I heard an interview with Arsene Wenger a while ago where he was asked if he would ever consider managing at international level. This was around a time when the English FA were stumbling from one PR disaster to the next looking for the man to recharge the performance and fortunes of the English national game following the announcement Sven would be leaving the post in the Summer of 2006.
Wengerâ€™s response was predictably played with a straight bat; his focus is on Arsenal, he likes the day to day contact with playerâ€™s blah blah. However he made one comment that struck me as a real light bulb momentâ€¦. international football just isnâ€™t very good. “Ridiculous” I hear you cry! The best talent whole countries have to offer pitting their collective skills against each other; surely this is the pinnacle of modern day football.
Well Iâ€™m not so sure. Letâ€™s think about this on a pure entertainment basis, when was the last really good game of international football anyone watched?
England v Israel? (Er nope). Republic v Faroes? (Definitely not). Switzerland V Ukraine? (Please god make it stop!).
For me the world cup in the summer of 2006 was a procession of mediocre football matches occasionally settled by the odd goal or penalty shoot out. Even the final game, the showpiece match of the worldâ€™s biggest competition was completely forgettable. Only Zinadineâ€™s desire to be remembered as the greatest happy slapper to walk the planet gave us all something to talk about afterwards. If you need further evidence as to the type of football matches we endured that summer let me remind you that an Italian defender was probably the player of the tournament, I think that tells us everything.
I remember growing up when each country had their own star players who would light up the games they played in. Hagi, Stoichkov, Gascoigne, Romario, Maradonna; players who went into a tournament relatively unknown but came out the other side as true greats. This doesnâ€™t seem to happen anymore, just who were the breakout stars of 2006? I can only think of players who went in great but came out the other side tainted by underachievement, Nedved, Henry, Ronaldinho, the whole England squad, where were you guys?!!
So, there we have some anecdotal, very unscientific evidence that would suggest International football is on the wain, but what are the causes?
Well the obvious answer is the cash; players earn so much money at club level there perhaps arenâ€™t the same rewards involved at international level, but thatâ€™s a fairly cynical view so Iâ€™ll try some other explanations. I think a more viable reason is the structure of club football today. We now regularly see the best players in the world playing on the same pitch in either the Champions League or, in England, the Premiership. AC Milan versus Manchester United recently saw players such as Rooney, Ronaldo, Maldini, Heinze, Vidic, Gattusso, Seerdorf, Kaka and Giggs all on the same pitch at the same time. Youâ€™d have to watch several sterile internationals to see all these players playing for their country and there they all were on one pitch. Now thatâ€™s value for spectatorâ€™s money. With club football becoming ever more profitable and clubs enlisting the best players from around the world is it any wonder that international football is losing its appeal?
My final point goes back to the players themselves; can any of them be bothered anymore?
Is playing against for England against Andorra, with team mates who are normally your rivals, for a manager you find inept, with Phil Neville in the team, really going to inspire you to greatness? I doubt it. Players get so much adoration and media attention these days at club level maybe they just donâ€™t need the extra publicity and grief associated with international football. Club football is now where you get to see the top players at the top of their game, playing usually in successful teams for successful managers. They donâ€™t have to worry about new shapes, midfield partnerships or tactics each game because they have continuity to their club life which allows them to concentrate on just playing football.
On the flip side, further down the leagues, club football is also where you get to see players that care about the club they are playing for and not just the cash, where they donâ€™t fall over every time another player invades their personal space and where you even see players joking with fans in the stands.
The biggest criticism we hear aimed at the England team at the moment is their lack of passion. Well I have to say, Iâ€™m lacking passion for it at the moment as well and maybe thatâ€™s my real problem. I find it hard to care that much about whether millionaire players are going to win anything at international level. I admit to not being too disappointed when England went out of the world cup, because I expected it. Were they all upset at the end because they hadnâ€™t won the cup for their country or because it meant their egoâ€™s had all been dented; book sales might be affected after all. But hey, they were all still going home to their mansions and Ferrariâ€™s, so theyâ€™ll get over it.
International football, for what ever reason, itâ€™s just a bit rubbishâ€¦and I havenâ€™t even mentioned friendlies.