Reports emerging from West Ham United today suggest that the club is likely to complain to the Premier League apropos Roy Hodgson’s team selection for Fulham’s league clash with Hull City last Saturday. Hodgson made six changes to the side that was knocked out of the FA Cup by Tottenham, with Zamora, Murphy, Hughes, Duff and Etuhu left out.
The Premier League set a precedent earlier this season, giving Wolverhampton Wanderers a £25,000 suspended fine regarding Mick McCarthy’s team selection. On 15 December 2009, Wolves made ten changes to their team in a match against Manchester United at Old Trafford, despite claiming a 1-0 victory over Tottenham at White Hart Lane three days earlier. Wolves lost the game at Old Trafford 3-0, with McCarthy prioritising Wolves’ next game the following Saturday against Burnley. The FA found Wolves guilty of failing to name a full strength side (rule E20), and failing to fulfil their obligations to the Premier League and other teams (B13).
After Fulham changed over half their team against Hull, they arguably failed to field their strongest team (contravening rule E20) and failed to fulfil their obligations to West Ham by giving their relegation rivals Hull City a direct advantage (contravening rule B13).
It is unlikely that Fulham will face the wrath of the Premier League however, as the League will deem Hodgson’s team selection at the KC Stadium of sufficient quality. However, what will surely rile those associated with Wolves, is that who at the Premier League is qualified to decide what constitutes a team of sufficient strength?
Nobody should blame Roy Hodgson for prioritising the Europa League and neglecting a league game that technically meant little to Fulham. The club has little to play for in the league, and in any case, had Hull City defenders not cleared the ball off the line a couple of times, the result might have been different. However, if the Premier League found that Wolves were guilty, how can they find Fulham innocent? The premise is that Fulham have a stronger squad and fielded stronger players, and yet many of the Wolves team that faced Manchester United in December are now in the starting eleven, and have been involved in excellent Wolves performances in matches with Aston Villa and West Ham.
Perhaps it is a tad pathetic that rather than concentrate on avoiding relegation, West Ham officials are worrying about seeing Fulham fined for their team selection. The point remains however, that in deeming itself qualified to assess the relative strength of a football team, the Premier League have dug themselves into a hole. They will now be expected to investigate every controversial team selection, and will arguably take away a manager’s right to discretion regarding his starting line-up. However, if they do not consider Fulham’s team selection, it will make a mockery of Wolves’ £25,000 suspended fine.
Obviously a Wolves second string and a Chelsea or Manchester United second string are two different animals. However, what of mid-table sides such as Fulham, Birmingham City or Stoke City? The lines become blurred, and the Premier League must sit down and rule on the relative strength of a team, for which, it must be inferred, they are woefully unqualified to do. In short, the Premier League were guilty of enforcing a pointless, arbitrary and subjective fine on Wolves, and will now have to face the consequences, starting with the complaint forwarded by West Ham…
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