Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Odd Squad

It’s not surprising that football managers haven’t been very receptive to the Premier League’s new squad rules, and have been moaning about them even though they’re exactly the same as the ones the Champions League brought in a while back. Football managers are liable to hate anything which restricts them in any way. Arsene Wenger has been sounding off about them again, claiming that by trying to improve English players they will reduce overall quality in the Premier League.

Yet this doesn’t actually stand up. The ‘homegrown’ aspect of the new rule has attracted most of the attention, especially after England’s poor showing at the World Cup – but as stipulations go, it’s actually quite mild. The players don’t have to be English and they don’t even have to have played in England that long or that young. More than anything, this part of the new rules is aimed at encouraging England’s academies rather than English players per se: it rewards clubs who don’t look for the easy option of buying in proven talent from less wealthy leagues. But there’s still loads of room for managers to buy whatever players they like.

I’d argue that the other aspect of the rules – limiting senior squads – is, in fact, aimed at improving overall quality. I’d like Wenger to explain to me how it helps the quality of any league for it to be possible for a few clubs to hoover up all the best players. Surely the overall quality is best served if the best players are out there playing every Saturday, rather than having a significant percentage of them sitting in the stands. As an Aston Villa fan, it’s galling to see Manchester City buying the players we build our team around and making them into squad players, just because they can afford to do so. I fail to see why any club needs a senior squad of more than 25 players: currently a lot of players are hanging around big clubs waiting for a chance that’ll never come, and surely it’s better for their careers that they’ll now be told whether they figure in the manager’s plans or not.

Wenger bizarrely claimed that Stephen Ireland’s demand for a £2 million payoff on his City contract was somehow caused by the new rules. It’s not, it’s caused by Villa’s unwillingness to sell James Milner. Villa will only accept a deal if a replacement is included. Ireland knows this, and he knows that City have the cash (it’s ten weeks’ salary for Yaya Toure – I think they can spare it). It’s true that we might see players demanding payoffs to leave clubs where they are surplus to requirements, with clubs acquiescing just to avoid paying their huge wages. However, there is a way around this: don’t pay them so much money in the first place.

The idea that this will be to the league’s detriment is somewhat undermined when you realise that most teams meet the requirements as it is. Manchester City are overstaffed but given their transfer activity, some players were bound to realise they weren’t going to get a game and leave regardless of the new rules. Chelsea are short of homegrown talent – as, surprisingly, are Wigan. But that’s about it. Which to me suggests the rules might actually not go far enough.