Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday October 9 2006
Well we're in the middle of another uneventful international hiatus and therefore, I thought what better time to pen an article pontificating the good and bad points of such a regular eventuality.
Most Arsenal fans, myself in particular, have become disenchanted with the appalling regularity of international football. Given the multi cultural patriation of our squad, Gunners players fly to all four corners of the globe to injure themselves in 17-0 wins over the Isle of Wight. I, along with many other Gooners, have called for a blanket ban on international football, but are we being selfish?
For clubs such as ours that provide a plethora of international talent, it is incredibly frustrating to watch other sides hijack our players free of charge, only to send them back fatigued/crocked. Wheteher we like it or not, football has become an industry. Thanks to the likes of bskyb, Sepp Blatter and co, football is a lucrative business. In what other industry in the world would this be allowed to happen? As a for instance, imagine that ricoh borrowed six copying machines from xerox and sent them back broken. Surely a nominal charge would be involved? Yet the draconian laws of UEFA and FIFA dictate that international sides are allowed to call up club sides players without payment and if said club side refuses to release their player, they are reprimanded with sanctions. Hell, according to Raymond Domenech, players are not even allowed the dignity of choosing their retirement. Given that these totalitarian laws exist in favour of international federations, is it so unreasonable for club sides to demand recompense for the use of their players? It was Arsene Wenger's mercurial coaching skills and eye for talent that cultivated Patrick Vieira from the mines of A.C Milan reserves and turned him into a powerhouse. Having put nothing into his development, the French national side look and decide, 'hmmm, he's good, we'll have him.' Imagine if these archaic laws existed in club football.
As a result, I have long been impervious to the lure of international football. When England score a goal it simply does not resonate with me in the way an Arsenal goal does and I'm not going to pretend it does to appease tabloid newspapers. But despite my blanket scathing of the national game, I must acknowledge it has its uses. Having grown up in South London, all of my friends (and I do mean all of them) support Millwall. At the age of 22 they have sat through three relegations, ground closures and currently sit in the bowels of League One. Every week they sit through the dross served up at the Den. Consequently, they are a great deal more enthused about the prospects of the national side. Firstly, because they are not subject to the same rivalries we face with the likes of Gary Neville and Wayne 'I Never Dive' Rooney. But they provide a compelling argument. Given that they sit through seasons in lower league obscurity, vaguely hoping for a plum F.A Cup tie or a flukey play off spot, is it not right that they can watch the stars of the world game and feel as though they belong? I realise this all sounds incredibly patronising, but as a supporter of a big club, I feel I forget this all too much. If we rob loyal supporters of the right to watch Rooney, Gerrard and Terry then we simply encourage more young supporters to become glory hunters and resist their local lower league side. Again, this will sound very rich coming from someone who swells the coffers of 'the Bank of England Club', but I'm allowed to have a social conscience aren't I? Lower leagues are the lifeblood of the game and if we allow them to dissipate we will all suffer in the long term. If one is to glance at the graffitied flags in the England supporters section, clubs such as Hull City, Nottingham Forest, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur have their names emblazoned across flags. Every fan should experience seeing the team they support in a foreign country, it's quite an experience.
Personally, I don't buy patriotism as a reason to support the national side, they should not be a vehicle of nationalism. Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious said Oscar Wilde, I think it's a non existent entity, a fabricated illusion to make people believe war and brutality is acceptable. I am very lucky to have been bought up in this country, there's food to eat, schools to go to and I can say pretty much what I feel. But this does not mean I feel like painting a St.George on my face and singing songs about the IRA and the Queen. However, a national side can have a great deal of currency in bringing a nation together. Euro 96 was a pleasure, shifting the perceptions of Englishness as an all embracing facet, the twin forces of Britpop and Euro 96 gave this nation a sense of euphoria the likes of which I have never seen. The Ivory Coast team epitomised the aspirations of a country torn apart by civil war by qualifying for this summers World Cup. Only today, Arsene Wenger has waxed lyrical about sport's ability to act as a kind of social adhesive. Ivorian supporters can hardly expect to see the likes of Toure, Eboue, Drogba and Zokora strutting their stuff in the Ivorian League, so it is right they should be able to witness their heroes in the flesh. (Unfortunately, FIFA see fit to distribute most tickets to their corporate chums, meaning everybody loses- except FIFA).
The current problem however, is two fold. Firstly, I think everybody agrees there are too many meaningless fixtures. To schedule a friendly three days before the beginning of the domestic season is, at best, irresponsible, at worst, downright stupid. Friendlies by and large are a waste of time in the footballing sense. Most players invent injuries to dodge them and the non competitve nature of the friendly makes them obsolete. If national teams feel they need time to gel 'the group' together, I do not see why they cannot just get together for 3 day training sessions a few times a season. Of course international friendlies are still money spinning events, so do not except UEFA or FIFA to actually safeguard the interests of the game while there is money to be made. There are also too many teams to whom the term 'mickey mouse' would be in no way derogitary. Germany 13-0 San Marino. Who gets anything out of a match like that? (Except FIFA). Sides like San Matino, Liechenstein and Macedonia (just joking England fans) really need to play each other first to determine their worthiness to enter qualifying rounds. Let us not forget that this is sport, the fruit of which is competition, scores in double figures are an insult to everybody.
The second fold of the problem is financial, which I touched on earlier. If national sides want to take players from clubs, I'm afraid they must assume responsibility for the players' wages in the time they spend away and incur any resulting medical bills. Playing the second instalment of a double header on a Wednesday as opposed to Tuesday is also an insult to clubs who cannot effectively utilise their players for a weekend match when the player is ill prepared and riddled with jet lag. I suppose internationals are a necessary evil which non believers like me will just have to put up with. But the current system is abusive to clubs, disrespectful to supporters, but hey, UEFA are doing alright out if it hey? LD.
Date:Monday October 9 2006
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