will want to enter the Championship on the back of some performances and results to remember- and with a team that will have done them proud.
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