With the internationals now over until next March, I for one am delighted with the return of the Premier League this coming weekend. It does however beg the question, international football versus club football, which is more important to football fans?
With such a long break in-between internationals, whether it be friendlies or competitive matches, it is hard to focus back on the importance of international matches. For instance, after your team has just lost a possible season-changing derby match at home to their closest rivals, how many fans of that team would honestly care about the international friendly coming up the following week? For the players as well, having to equip themselves to new surroundings for a few weeks, with new players, after having possibly suffered a bad defeat for their club the previous weekend. How many players would see it as a positive?
Meeting up with fellow countrymen that they haven’t seen in a while and representing their country should mean a lot to professional footballers. In spite of that, many have turned down the chance to represent their country. A high profile example being Stephen Ireland turning down the chance to play for the Republic of Ireland under Giovanni Trapattoni for the qualification campaign for the European Championships in 2012.
Is it really that important for players in today’s game to represent their country, or is it just something that they take as a given and like another job essentially? Paul Scholes retired from international football at the age of 29, just at the peak of his career stating that he thought that his club football was more important than international football.
Weekly matches make it seem obvious
If I was to put a scenario to a person who had never followed football before, that we have a club system in Europe and in the Premier League where club matches are every weekend while international matches are once every 6 months, I think most people would take up the view of following the club rather than the international team.
I do understand however, when major international tournaments come around, whether it be the World Cup finals every four years or the European Championships every four years, it is a time where every football fan, regardless of what club they follow on a weekly basis, come together to celebrate the international team’s success.
However, coming from the Republic of Ireland, our international team has only qualified for the last two out of a possible six major tournaments, and it is increasingly difficult to keep up a sustained supporting effort for the international team, when they are absent from each major tournament. The introduction of more friendlies perhaps would seem appropriate, as well as more tournaments, something like the Six Nations in rugby. A small example of this was the Nations Cup which took place in the Aviva stadium in 2011 in which Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales all took part. It was won by the Republic of Ireland, despite (or thanks to!) the fact that it lacked serious competition or depth of any kind.
With the fact that top professional footballers are paid so much in wages on a weekly basis, it seems that they have all they need, with the odd commercial deal coming now and again just for extra security on a financial basis. Realistically, unless you play for Brazil, Spain, possibly Germany and maybe even Holland, only then could you ever look forward to playing in a World Cup final or indeed anything even close to it.
Some England fans interviewed after the defeat to Germany at Wembley on Tuesday night said they would be delighted to even get out of the group in the World Cup. Fans of international football must take it as a given that these great players that play at a high level each week for their club, are automatically selected for their country and should then do well. With regards to high profile players being dropped from their club team lately, Joe Hart of Manchester City springs to mind. With nobody apart form Manuel Pellegrini knowing when Hart will be recalled to the City starting eleven, does England Manager Roy Hodgson now honestly believe that Hart can start in goal next Summer in Brazil without playing regular football at Manchester City?
Some players especially feel burnt out after a long season with their club and also with activities off the field as well, such as participation in commercial activities that I mentioned earlier. That has to have a knock-on effect on morale in a camp coming up to an international tournament such as the World Cup next year in Brazil.
International performances affecting club performances?
The fact that most of the internationals that took place during this week were only friendlies, it is hard to see how a poor performance in an international friendly would affect that player’s morale coming back into a Premier League weekend. This scenario was evident however after the European Championships in 2006 where Portugal beat England, two Manchester United players were seen having a bust up on the pitch after it was believed Cristiano Ronaldo made a significant contribution towards the referee in getting club mate Wayne Rooney sent off before the end of the ninety minutes.
Manchester United went on to beat Fulham 5-1 on the opening day of the new Premier League season after the champions, both Rooney and Ronaldo shined, scoring three goals between them, and both seemed willing to play a part in Manchester United’s season that year. Clearly the international scene did not affect either player there on that instance. Both know, I believe anyway, that their club careers are far more important than their Pnternational careers, however both might agree how proud they are to represent their country, in spite of that.
All in all, I’m just delighted that the Premier League is back this weekend!