Whenever a team clinches the league title early, speculation abounds over what the manager will do in the final couple of games. Who will he play? The choice is usually between his top players or some of his youngsters lacking experience (I exclude Arsenal from this because all of their players are 12 years old). It becomes a bit more complicated when the final game is the champion versus a team fighting for relegation. This year’s case on point is Manchester United v. Hull.
The problem, as I see it, is that the champion (Manchester United, in this case) is seen as responsible for the “integrity” of the league. As such, those who are not Hull City – Sunderland, Newcastle, and Middleborough – want United to field a full-strength team. They want this because (a) there is probably no circumstance under which Hull could beat a full-strength Manchester United squad; and (b) they’ve failed to make their own chances count over the previous 37 weeks and thus want help from the top. I’m not saying those reasons aren’t legitimate, mind you, I’m just saying that it’s a bit odd to expect Manchester United, in this case, to do to anything other than what’s best for them. That is, Manchester United will most certainly not play everyone because they have one more game that means everything: the Champion’s League Final on May 27.
I can appreciate that managers are friends. I can also appreciate that, with the stakes lowered for one team, another team – perhaps the manager’s friend – might benefit. What I can’t appreciate is a group of people manipulating the concepts of “honor” and “integrity” for their own selfish gain. There’s no honor in demanding that someone else manage their team for your benefit when you’ve played pretty consistently bad over the course of the season. Whining about one’s precarious relegation position is not honorable. And neither are calls for Sir Alex Ferguson to do anything other than what’s best for his team.