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Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009


McCarthy's maneuver a stain on the game

LONDON — Mick McCarthy was destined to be remembered mainly for his bust-up with Roy Keane on the eve of the 2002 World Cup finals when he sent the Republic of Ireland captain home from Saipan.

Christopher Davies

At around 7 p.m. on Tuesday the Wolves manager ensured a second tattoo for life when the team to play Manchester United at Old Trafford was announced. McCarthy made 10 outfield changes to the side that beat Tottenham 1-0 the previous Saturday — Wolves' second successive Premier League win and the first time the club had done that in 26 years.

But McCarthy responded by keeping faith only with goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann at Old Trafford, explaining afterward that the physical exertions of the players at White Hart Lane ensured they needed a rest. Wolves' second string lost 3-0 and, unsurprisingly, all hell has been let loose.

The selection, or rather non-selection, was throwing the towel in against United and keeping the first XI fresh for Sunday's home match against Burnley. If Wolves do not win at Molineux against the team with the worst away record in the Premier League, McCarthy's reputation will be in tatters.

To field what amounts to a reserve team makes a mockery of the competition, and it is no surprise the Premier League has asked Wolves for their "observations." Premier League rule 20, section E, states teams must field a full-strength side in all top-flight matches.

McCarthy's defense was: "I need to protect them. If you have another match of that magnitude, you can't cope. We have big games coming. The Spurs game really took it out of them. The 10 percent chance of injury increases to 30-40 percent if you have another game like that."

Imagine if every team in the bottom six chose a shadow side against a top-four team. Rotation is one thing but effectively admitting his team could not beat United is another.

Yet few would have given them any chance of winning at Tottenham, and virtually conceding defeat before the kickoff sends out the wrong message to his players.

McCarthy's selection also did little for the credibility of the Premier League and, understandably, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was angry that title rival United was almost handed three points gift-wrapped.

"We will compete with United over 37 games instead of 38," said Wenger.

It may yet be a costly decision by McCarthy in many ways. The 2,400 Wolves fans who paid £42 for a ticket at Old Trafford might be able to take action against the club to reclaim their money — a total of £100,800.

A Trading Standards spokesperson said it fell under "not supplying goods fit for purpose or as advertised."

Wolves fans who have contacted the body that enforces consumer related legislation have been sent a complaints form.

The spokesperson added: "The more fans who complain, the stronger their case will be."

* * * * *

ROBINHO has regularly been linked with a transfer from Manchester City to Barcelona. The speculation begs the question: Why?

Barca has a team, make that squad, packed with world-class players and on current evidence the only world-class thing about the Brazilian is his £160,000 a week salary. He cost City a British record £32.5 million from Real Madrid in Sept. 2008, but is playing like someone worth the point five.

After a virtually anonymous hour in Wednesday's 3-0 defeat at Tottenham, Robinho was substituted, his body language as he disappeared straight down the tunnel not giving the impression of a player deeply hurt by being replaced.

"He was finding it more and more difficult to make an impact," was the tactful explanation by City manager Mark Hughes, whose expensively assembled team has won only one of the last 10 league matches.

"It's all about getting the right players," said Spurs manager Harry Redknapp. "You can have star players who don't perform."

The Adu Dhabi money men who give City almost unlimited spending power must wonder where their investment is going. Certainly not the Champions League next season unless City improves significantly.

Joleon Lescott will be sidelined until the New Year after knee surgery, while his central defensive partner Kolo Toure will be away for a month in January on African Cup of Nations duty with Cote d'Ivoire.

The pair's often shaky form makes it even more mystifying why Hughes allowed Richard Dunne to leave for Aston Villa in the summer — the Irishman is playing superbly for Villa, as he did for City over the past three years.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.

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