After replacing all 10 outfield players in their 3—0 defeat to Manchester United two months ago, Wolverhampton Wanderers were handed a suspended £25,000 fine.
Although the fine was modest at best, the Premier League Board’s decision to penalise Wolves sets a dangerous precedent.
The team sheets of football clubs all over the World are adjusted day in, day out, sometimes dramatically to suit the manager’s considerations, including the type of fixture and fitness levels of the players.
Back in 2007, Rafa Benitez rested the majority of his first team players on the penultimate weekend of the season, in a match against Fulham. Liverpool was evidently more concerned with the Champions League final, although that was a fortnight away.
Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock lashed out at Benitez, with some reports suggesting that Rafa was to blame in some way for Sheffield’s subsequent relegation.
Of course, Mick McCarthy’s Wolves were not preparing for a huge cup final, rather a date with fellow relegation rivals Burnley . Logic seemed to dictate that Wolves had a better chance of overcoming the might of Burnley as opposed to the Premier League champions Manchester United.
McCarthy’s selection was criticised even by his own team’s fans, though once Wolves beat Burnley, all was forgiven.
It does not take a mathematician to prove that the suspended £25,000 fine is pittance for any Premier League club.
However, by slapping Wolves with a suspended fine, the Premier League have ensured that they will be under heavy scrutiny should any team commit this offence again in the future.
And there is no doubt this offence will repeat itself. Over and over.
Just three weeks ago, Arsenal crashed out of the FA Cup following a defeat to Stoke , in which the Gunners rested a host of regular starters in their team.
At the back end of last season, Manchester United put on a near-reserve team at Hull City , despite knowing that a win for Hull would send Newcastle United down. On that occasion, the furore that could have erupted remained dormant only because Newcastle failed to win their match on that day.
In 2008, Everton 's second stringers were sent packing from the FA Cup by lowly Oldham Athletic .
Last year, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa both exited the UEFA Cup after putting out weakened sides, preferring to concentrate on other interests.
Note that all of the examples mentioned occurred within a span of three years. Some took place outside Premier League jurisdiction, but they involved EPL clubs nonetheless.
As these incidents repeat themselves, the Premier League Board will have to increase the level of the fine, and if teams continue to ignore the ruling, what happens then?
Shall points be deducted? Will teams be disqualified from competitions?
The argument can also be made that the EPL authorities are only acting in the interest of the viewing public, in order to ensure that we, the fans receive football of the highest quality.
With clubs fielding their best teams weak in, weak out, theoretically the level of competition and football will remain at its peak.
Once again though, what will the Premier League do when teams say they have a host of players on the injured list?
Will all injured players be asked to take a fitness test before every kickoff? Will the football authorities conduct “injury” tests, the same way as doping tests are conducted?
This is all purely speculation of course, but by issuing such a ruling, the Premier League have left themselves open to wide plethora of scenarios, none of which seem good.
As a certain Nigel Hawthorne once said, “I foresee all sorts of unforeseen things.”