Once upon a time, in the old days, football managers tried their best to win every competition they entered. It seems far-fetched now, but such was their desperation to land silverware, they even picked their strongest XI’s for midweek cup games. Bizarre, eh?
In the continued absence of a sarcastic font (Still! Surely it has to be on the next iOS upgrade) I’m compelled to explain I don’t actually think that’s peculiar at all.
To me the concept of sacrificing victory for the sake of giving squad players game-time is a far more perplexing issue.
Brought up and brainwashed into believing it-doesn’t-matter-its-only-the-League-Cup, many supporters of a younger persuasion understandably struggle with the notion of resisting the necessity to rotate in this competition.
You’ve got to rest players they’ll say. You’ve got to give others the chance to show what they can do. But do you? Even if it means losing?
We can’t risk so-and-so in case they get injured for Saturday. We have to wrap them in cotton wool. Really? When it’s Champions League, that theory rarely gets put forward.
Look, I’m not a complete dinosaur. I understand that rotation is needed on occasion to keep star names fresh. But looking at this week's line-ups for the Capital One Cup, wholesale changes at first team level baffled me completely.
For starters, a serious lack of match fitness is always conveniently ignored. It can take a professional at least four or five games to click into gear and feel in the right physical condition to perform, and anyone that’s played the game knows that. Yet, managers thrust their squad men into action and expect them to perform miracles in what’s often their first proper 90 minutes in weeks, maybe months. That’s a leveler.
Then there’s the unfamiliarity. How can you be at your best, when the guy next to you doesn’t know how and where you like to receive the ball, what runs you thrive on, what makes you tick?
And you mustn’t forget the damage to team spirit and harmony either. When a starting XI gets savaged for the sake of rotation, the mood in a dressing room beforehand can have the eerie feel of a trial game.
For some it’s possibly last chance saloon. They know that nothing less than a standout display with leave them stuck on the shelf indefinitely, and that brings nerves.
For the kids it might be their one crack at the big time. Shine, and they’re in the mix. Fail, and years of steady progress through the ranks could see them slide out of contention a millions times faster.
Mix in those under-pressure guys in with a clutch of first teamers who can’t quite work out how to take being included, especially when some of their (possibly more important) pals have been told to have the night off, and you’ve got a team full of individuals rather pre-occupied with their own agendas.
When this uneasy atmosphere fills the air it’s just not conducive to helping you perform as a team. Facing a side that plays together cohesively each week, shouldered by none of those concerns, you’re right up against it.
It’s too easy for fans, experts, and even the managers to look back on a sorry defeat and point the finger of blame at those who ‘failed to take their chance’.
There was enough ‘quality’ out there on the pitch they’ll say - but quality doesn’t always come into it when you’re unfit, rusty, and lobbed into a one-off XI that’s never ever played with one another before.
I know it’s a man’s game and that as professionals you’re always expected to perform, but some scenarios are far easier to perform in than others.
Resting eight, nine, ten or 11 regulars gives opponents a head start, no matter how talented the replacements are. For example, of the 55 players they selected to start last weekend’s league games, Arsene Wenger, Neil Warnock, Roberto Martinez, Gus Poyet and Neil Adams only chose nine to feature from the word go on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
To me, based on that, it’s not surprising those five clubs need not worry about the Capital One Cup again this term.
We have to respect each manager’s priorities, of course we do. But what was wrong with players proving themselves with standout displays in the reserves or on the training ground and earning their shot to join the first team?
Severely weakening your side in a major competition makes little sense to me. It gifts the other team an unnecessary advantage.
Call me old fashioned but I preferred it in the old days. Picking the best XI each week was fairer on the players, and the paying customers too.
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