Ray Wilkins is a favorite among the fans for his long service to the club, and the media will often take advantage of that fact and ask his opinion on all things Chelsea. TalkSport did just that today, asking Wilkins about the mixed results this weekend, priorities, and Ashley Cole's injury. As a fan who holds Wilkins in high regard, I was very disappointed in what he had to say.
When asked about the fixture congestion and Rafa's rotation this weekend, Wilkins started with the following:
"I am sick of the word ‘tired’ in football. We used to play Easter Friday, Saturday and Monday."
Wilkins is correct on this fact, the Premier League used to do stupid things like force teams to play 3 games in 4 days. Europeans also had a long period of their existence where they were afraid to sail the Atlantic because they believed they'd fall off of the edge of the planet. Sailors eventually realized that the world was actually round, and began sailing across the Atlantic. The Premier League also realized how stupid playing 3 competitive fixtures in under 100 hours is, and has rightfully abandoned that idiotic practice. As our understanding of athletic performance improves, we need to evolve with it and change the way we do things for the better. No offense to Wilkins, but this just sounds like bitching for the sake of bitching.
"These players are super-fit and I don’t think you can take liberties in the Premier League. Southampton have beaten Manchester City, they have beaten Liverpool, and they took Manchester United the distance. I think Rafa Benitez took a little bit of a liberty at the weekend with the side he selected. These guys can play two games in three days, no problem at all. Champions League football for a club like Chelsea is paramount."
He has a few points here. Players now are certainly more fit than in the past, and most are probably capable of playing two games in three days. Southampton are also a quality side, capable of playing with the better teams in the league on their day. It's not an ideal situation by any means, but coming off of an international break and at this point of the season, Chelsea really should have been able to play some of their better players on both Saturday and Monday. At the very least, they should have been able to field a better side against Southampton.
Rafa clearly believes that most of the squad wasn't ready for that sort of test, and decided that he'd sit the bulk on Saturday. I'm ok with Rafa rotating here personally, as he's closer to the squad than any of us. I think there is plenty of criticism to be leveled at the manager for the way he executed this rotation, but I've already done that on a few other posts.
We'll move on to Wilkins' comment about the injury to Ashley Cole, as it's the one that really caught my eye:
"He never played on Saturday at Southampton. He plays 15 minutes against United and Danny Welbeck takes him on a run and he pulls his hamstring. I honestly feel he has to play all the time, Ashley. He is one of these machines. You have to keep it well oiled and it will fly. Had he played on Saturday, he wouldn't have done that yesterday."
Frankly Ray, this is just stupid. This isn't just a little stupid either, this is a really, really stupid thing to say. Ashley Cole did not get injured on Monday because he played too few minutes on the weekend. He may have been injured because he tweaked something in training, he may not have warmed up properly, or he may have just stepped a bit funny and come up gimpy. We'll probably never know. To suggest that this is somehow Rafa's fault for not playing him Saturday is just nonsense though, and frankly, Wilkins should be a bit embarrassed that he even suggested this bit of idiocy.
I am not a fan of Rafa Benitez's management at all. There are a ton of things I think he does wrong, and I feel like it's cost us loads of points. That said, today's comment about Ashley Cole is just utterly ridiculous. If Wilkins honestly believe the nonsense he said, maybe the club made the right decision in letting him go after all. Ashley Cole getting injured is not due to a day off on Saturday, and the suggestion that it was is just laughable. There's plenty to criticize about interim that we don't need to go spouting nonsense. Chelsea fans love you for your service to the club Ray. In the future, can we please stay a bit more sensible so we keep having fond thoughts about you?