Manchester City manager says too much football harming England's chances at European Championships and World Cup
Roberto Mancini has joined a long line of Premier League managers to cite burnout as the principal reason why England consistently disappoint during major tournaments. More immediately, Manchester City's Italian manager is most worried about the impact of what he regards as severe fixture congestion and its attendant implications in terms of travel fatigue on his own team before the Carling Cup quarter‑final at Arsenal on Tuesday night.
"On Monday we go to London and we'll change all the team because this is an incredible situation," said Mancini, who claims he will field a completely different starting XI from the side that drew 1-1 with Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.
"Arsenal played on Saturday, we played on Sunday evening. Monday we travel to London and we play Tuesday night. Incredible. I think this is the reason why the national team arrive for European Championships and World Cups and they are dying. The players don't have time to recover. For us to play again in two days like this so soon after the Champions League [City visited Napoli last week] is incredible."
City's manager believes the Premier League should intervene to protect the welfare of players and serve the wider good of the game. "I don't know who to blame. But the Premier League should have said something about this. It's important to play but it's also important to recover. You need three days between one game and the next. We'll have the same situation in January when we play at Sunderland [on New Year's Day] and then face Liverpool in two days. Liverpool play three days before us. Is this correct? I don't think so."
On Tuesday the fixture list favours neither City nor Liverpool as, with Kenny Dalglish's side at Chelsea, both are engaged in Carling Cup quarter-finals in the capital, having barely had time to draw breath following their exertions on Sunday. By way of protest Dalglish has threatened to field a team of juniors at Stamford Bridge and his City counterpart is equally aggrieved.
"I agree with Kenny. We should play with 11 young players. Maybe 14 or 15 years old," said Mancini, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "It's a quarter-final. It's incredible. It's not correct. Not so much for us but for the players. It's not right."
Such indignation is all very well but City's manager is likely to balk at the idea of underscoring his point by selecting 11 youth team players who could be totally out of their depth. "We'll go to Arsenal and try to win it," he said. "Of course."
City are likely to endeavour to do so with a team unrecognisable from that on duty at Anfield. Asked if he genuinely intended altering every position Mancini said: "Yes, it's not difficult to do that because it's impossible [for players to play two key games so close together]."
Unlike some managerial peers, he, at least, has the luxury of being able to rotate an unusually strong squad with impressive cover in all positions and his reshuffle at the Emirates is likely to open the door to an appearance from Owen Hargreaves in midfield.
Despite starting on Sunday, Gaël Clichy also hopes to be involved. The former Arsenal left-back is desperate to face his former club but has had to accustom himself to Mancini's rotation policy. "It's a big difference for me because you always want to play and at Arsenal I was used to playing week in, week out," said Clichy.
Nonetheless a full-back hoping that Mancini may have been exaggerating about making 11 changes is striving to see the bigger picture. "Of course you are disappointed but I am not the only one and I've played in some amazing games," he said. "I believe in February and March the benefits will show because we'll still have the fresh legs to go all the way. You need a big squad to do that.
"You have to accept the manager's decision but I'm ready for Arsenal and I'll be more than happy to play. It's a great club and a great team, with many of my friends still there."
Whatever City's composition, they are likely to find themselves up against an extremely youthful ensemble. Clichy, who knows all about Arsène Wenger's dedication to blooding youngsters in the Carling Cup, stressed this does not mean his old side should be taken lightly.
"I remember nine years ago at Arsenal the boss played the young players and we went right through to the semi-finals," he said. "We shouldn't think that we will win the game easily just because Arsenal will play a young team. They have emerging talent. We have to make sure we win."
Meanwhile, City officials are bemused by a reported comment from the Milan vice-president, Adriano Galliani, that the Italian club would be interested in Carlos Tevez only if City's striker was available on loan – a deal in contrast to the Manchester club's position that any Tevez transfer would have to be a direct sale.