Don’t blame Wag­ner for changes

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

BLAM­ING David Wag­ner for Black­burn’s po­ten­tial rel­e­ga­tion to­day is like say­ing Gavrilo Prin­cip started a war. Sim­ple, but wrong.

Prin­cip, of course, was the man whose bul­let killed Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand in Sara­jevo – an in­ci­dent em­bed­ded in pop­u­lar cul­ture as the spark for World War One.

It’s an en­gag­ing han­dle for kids, but it glosses over myr­iad con­tribut­ing fac­tors: an es­ca­lat­ing arms race, im­pe­ri­al­ism, mil­i­tarism, a re­stric­tive al­liance that forced un­wit­ting na­tions into bat­tle. Con­flict was com­ing whether Prin­cip pulled the trig­ger or not.

Like­wise, Black­burn’s trou­bles run deeper than Wag­ner’s de­ci­sion to rest ten play­ers for Hud­der­s­field’s trip to Birm­ing­ham last week.

Suc­cess

Had Wag­ner’s side tri­umphed, Rovers would have climbed out of the rel­e­ga­tion zone at Birm­ing­ham’s ex­pense. In­stead, a 2-0 vic­tory for the Blues means Tony Mow­bray’s side are star­ing down the bar­rel at Brent­ford to­day.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing that ten men from Birm­ing­ham City can win 2-0 against a team in the top six who have been win­ning pretty con­sis­tently all year,” said Mow­bray. “It sug­gests the changes did have a big im­pact on the game and there may be in­tegrity is­sues with the league.”

The EFL, mean­while, have writ­ten to Hud­der­s­field for an ex­pla­na­tion, with the threat of a fi­nan­cial penalty loom­ing. Which, to be frank, is ab­surd.

Yes, there are le­git­i­mate is­sues around ‘rest­ing’ play­ers. Fans pay to watch their team on the road and don’t de­serve to see a re­serve side. Yet Wag­ner, whose side had al­ready qual­i­fied for the play-offs, ex­plic­itly of his in­ten­tions sev­eral days be­fore. No­body was short­changed.

As for this no­tion of in­tegrity, let’s not pre­tend fair­ness is some­how sa­cred in sport. Luck and tim­ing play a crit­i­cal part.

Take the fix­ture list. Ran­domly gen­er­ated it may be, but over a sea­son of 46 games in­juries and man­age­rial changes en­sure some teams get a raw deal. Hud­der­s­field are a per­fect ex­am­ple. Along with As­ton Villa and Bris­tol City, the Terriers never got to play Birm­ing-warned ham un­der the man­age­ment of Gian­franco Zola, whose calami­tous tac­tics meant the Blues were es­sen­tially a weak­ened team for four solid months.

Only Ful­ham pos­sess a worse record against Birm­ing­ham this sea­son. Con­versely, Brighton and Derby both faced Zola’s sham­bolic side twice, duly pum­melling the punch­bag for max­i­mum points. Is that fair?

Black­burn, too, have en­joyed their slice of for­tune. Barnsley were ter­rific be­fore be­ing pil­laged in the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow. The sales of Conor Houri­hane, James Bree and top scorer Sam Win­nall ripped the guts out of their side.

In­flicted

Since Fe­bru­ary 1, the Tykes have won just two of 16 matches, their sea­son ef­fec­tively writ­ten off when safety was se­cured. By then, how­ever, For­est and Birm­ing­ham – Rovers’ two rel­e­ga­tion ri­vals – had al­ready played Barnsley twice and tasted de­feat. Is that fair? It ac­tu­ally says ev­ery­thing about Black­burn’s self-in­flicted prob­lems that they are one of the only two sides that failed to cap­i­talise on Barnsley’s col­lapse, los­ing 2-0 at home. Rel­e­ga­tion, if it comes, is not Wag­ner’s fault. It is down to seven years of un­der­in­vest­ment, poor man­age­rial choices and clue­less own­ers. This demise has oc­curred over sev­eral ne­glect­ful sea­sons, just as Wag­ner has earned the right over 46 games to pre­pare for the play-offs. Ev­ery­thing else is hap­pen­stance.

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