There are many things to dread about the international breaks these days; the overbearing optimism and eventual disappointment, the plastic fan and his new found passion, or simply the customary appearance of Adrian Chiles. For me, it’s always been the incessant battle of club vs. country. It’s an inescapable issue. Every break there is conflict in some way or another, usually one side carelessly voicing its displeasure at the lack of consideration shown by the other.
With England’s two matches last week holding added importance, we were bound to get an extra helping. The mudslinging this time began well back in June with the announcement of the Premier League fixtures.
Then, when the Premier league decided to pit 4 of its biggest clubs the weekend before these crunch matches against each other, Roy Hodgson was reportedly far from impressed. Since then we’ve had an impassioned speech from new FA chairman Greg Dyke, a bitter outburst from Stuart Pearce, and a controversially withdrawn Daniel Sturridge.
All have added fuel to the fire in the debate of the priorities of English football. While the national side consistently underperforms, the Premier League continually boosts its reputation as the most reputable league in world football. As a nation, with the weight of almost 50 years of failure on our shoulders, we choose to believe Greg Dyke and Stuart Pearce. Their ramblings are not seen as purely justifications for the failures of the past and future, as they possibly should be, but as real concerns for the English game and its progression.
Their comments however are empty, tedious and layered with hypocrisy. For what they are fundamentally asking for is a Premier League revolution; for each club to put the needs of the national team essentially above their own.
Yet why should Manchester City use their resources developing an English youngster when there is an even better Spaniard in their ranks who will turn into twice the player? There are only eleven places in that starting line-up, and places are sparse for the youthful candidates. You can’t then blame the clubs for choosing their most exciting talent for the big step up, rather than their most exciting English talent.
It’s selfish yes, but it’s what their club requires to succeed, what their fans demand. It’s about competing at the highest level domestically, regardless of the international consequences. Brendan Rodgers for example was right to play an unfit Daniel Sturridge against Manchester United last Super Sunday (after all he did score the winner), even though it caused him to miss the following internationals to the annoyance of England.
But Liverpool fans won’t care one bit and why should they? Rodgers put his team first, and in all honesty, would Hodgson do any different?
England are often guilty of the exact selfish behaviour they bemoan so frequently. Take Kyle Walker’s unfortunate nitrous oxide picture this week, and the lack of FA discipline following it. Harry Redknapp argued on radio that the FA’s treatment of the incident was laughable, claiming that if Kyle Walker played for Doncaster Rovers he would have ‘had the book thrown at him’. He has a point.
The FA have a habit of showing leniency towards players who can aid them in their own cause. Their defense of Wayne Rooney after his sending off for violent conduct (an inexcusable kick to put it bluntly) against Montenegro back in 2011 was shameless.
Once the realisation struck that the subsequent suspension would rule Rooney out of all of England’s group matches at Euro 2012, the FA went hell over high water to see the ban reduced. A 3 game ban is the customary sanction for such behaviour in the Premier League, but consistency and fairness were a small price to pay for competitiveness.
It is here then where I must apologise for the title of this piece, for I have given the suggestion that I can offer an answer. Sadly, there simply isn’t one to give. Both sides will never yield, and neither should they. Selfishness is not always detrimental in football, in management it is essential to progression, and both the FA and the Premier League clubs have shown that they act with this in mind. To criticise the other is nothing short of hypocritical.
If the FA has problems with Premier League clubs’ international commitment, then they must expect no favours. They must demand improvements via legislation and rule changes in the academies. Developing English youngsters is then no longer a hindrance, it becomes the model that each English side must follow, while ensuring they neither fall behind nor race ahead of their rivals.
It is for the FA to decide the extent of such changes, but you can be assured that until they do, you can expect more of the same; Premier League clubs looking out for who they should look out for, themselves.
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