As another much-maligned international friendly has come and gone with the histrionics associated with the irrepressible ‘Club Vs Country’ row, it is the fans that have been forgotten. Below, a typical England football fan used for illustrative purposes.
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Some club managers and the hierarchy within the Premier League will argue that international friendlies are a ‘nuisance’ and are ‘too physically demanding on the players’. Whilst the latter is an argument that is fairly conceivable, the former paints an all too familiar picture of the declining importance of international football.
The England manager, Fabio Capello, and other international managers will argue that these friendlies are ‘essential’ and ‘a chance to test new talent’. These views would, no doubt, concur with The Football Associations’.
Yet, in the ensuing debate as to whether club football is more important than international football, the importance of the fans and, moreover, their views have been shamelessly overlooked.
A reported 2,500 fans travelled to Denmark to support England in the first international of the calendar year, none of which would have thought it a ‘nuisance’.
The importance of the supporter is often misplaced. Take away the supporters and the gate receipts fall which would be the catalyst of a spiral of ever decreasing interest. It may sound like a simplistic argument but the enthusiasm for the game from fans has been taken for granted, evidently in this latest row of ‘club versus country’.
It is not just the clubs and the Premier League at fault for this air of arrogance. The players themselves contribute to this mindset with the increasingly frequent ‘pick and choose’ mentality of making themselves available for their country when it suits.
There is the obvious counter-argument that any player named in an international squad that complains of an injury requires to be checked and ‘signed off’ by the physio of the national team. This said, in the light of Dean Ashton’s settlement which saw The FA pay compensation for his career-ending injury picked up on international duty, a firmly worded letter from the players’ respective club is sure to make the national team think twice on the importance of the upcoming match; frequently friendlies.
Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, seems to have the inevitable knack of getting injured prior to a friendly for England on the Wednesday but recovering in time to play for Liverpool the following Saturday. Its farcical and this is the behaviour of the England captain no less.
In a press conference held yesterday, Frank Lampard, the deputising captain and Chelsea midfielder, expressed that representing England is still “the proudest moment in a players career”. This statement will resonate with some, mainly those of a time when representing your country really was the pinnacle of a professionals career.
Perhaps this is slightly unfair on those players who have pride in representing their country but it is hard to establish who those players are. After all, Gerrard is not the only player to have declared himself injured for an international friendly and then turned out for this club in the same week.
It is a sad indictment of the game, indicative of the culture and mentality of the modern professional and the greed within the Premier League. Lord Triesman, the former chairman of The FA, has reinforced this feeling in the past couple of days by insisting that Premier League officials felt that they were in competition with The FA. This is as absurd as it is worrying.
The club versus country row is not a new one but the injection of in-fighting between The FA and the Premier League, along with the disregard towards the famous ‘Three Lions’ shirt shown by some players is. These are rows that need to addressed promptly for the good of the game before the supporters decide to vote with their feet.