A LOT of people are bashing Pep Guardiola at the moment and there’s no small amount of schadenfreude about the under-performance of Manchester City this season. There’s really no need for tags like “fraudiola” because this is a man that doesn’t really have to prove much in big-time football.
But the Leicester win against the title-chasers would have been enjoyed by many, especially as City’s 4-2 defeat comes at the end of a week when Guardiola has called for six substitutions to be allowed to ease the pressure on modern footballers.
This smacks of someone trying to capitalise on the relative strength of Manchester City and the depth of their playing resources. In other words, if you have a big squad, you can better leverage that by switching the team around, by more than 50% to try and change the game.
Guardiola’s comments come after FIFA confirmed its desire to continue to milk the World Cup even further by expanding its premier competition to 48 countries. The answer is not to allow more subs, the remedy for that problem is for member nations to tell FIFA to go to hell – the World Cup is dying as it is, making it bigger will just accelerate its demise.
I do not buy the “burn-out” argument. The players are (or should be) athletes whose sole purpose in life is to play football and earn buckets of cash in the process – isn’t that the script? Try telling millions of people in Britain who survive [annually] on the sort of wage a top players receives in just a day or two – indeed a few hours – that Premier players are getting tired. Players today play less than their predecessors 20 or 30 years ago, thanks to huge squads, three substitutes and a more awareness around medicine and physical and mental stress. No, sorry Pep, you will never win that argument. Less playing time so they can go home to play FIFA or watch the horse-racing? Forget it.
Just as the traditional heavyweights of the game in Britain stamp their feet at the prospect of the privilege of being Arsenal or Manchester United being threatened by “johnny-come-latelies” who have benefitted from enhanced investment, Guardiola’s plea for six subs could be seen as an attempt to allow City to prosper from their exalted status. In other words, if your bench strength is so much better than anyone else’s because you’ve got the money, you will benefit from a “six sub game” because you can change the shape of your team to better effect.
Over the past few years, the purchasing power of the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea have seen them make scoop up players quite aggressively, many of whom get sent out on loan across Europe. You will hear comments like, “they can only play 11 at any one time” and that’s absolutely true, but during a game they can play 14. Just imagine if that 14 became 17. The “bench strength” will really come to the fore. And that’s when teams like City will be able to out-do the opposition.
Football can never be the so-called “level playing field” no matter how much we talk about democracy. The rich have always outgunned the poor, the big clubs have always had an advantage over the smaller outfits. A club that has 60,000 fans will always have more income than a 25,000 club. Furthermore, a club with strong backing will have more disposable cash than those that rely on more conservative revenue generation. That’s the free market that football in Britain has created and, some might argue, allowed to get out of control.
Accomodating the big, bloated clubs by allowing six substitutions, and thus permitting them to flaunt their wealth and say, “ok, you’re beating us, let’s send on six multi-millionaire hired guns to completely change our team…let’s see how you deal with that”, will only accentuate the imbalances in the game.
Pep Guardiola might not see it quite like that, but when you’re in charge of the most expensive squad in football, proposing such a shift does look like you’re trying to game the game.