Thursday, 11 November 2010

Premier League Rules And Team Selection


The controversy concerning weakened team selection has reared its head again following Ian Holloway’s decision to make 10 changes to his Blackpool side against Aston Villa on Wednesday night.

This follows the previous example last season where Wolverhampton Wanderers also made 10 changes to their side when they faced Manchester United. The Premier League chose to charge Wolves for breaching Premier League rules concerning team selection and awarded them a suspended £25,000 fine.


Premier League Rule E20 simply states that “in every League Match each participating Club shall field a full strength team” The obvious question to ask is what is deemed to be “full strength”?

Unfortunately, the Premier League rules do not define full strength nor provide any criteria for assessing whether a full strength side has been fielded. We are therefore left with an ambiguous rule and unanswered questions as to what constitutes full strength team. For instance:

  1. How many changes can a manager make to his team?
  2. Does the manager have to select internationals or players with a certain amount of appearances?
The Football League Regulations have an equivalent rule (Regulation 22) but there have not been any instances of a Football League club falling foul of this regulation as yet. However, clubs including Carlisle and Bournemouth were fined for fielding weakened sides in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last season. Rule 7.3 of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Rules imposed an obligation on clubs to field at least 6 players who had made the most starting appearances in league and domestic cup fixtures during that season. This rule has now been amended to allow for clubs to make 5 changes to the previous line up in that competition. The term “full available strength” has been introduced, presumably to provide for injury, illness etc, and is defined as follows:

(a)   A club must include in its starting line up at least 6 out of the 11 players who started the club fixture immediately preceding or following the relevant Johnstone’s Paint Trophy fixture; or

(b)   A club must include in its starting line up at least 6 out of the 11 players who have made the most starting appearances in league and domestic cup competitions fixtures during that season.     

An interesting comparison with the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Rules would be the rules concerning the Carling Cup where Premier League clubs have chosen to field changed line ups for many years. Rule 6.2 is almost identical to the Regulation 22 of the Football League Regulations and states:

“Each club shall play its full available strength side in all cup competitions, unless some satisfactory reason is given.”

Full available strength is not defined in the rules but it is possible that the definition contained within the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Rules would be adopted. This would mean that clubs could make up to 5 changes to their Carling Cup team and escape punishment. However, this could have a potential impact on clubs who suddenly decide to take the competition seriously by fielding stronger line ups in the latter rounds. It would certainly be ironic if a club were sanctioned for actually fielding a stronger line up!

What about a “satisfactory reason”? Would resting players for upcoming games or providing players who lack match practice a game be deemed “satisfactory”? Ian Holloway would obviously think it should:

"If I play my players four times in a row at this level, they will get injured, and I don't do that to my players.”

As with the Premier League Rules, there remains ambiguity and unanswered questions. Although, at least there have been attempts to define the selection criteria that is clearly lacking with the current Premier League Rules.


The obligation to field a full strength side in general has been criticised by many who feel that it is the manager’s prerogative to pick whatever team he decides and not the regulators. The manager is obviously in a better position to judge the “strength” of his side than the Premier League. Ian Holloway would obviously agree with this view:

“I can't keep picking the same 11 when the others are trying their heart out and never give them a chance.”

Further, some Premier League clubs have squads consisting of around 30-40 players and some believe that youth development could be affected if team selection was confined strictly to players who appear in regular first team fixtures.

However, the Premier League needs to ensure that the integrity of the league is upheld as well as considering the impact on the league as a whole. The selection of weakened teams could potentially impact on other clubs and their respective league positions hence why Wolves were also held to have breached Premier League Rule B13:

“each Club shall behave towards each other Clubs and the League with the utmost good faith.”

A careful balancing act must therefore be made between the manager’s duties and the integrity of the league. It is clear that the current Premier League rule requires amending to ensure that mangers know precisely where they stand in relation to team selection. Currently, it seems clear that clubs making 10 changes are likely to receive fines. However, will clubs be guilty if they make 7, 8 or 9 changes? We simply do not know unless the rule is defined and clarified further.

As for Blackpool, the Premier League has already confirmed that they are investigating the matter and so they should expect the same treatment as Wolves. The Premier League statement at the time made this clear:     

“In coming to this decision the board also wants to put clubs on notice that any future rule breach of this nature would be subject to a disciplinary commission that would have available a full range of sanctions." 

1 comment:

  1. Do you know if there was a similar rule before the Football League. I am working on a history of Arsenal in the 1930s and it is clear that in the latter part of 1935/6 Arsenal selected weakened teams for league matches, as they were heading for the FA Cup final. It would be good to know the history.