Slowly but surely, the soccer world is making plans and reconvening in a bit to resume the season following the coronavirus outbreak, with the German Bundesliga set to resume on May 16. Gab Marcotti reacts to the main talking points in the latest Monday Musings.
Why adding extra subs shouldn’t be a big deal
On Friday, as was predictable, FIFA’s International Board (IFAB) approved a temporary change to the Laws of the Game, allowing up to five substitutes per match. (You can still only substitute three times per 90 minutes to avoid time-wasting.) It’s up to individual leagues whether or not to adopt the change, but it was made to help limit fatigue and avoid injuries, particularly after the long layoff and with the prospect of clubs playing a highly congested fixture list as they try to finish out their 2019-20 seasons.
Some will like it, some won’t and some will doubt how effective it will really be. Personally, I think it’s a wise decision simply because it limits minutes and, when you’re not playing, you don’t get hurt. Simple as that. You may disagree, but one argument that is nonsense is that this somehow favours big teams over weaker ones because they supposedly have “more depth.”
It’s undeniable that bigger teams have much better players on the bench, but guess what? They also have much better players in the starting lineup. And the way you measure the material impact here is by answering the following questions: How much worse are the fourth or fifth guys off the bench who can suddenly get on the pitch relative to the starters they are replacing? And is the gap greater at smaller teams?
Let’s compare, say, Liverpool and Norwich, and let’s pretend, for argument’s sake, that Liverpool’s Best XI is the version with Joe Gomez alongside Virgil Van Dijk and Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho in midfield. Now, let’s assume their top three subs (the likeliest to come on) are Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Divock Origi and James Milner. Who are the next best guys that Klopp can bring on? Naby Keita and Dejan Lovren, perhaps? (You can argue Adam Lallana or Joel Matip, the point stands.)
Play the same game with Norwich. I won’t go through their whole lineup, but going by games started and minutes played, you might imagine their fourth and fifth subs might be Marco Stiepermann and Onel Hernandez. So the equation becomes how much worse Keita and Lovren are than the guys they’d replace (let’s say Fabinho and Gomez) relative to how much worse Stiepermann and Hernandez are than they guys they’d come on for (let’s say Emiliano Buendia and Kenny McLean).
Guess what? There probably isn’t much difference.
There’s also an argument to be made that smaller clubs, who spend much of the game defending and working hard off the ball, will benefit more from being able to bring on two extra fresh players. And then there’s the most persuasive argument of all: if using extra substitutes offered such an advantage, why don’t teams use all their subs all the time? Especially the big ones, who supposedly have all this wonderful depth?
The top five clubs in the Premier League have used, between them, 84% of their available substitutions this season. As for the bottom five, the figure stands at 82.5%. In other words, there really isn’t much difference.
Five substitutes won’t revolutionise the game. The teams that will benefit most will be those where there isn’t a big gap between the quality of their starters and their fourth or fifth best player off the bench — and that’s not dictated by whether they’re rich or poor as much as it is by how their squad is built and the choices the manager makes.
Where it might have an impact is in sparing us the sight of players carrying an injury who stay on the pitch because their team has used up all their changes. And, possibly, when it comes to “meaningless” fixtures or games that are decided early, give a couple regulars a few minutes off to help preserve them during the inevitable slog ahead.
If that’s all it does, I’ll happily take it.
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss how the Bundesliga is planning to deal with coronavirus cases within the league.
How will soccer handle positive tests amid push to finish season?
What’s becoming increasingly clear is that whether or not we’ll be able to finish domestic seasons (and, in some cases, whether we’re even able to continue playing) will largely depend on what happens if somebody tests positive. Will they be quarantined on their own until it’s safe for them to return? Or will the entire team need to be quarantined?
Leagues across Europe understand that if it’s the latter, it’s going to be nearly impossible to finish the season because it would mean a team not playing for two weeks and creating a massive fixture pileup. That’s why Spain and Germany have opted for individual isolation and, in Italy this is one of the key issues over which the league and government are wrestling.
The problem is that fundamentally, whatever is decreed, even when governments and leagues are in agreement, is going to be subordinate to medical opinion. The positive tests at 2. Bundesliga club Dynamo Dresden over the weekend bring this into focus quite clearly. Government guidelines said players who test positive should quarantine on their own, but local health authorities superseded that, forcing the entire team into isolation and leading to the postponement of their first game back.
In this case, it had to do with the fact that in Germany, regional health services have ultimate authority. But ultimately, it’s pretty obvious that medical advice will have the upper hand as the situation evolves, just as they did in bringing the whole game to a halt back in March. That’s why, as long as there is uncertainty over this, it might have been wise for leagues to consider alternative ways to end the season, such as perhaps playoffs, rather than being hell-bent on playing out the remainder of the fixtures.
With a reduced schedule — like playoff groups of some kind — you would have the flexibility to deal with one or more cases where entire teams have to be quarantined. As it stands, the margin for error is going to be tiny.
After Kyle Walker complained the media are harassing him, Julien Laurens hits back.
A word about Kyle Walker
I hope Kyle Walker’s employers, Manchester City, have deputised somebody to look after him, give him the support he needs and, perhaps, get him to keep quiet except to apologize.
Walker complained that he was “being harassed” after admitting he violated social distancing rules by driving to Yorkshire to see his sister and then going to his parents’ house to “pick up some home-cooked meals.” This, of course, was after he invited two escorts to his house last month, which was also in violation of lockdown rules. On that occasion, City opened a disciplinary proceeding against him and Walker issued his first of several apologies.
Walker said that the harassment he faces at the hands of the media — which, as far as I can tell, is limited to reporting when he violates lockdown rules that happen to be in place for the health and safety of vulnerable people — is now affecting the health of his family and young children. “At what stage do my feelings get taken into consideration?” Walker asks.
How about this: how about the rest of us take Walker’s feelings into consideration when he starts to take into consideration the law, government advice, his own employers’ instructions and the safety of senior citizens, people with health problems, the immuno-deficient and everybody else who is vulnerable to COVID-19?
There are people who have lost loved ones, people who have loved ones in hospitals fighting for their lives, people who have lost their livelihood and their business. And then there’s Walker and his feelings.
Gab Marcotti expresses his surprise at the comments Giorgio Chiellini directed at former Italy teammate Mario Balotelli.
Chiellini punches down (and it’s not a good look)
At some point, you need to decide who you want to be in life.
Giorgio Chiellini is, by all accounts, intelligent and hard-working, a professional footballer who carved out time to earn both a college degree and an MBA while still playing. In person, he’s also warm and funny. Charitable too, as evidenced by the fact that he pledged to donate one percent of his salary to Juan Mata‘s Common Goal project. (Fun fact: he reached out to Mata, whom he’d never met, from his Gmail account and his people weren’t sure it was really him… so they arranged a Skype call to verify his identity.)
And, of course, he’s a leader who has captained Juventus while also sitting on the council of both the Italian Player’s Union (AIC) and FIFPro. But if that’s the guy who you want to be and if you want to hold an institutional role, you can’t also be the no-holds barred, outspoken, rock-the-boat type of guy. Especially when you come across as somebody who simply “punches down,” picking on folks who are easy to pick on.
Chiellini gave an interview to promote his upcoming autobiography in which he called Mario Balotelli a “negative person” who ought to be “slapped around,” and he referred to Felipe Melo as “the worst of the worst” and a “rotten apple.” He also compared his “sporting hatred” of Inter to Michael Jordan’s hatred of the Detroit Pistons (guess he’s been watching The Last Dance too).
Understandably, both Balotelli and Felipe Melo fired back. The former made the point that Chiellini had ample opportunity to say these things to his face over the past seven years, but never did. The Brazilian called him bitter. Even Marco Tardelli, a Juventus legend who spent 10 years at the club, bemoaned Chiellini’s lack of respect.
Both players Chiellini targeted have done their fair share of stupid things in their career, and both have paid the price for it. Attacking them at this point in time is simply gratuitous and mean-spirited. It shows a serious lack of judgement too, especially since you’re supposed to be a union rep and — who knows? — might be reunited with Balotelli in the Italy team.
You almost get the impression, as the clock winds down on his long career, that Chiellini isn’t quite sure who he wants to be when he grows up: the responsible, educated ex-pro who represents his colleagues’ interests, or the firebrand who caters to the lowest common denominator in his fan base by making cheap cracks about hated rivals.
If he wants to be the former, he can’t take pot-shots like this.
Van Gaal’s wrong about “evil genius”
Louis Van Gaal has described Ed Woodward as an “evil genius” who was responsible for his demise at Old Trafford, more so than Jose Mourinho his successor. It’s pretty obvious that he wouldn’t be blaming Mourinho, since the call came from Woodward. No manager is going to begrudge another manager wanting a job. But he’s off-base calling Woodward an “evil genius.”
You didn’t need to be a genius to figure out Van Gaal wasn’t working out at United and doing what you think is best for the club doesn’t make you “evil.”
And finally… Hertha Berlin rebuild continues
Hertha Berlin return to action in the Bundesliga this weekend and when they do, they’ll have a new face on the supervisory board: Jens Lehmann.
The former Arsenal goalkeeper will effectively be replacing Jurgen Klinsmann, who was also, of course, managing the team until he was let go in February. The curious thing is that Klinsmann and Lehmann go way back — Klinsmann picked Lehmann over Oliver Kahn at the 2006 World Cup — and remain close to this day.
Also appointed to the supervisory board is Marc Kosicke, a highly respected agent who counts both Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann among his clients. From a governance perspective, having an agent on board though potentially raises flags in terms of conflict of interest… not that either Klopp or Nagelsmann will, you presume, be joining Hertha any time soon.