Football.com - everything football

Ferguson's mastery of squad rotation paying dividends

By Chris Higham



Many experts consider the Barclays Premier League to be the toughest League in world football. Many factors such as injuries, suspensions, international call-ups and transfers are all part of any successful club's challenges to win the title. In order to overcome those obstacles, managers have to be adept in how they work what has become known as squad rotation. By far the best performer at this for many seasons now, has been Sir Alex Ferguson.

As fans argue back and forth through a season about who has the best team, many club sides can legitimately be considered for that accolade, but when it comes to winning titles, it is generally the strongest squad that prevails. The responsibility for handling the squad obviously falls squarely on the head of the manager who is in this case, compared to a company CEO who is charged with maximising the resources available to him to be successful.

Many managers fail at this part of the job and are never able to transform quality players into a trophy winning team. As an example, Tottenham Hotspur this season have a starting eleven that could possibly rank with any side in Europe, but they struggle in depth to cover for injured players. I doubt they have a squad to win the League this season.

I'm always interested at how football people comment that Manchester United always seem to kick into an extra gear after the turn of the New Year and grow stronger through the final months of the season. No-one seems to nail down the specific reasons for that other than the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson is a great motivating force. That is one valid reason but in my view, it is his use of his squad rotation skills that separate him from other bosses at this level in England.

His use of all aspects of his playing staff and his insistence that anyone who plays in the senior squad is able to carry his weight, means that across the board, he generally has the freshest players available among the top level sides during the final 2-3 months of an arduous season.

If we look at last Saturday, United put in one of their strongest performances of the season in a 1-0 away win against a very good Fulham side. They fielded a strong side but Ferguson left a couple of crucial players on the bench. Kagawa and Vidic did not play so they got some rest. He was also able to use his full complement of substitutes. All of this pays huge dividends come season's end. Ferguson will sometimes put out a weakened eleven against a relegation struggler when playing at home but nowadays that is rare.

There aren't many pushover teams in the Premier League anymore. His squad is deep enough where he can field two sides of pretty much equal quality which enables the club to compete strongly for three major trophies each and every year. Sometimes he get's it wrong and there are consequences. A couple of times last year, against Everton and Wigan in particular, key players were left out that arguably in the end, cost the club the title.

Many fans misunderstand Ferguson's intentions when he states that "this is the best team I've ever had". He is specifically referring to the squad options that he has at his disposal where he can insulate the club from external influences that would derail many less equipped teams. I happened to watch the Manchester City vs Liverpool  game last Sunday and could only sympathise with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers who has a team that can compete for a Top 4 place, but doesn't have anything like a squad that can keep them there for a full 38 games. He is addressing those issues slowly but has a long way to go yet..

However, over at Old Trafford, Man Utd are pushing on with a record points haul already and with the squad rotation skills of manager Sir Alex Ferguson fully loaded, I wouldn't bet against the Old Trafford club from grabbing the Barclays Premier League trophy away from their "noisy neighbours" after only one season.