Speaking in recent interview on Swansea City’s Europa League campaign next season, Chairman Huw Jenkins knocked Europa League knockers such as Alan Pardew, who has frequently used midweek European competition as an excuse for his poor League form this season (amongst other things), with Jenkins dismissing such talk as “rubbish.”
Meanwhile his manager, Michael Laudrup, has also welcomed the extra games next season, seeing no need to significantly increase the numbers of his small squad (around 23 currently) for next season’s European campaign. On this Laudrup commented:
“I know one year that Barcelona played with 19 first-team players, as well as a few younger players, and they played every three days. It is possible.
“I know again the risks if you get an injury. Look at what happened to us when Neil Taylor broke his ankle the day after the transfer window shut. That has special implications, but I don’t believe in having 27 or 28 players (27 was about the size of Newcastle United’s first team squad before the new French player were beought in). You won’t have 27 players who are at the same level, so you will still have five or six who never play.
“I think if you take all the games this season, even the two-and-a-half months when we played every three days and had injuries, we always had a competitive team. I don’t recall us ever having only 15 or 16 players to choose from. I felt in that period everyone had an importance in the team. I think two players for each position is more than enough, just about 22 players. That way you can still have some young players, someone with talent and potential (on the fringes of the squad). That means everyone feels important and the young players get the feeling that they are not so far away from playing.”
In this Laudrup is not alone. Managers such as Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola (the manager of that 19 man Barcelona squad mentioned by Laudrup) have also expressed the same preference in the past.
However, Pardew has advised Llaudrup against what he sees as folly, blaming his own side’s poor Premiership form this season on Newcastle United’s inablity to do well in both the Premiership and the Europa League on the size of his squad, though it was one of the biggest in the Premiership even before the latest batch of Frenchmen were imported. When asked hiw Swansea might avoud the kind of struggle Pardew has faced this season, Pardew replied:
“There is not a lot I can say It is a competition that you have to suck it and see how your players will cope with it. Ours have done well on the Thursday and not so well on the Sunday; obviously you have to get both right. But you need a bigger squad for sure because it is difficult.”
So who is right, Pardew or Laudrup?
Perhaps both are right and it is a question of differing styles of play (and training). Managers who prefer a more physical style such as Pardew, Stoke’s Tony Pulis, former Bolton manager Gary Megson and others suffer more balancing League and European campaigns. Stoke’s League form undoubtedly dipped when Stoke were competing in last season’s Europa League and Megson had to throw away a chance of taking Bolton to the last eight of the then UEFA Cup to concentrate on avoiding relegation from the Premier League. On the other hand, the more possession based passing game preferred by the likes of Laudrup and his former Barcelona teammate, Guardiola, can be less tiring than spending most of the time chasing down long balls, then chasing down opposition players when possession is lost again. Pardew’s Newcastle side have been one of the hardest running Premiership sides on a consistent basis. Of course, it can also make players more prone to injuries such as groin strains and hamstring injuries, not to mention broken bones in all the crunching tackles trying to win the ball back.
Of course, it could also be said that managers such as Mourinho, Guardiola and other managers who thrive in Europe on a regular basis have better players than Newcastle United, but then again, with Swansea the reverse is true as their squad is considerably more modest than Newcastle’s. One of their star players this season, Wayne Routledge, was banished from Newcastle after being deemed not good enough for Newcastle by Pardew.
It will be interesting to see how Swansea get on in the Premiership next season in comparison with Newcastle in the current one.