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Monday, 06 January 2003

183 Ranieri rotates Chelsea away f

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me y’hear? Nothin’. If it weren’t for me you’d be editing
the readers letters in the Beano or somethin’. So keep it shut eh?

Ed: Er, yes Harry. But there was some good news – You had a Christmas no.1
with “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Flatcap: Did I? Did I really? A number one with those fekkers my so
called celebrity mates who are with me in the good times – But where are
they now eh?

Mr X*: Well I’m here for you Harry.

Mr Y*: No, we didn’t leave you Harry.

Mr Z*:

(* names concealed for fear of legal action)

Flatcap: Ah, thanks fellas! Yer the best, yer really are. Come here!
[lots of ‘touchy feely’ hugging and caressing can be overheard]

Ed: In fact, appearing as you did on Top of the Pops, in a clearly
emotional state, many people feel you helped guarantee the success of the
song this Christmas.

Flatcap: I was on Top of the Pops? Really? I remember singing the song in
front of a lot of people. Thought I was at a big party. Hic! I
r-r-remember thinking the words really meant something when I sung it just
after getting the sack.

Ed: Yes. You were lying flat out on the stage crying your eyes out.

Flatcap: Well it’s a very emotional song. And it was a big hit eh? So
should I get shome money now?

Ed: I think it all went to charity Harry.

Flatcap: Hurrgh! Typical! I’m deserving of charity. Me! When will some
charity help me out? God knows I deserve it…

Nikki: Mr. Flatcap? Louise says you must leave now. Here’s your bill.

Flatcap: What? Aarrrh! Er, I don’t remember ordering that!

Nikki: But I delivered it personally Mr. Flatcap.

Flatcap: Oh. Er, Ed? Are you sure I don’t get any of that money…Because I
think I may need it right now…Ed? Could you come and pick me and my
celebrity friends up, we’ve been told to leave. Er…could you bring your
cheque book also? Thanks Ed. Oh, Ed – When you put my column together –
Don’t forget to include that e-mail address of mine so that football
chairman can offer me jobs. So far the only people to use the e-mail
address are South Africans with politician relatives looking to siphon
billions of dollars into my bank account and e-mails from kinky women
offering me porn sites that may be of interest. Don’t know why they would
come to me….[sound of Harry falling of chair unconscious]

If you are a football chairman, South African fraudster, or a pornographer
you can contact Harry at However you don’t have
to fit into these categories to make contact – Feel free to send e-mails on
any subject (though he’s slightly more likely to understand it if it is
football related)

On behalf of Harry Flatcap, I wish you a happy new year!

Chelsea had three games over Christmas and New Year that could have seen them top the table. Unfortunately some manic squad rotation saw eight points dropped, including the defeat at Arsenal, and the virtual elimination of Chelsea from the title race. Having a big squad and rotating it, is seen by many as the way forward, a way to keep most members a bloated squad happy (except Winston Bogarde) but there are limits.

Chelsea have the Premiership’s most affable manager this side of Bobby Robson. Always ready to be modest and even smile following the gut-wrenching 3-2 reverse at Highbury. But his squad rotation policies of late, have threatened to turn an unexpectedly superb season into one of those what-might-have-been seasons that Chelsea fans are all too familiar with.

Over Christmas, Chelsea made seven changes then six changes, before another seven changes against the champions. What this did for team morale is anyone’s guess. But a dressing room with a sulking Gerald Hasselbaink in it can’t be pleasant at any time.

When Manchester United were reduced to the bare bones a few weeks ago, Alex Ferguson was forced to stop tinkering with his line up. Suddenly the results improved and a Championship challenge was launched. Back came the stars, out came the Christmas spirit and back game the defeats. Back-to-back defeats against Blackburn and Middlesbrough were nearly followed by disaster at home to Sunderland (perhaps Veron should consider a less slippy head polish). Squad rotation can be a tricky business.

Managers will always say that they have a big pool of players who need to be given games. Why have a big pool if many of the players won’t play from season to season? Why indeed. There seem to be so many squad members at the big clubs who have little role other than to fill out the pre-season squad photo and the reserve team bench.

Perhaps the old ways are still the best. In the seventies and eighties small squads of 15 or 16 were considered sufficient to win the title. One season Liverpool won the title by utilising only 13 players. What was important was the quality of the first 11, not whether your fifth choice centre-half could pass the ball, because you didn’t have a fifth choice centre half (if you needed another centre-half you played your centre-forward there like Birmingham did with Geoff Horsfield the other week).

These balmy old days allowed excitement to be spread around a little more liberally. In those days teams like Nottingham Forest, Ipswich Town or Aston Villa could be considered serious title challengers BEFORE the season started, people would genuinely bet money on them, even if they didn’t support them.

The reasoning behind big squads is simple. The managers create a pool of similarly talented players who are possibly a step behind the first team, but whose introduction to the first team won’t cause too much disruption. This theory is nice but Chelsea and Manchester United’s tinkering show that it is a flawed theory.

The recent moves by the 18 G-14 clubs (go figure) and the Nationwide clubs to introduce a salary cap could prove to be the answer. I have a sneaky suspicion that a salary cap won’t affect the salaries of the first team players overmuch, but will increase the pressure on clubs to reduce the overall squad size of first team players.

This process has already begun as Manchester United were hit by an injury crisis after offloading 10 squad players last year. The proliferation of loan deals from the big clubs is the last option before some tough decisions need to be made about actually offloading some of them.

Maybe a salary capped future won’t be as big a handicap on the smaller clubs as on the bigger ones. Clubs like Southampton have shown what a focussed small squad can achieve, and maybe Blackburn and Middlesbrough can also come through this season. Smaller squads and more shocks. Possibly, the early years of the Premiership being dominated by a handful of clubs will be looked back on as an aberration, as Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United battle it out for the 2010 championship. But only possibly.

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Antony Melvin

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