Tottenham's Jermain Defoe Misses England Game. Club v Country Debate

Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe had to go off with an ankle injury after 35 minutes of Spurs’ win at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, ruling him out of the England match and the Spurs’ games for a number of weeks. Defoe’s injury is obviously serious but now Manchester United’s Michael Carrick has been withdrawn from the England squad with a hip injury while a thigh injury causes Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool to miss the friendly against Brazil.

The England manager, Roy Hodgson, is once again faced with the problem that all international managers struggle with, trying to find late replacements to strengthen their squad in the days before the game.

The question then arises – how many Premier League players will miss playing for their country in this week’s international matches but have recovered to play for their clubs next weekend?

Alan’s Thoughts on this Thorny Subject.

Club vs Country – a Little Bit of Controversy

Both written media and televisual media can be pretty fickle. I really enjoy the Sun’s and Sky’s coverage of football. I have read the Sun for as long as I can remember and taken plenty of stick for it from people who I would hope would know better. Just because you read something, it does not mean that you believe it all, or subscribe to the political stance taken. On the other hand, it is foolish to avoid a publication, particularly the most popular one, just because you don’t agree with all of the views expressed in it. Having said that, whilst both these arms of the Murdoch empire are very good at fast factual reporting of events and of rumours – gossip and speculation are after all half the fun of the football fan – it doesn’t do any harm to remember that there may well be an agenda behind some of the stances taken.

Put in the context of club vs country, this manifests itself in the way that the press has been critical of England’s lack of success and the number and timing of “meaningless” friendlies. In a TV interview following the November round of friendlies Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, said that he had substituted Papa Demba Cisse in the 85th minute of the League game before an international, and then did not allow him to take part in the international because he was injured. He was then complaining a few days later, “We were kept waiting until a couple of hours before the (ensuing Newcastle) game to see if he could play.” I don’t know how he kept a straight face as he played up the injured party stance. If Cisse was too injured to play in the international, then he should be treated as too injured to play in the next club game. Interestingly, that’s exactly what happened. So my point is, if the Senegal FA have that power, why doesn’t the English FA? If it does, why doesn’t it exercise it? Why doesn’t the Press campaign for it to happen?

There appears to be an at least tacit acceptance of the view expressed almost unanimously by Premier League clubs and their managers that players should not have to be released for friendly internationals and sometimes even competitive ones, if they are not considered to be crucial. Players frequently develop injuries just before an international which they recover from in time for their next club game. Time and time again managers criticise the England management for selecting a young player, saying they are exhausted and need to be given a break. Stuart Pearce managing the Under 21s suffers from this more than anyone. I don’t know how they have the cheek to say this.

Ironically when the actual World or European championship finals arrive, the same managers’ attitudes and pronouncements in the press about representing your country do an about face and they start pushing for their players to be included in the squad – the same ones that have been “too tired” or injured to turn up for the friendlies for the previous 18 months.

The reason a young player gets close to burn out or ends up with a stress fracture or injury is because their club has irresponsibly run them into the ground in the first place. If a club has already got the player to the point where it is a health risk to play one friendly international, or half a dozen games at the end of a season then it has failed in its duty of care to that player under the health and safety provisions that apply to all employment. How many times have I seen a manager say a young player is too tired to play Under- 21 internationals because they have played too many games in a season and then dragged them off around the world to promotional club “warm up” pre-season tournaments? It’s up to the club to ensure its squad is big enough to not have to run youngsters into the ground by playing them in too many games.  They should use club games as rest periods for the kids, not the odd international when opportunity comes knocking.

There is a clear attitude from the club managers that because they play the players wages, they should have the whip hand. Yet if we looked at the subject honestly and with a clear conscience, I think we all know that there are some basic principles that apply.

  • First, the greatest honour of all is to be selected for and to play for your country. No matter how much you love your club, you play for your country by birth right (OK, they have watered that down in recent years to residential qualifications and your Nan having once had a holiday in your country of choice but you know what I mean). This principle seems to be accepted without question in cricket, rugby and other sports. You never see, or at least never used to see counties suggesting that their best cricketers shouldn’t be released to play test cricket.
  • Second, you should be prepared to play for your country for the sheer pride and honour of it. If you do not feel that way, then you’d be better off not accepting the cap in the first place and saying why. Like John Lennon did with his MBE. It was refreshing to read that the England squad has indeed started to donate its appearance fees to charity, since the last World Cup debacle. I do hope that is true.

The rights and wrongs of the matter are obvious and so is how to prevent cub vs country disputes, yet it does not get a proper airing in the press and the clubs are therefore not put under any real pressure to change. So much of the money in the game comes from TV contracts, which mostly comes from Sky. This money mostly goes to the clubs, not the Football Association. The FA is often at odds with the Premier League.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of their issues that means that the media have no real interest in the club vs country row resolving in the country’s favour.

Alan’s Solution to Club v Country Debate

The club v country row could be resolved overnight if the following provisions were made:

If a player is not available, for injury or illness reasons to play for his country, then for the health and safety of that player, he should not be allowed to play for his club for one week after the date of the international match.

This is a precautionary removal from the competitive arena that will apply in all cases, given that even with the best will in the world club doctors may underestimate the recovery period needed to ensure the on-going fitness of the player.  It’ll never happen of course.

Over To You!

Do you agree with Alan’s solution to the Club v Country problem?


Tags: Club V Country Internationals Jermain Defoe Soccer Tottenham Hotspur

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