Vital Latics’ Paul Thorp, aka thorpyness, discusses the latest ‘hot topic’ – rotation:
As playoff qualification looms into view, the latest hot topic on everybody lips has been that of squad rotation as we’ve approached the line. There are a number of supporters questioning whether Uwe is doing the right thing constantly changing the team, advocating that you should play your best 11 every game. As ever with most fan based complaints, they are far more likely to emerge than they were during the long winning streak, when complaints about squad rotation were few and far between.
Those that oppose rotation usually advocate one of two approaches. Firstly you can select your best 10 outfield, fit them into a system, and that’s how it’s done. Others will tell you it’s best to pick a system, then select the best player you have for each position, play them every game and you will go sailing up the league. There is an element of undisputable sense about ‘picking your best eleven’, and it’s so obvious that it sounds like it must be the right thing to do. That is provided you keep it simple and take it at face value. It’s only once you get into any level of detail that it becomes clear that it’s utter nonsense to even attempt anything other than to rotate your squad.
Picking your ‘best 11’ all depends upon how you define best, and that’s something the moaners conveniently forget about whilst venting their complaints about over rotation. Lets for the sake of argument assume we’ve got a consensus in our hypothetical boot room and we know who our starting ‘best 11’ is. The next question should start you thinking about what the opposition strengths and weaknesses are and do they match up to the eleven we agreed on. Are defensive minded full backs better for this game than attacking ones, or would being able to get down the flanks make you a better player for this match than somebody that can’t or doesn’t bomb forward? Is it better to play two strikers, or one with midfield support, wing backs and a back two, or a back four? Unless you want to be flexible with personnel and rotate your squad, you’re going to be asking somebody to play out of position.
Tiredness and fitness are things which also crop up regularly in discussions about rotation. My favourite phrase of the grumbling classes being ‘These lads are paid small fortunes, they should be able to run all day, I’d bloody run all day for that much’. It is correct that as professional athletes the squad should be better able to cope with the physical demands of professional football than you or I can, but as anybody that’s done exercise of any level will know, it’s equally obvious that you’re not able to perform to your best until you’ve properly recovered from your last exertion, don’t believe me , ask your partner. No footballer could play a second game at their optimum intensity, or ‘best’ if you like, until they have recovered from the first game. No pay packet or amount of training will reduce their recovery time below a certain human limit, and then of course we’re all different and have different individual recovery rates. So what happens when a second game comes before somebody has recovered fully from the last one? Are they still then considered the best player to use in that position even though they are not really fully ready? Well if you don’t want to rotate your squad, you might have to stick to your guns and say they have to play, as they are in the best 11. The problem with this is that it’s been proven that playing when tired from the previous game makes you increasingly prone to injury. So with two games a week for most of the season, it’s almost impossible not to rotate. And that’s without considering knocks and bruises. Bear in mind we’ve been without Shaun Maloney for most of the season, because he wasn’t rested when he needed it, and things got to the point where he needed the operation that’s laid him up.
Whilst injuries can happen any time, and you can rotate to try and reduce the chances, you can’t guarantee prevention. Some injuries just happen as Ben Watson and Chris McCann will attest. It is however handy to have a player that’s recently seen first team action and is fairly sharp ready to come in. The same goes for a rotation policy giving a youth player some experience and the chance to prove himself, or are you expecting him to suddenly, be one of your best players by magic. Both are options rotation gives you that ‘pick your best 11’ doesn’t. Quite simply to try and pick your best 11 for every game might sound so obvious it has to be true, in truth it’s utter madness to employ it all the time. Currently, touch wood, we’ve got as full a squad as we could have hoped for and some of that is down to luck, but a huge chunk is because Uwe is not frightened to rotate players. Now you could argue that we would already be secure in a confirmed playoff spot if we’d always played our best 11 players but it’s hypothetical, I’d argue we might have more than two long term injuries.
I am happy that Uwe has rotated during the regular season, but going into the playoff, I suspect the ‘pick your best 11’ advocates will also be happy, because the thought processes and considerations in selection all change. If you don’t get a result today, then you don’t get to play the next game. It makes it worth risking a player for the benefits of a more stable line up in favour of continuity. If a player gets injured, you don’t then need him in three days for the next game, it’s in three months for pre-season.
Uwe Rosler has brilliantly balanced the need to use players to get points, and giving them a rest to try and keep them off the treatment table and available for the rest of the season. When Uwe took over, and we were in 11th spot, the aim was to make the playoffs. We’re going to achieve that target, with a squad that has proven it can adapt to different situations and formations. We have a squad where all players have played a part, are ready to play a further part, and most importantly we have a squad that have been points better than anyone else around us for the second half of the season. We fear nobody.