Why Patrick Vieira might not be wrong:

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There was outrage throughout the British media last week when it was suggested by Patrick Vieira that young English players no longer “love” playing for their country in the same manner that his own generation did. It is likely that his comments were taken out of context somewhat, as is often the case, but the sentiment remains a thought-provoking one – in the club vs. country debate, is there really only one option for the modern footballer?

Manchester City’s football development executive pointed to instances of players pulling out of international matches – particularly friendlies – at all levels of the England set-up due to injury. The most recently publicised example of this came as Ryan Bertrand missed the senior team’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino with what was reported as being a sore throat (it should be noted that Bertrand later took to Twitter to explain, in his own endearing style, that it was in fact swollen throat glands that had prevented him from playing). Vieira’s argument seems to be that in days gone by, players viewed selection for their national side as the pinnacle of their career and something to take ultimate pride from – something that no longer seems to be the case. Perhaps ten years ago, players would have put themselves through physical pain to represent England but is that something that we can realistically expect from the modern player?

The most cynical – but maybe also the most influential – factor in this attitude change appears to be the financial incentives that are (or aren’t) associated with playing international football. It’s no big secret that footballers are paid extortionate wages and that their collective greed is, if anything, on the increase. To turn out for their club side is not just to earn their weekly salary but also to gain appearance bonuses, assist bonuses, goal bonuses, clean sheet bonuses – not to mention promotion, league or cup success bonuses. It is difficult to truly know if there are any financial add-ons for a young player representing the England national side, although it would be unsurprising to many if this were the case.

So when a player is asked to choose between their club (in essence, their employer) or to represent England in a match against a team of part-time European minnows, can they really be blamed for making a selfish personal decision? We know that money talks and it is reasonable to assume that an amount of pressure is applied by staff at Premier League clubs on their young stars to avoid ‘non-essential’ international fixtures.

It must also be considered that – and I warn you, this will be hard to swallow for any die-hard, Great Escape-hollering, “En-ger-land” fans out there – England is just not a footballing nation that players are proud to represent any more. With the introduction of the St George’s Park complex and a host of new initiatives, it looks as if the FA are finally making strides in the right direction. In recent years, however, they have fumbled their way through a string of farcical situations: Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McLaren, Fabio Capello, failed qualification campaigns, inter-squad fall-outs, race scandals; you name it, the FA has messed it up.

How can players really be expected to make sacrifices and risk irking their club side for an international set-up which can, at times, be viewed as little more than shambolic? If a player loses faith in their club side’s management, they can choose to move on. For their country, they have little choice – play and keep quiet, or be labelled as a player who “snubbed” the chance to win caps for his country.

The image of Terry Butcher being so “committed” to the cause of the three lions that he continued to play as a blood-soaked mess is perhaps now a completely out-dated and irrelevant one. However, this is a symbol of a passion that many England fans would be utterly delighted to see from their current crop of home-grown talent. If a culture of true pride in pulling on an England shirt is to be restored, then it is an issue that needs to be addressed at the top level. Once players can maintain faith in their national association, then maybe they will be less reluctant to commit to the cause themselves.


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