The domestic season will be put on hold next weekend as international fixtures take centre stage. England visit the Millennium Stadium for a European Championship qualifier on Saturday, before Wembley plays host to World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana the following Tuesday. With Home Nations pride and a vital three points at stake, Fabio Capello should be able to pick a strong side against Wales. But be prepared to see much of the squad sidelined with knocks and niggles for the Ghana game.
Almost without question, a fair few senior members of the Three Lions squad will succumb to ailments between the final whistle on Saturday afternoon in Cardiff and the kick-off in London on Tuesday evening. Just as they always seem to when England friendlies roll around. But don’t be surprised if they’ve miraculously recovered in time for their club’s fixture the following weekend. The condition, known as ‘internationalitis’, is believed to be related to ‘dog-ate-my-homework syndrome’ which is rife amongst school kids.
It’s easy to be cynical about players dropping like flies, but there is an obvious conflict of interest between club and country. Countless club managers in the past have been left seething when their stars have returned crocked – Belgian outfit Sporting Charleroi were amongst the first to fight for compensation when midfielder Abdelmajid Oulmers was ruled out for eight months when on international duty with Morocco in 2004.
Robin van Persie sustained a serious injury when representing the Netherlands in 2009. His compatriot Dirk Kuyt suffered the same fate earlier this season, on the same day that his Liverpool teammate Daniel Agger was injured whilst wearing the Denmark jersey. Chelsea’s Michael Essien has twice suffered long-term lay-offs in recent years because of his international career – Chelsea didn’t seek compensation from the Ghanaian FA, knowing they wouldn’t be able to afford his £100,000-a-week wages. There is still no definitive structure in place to protect wage-paying clubs against the will of the international federations, so it’s no surprise that players often worm their way out of mid-season friendlies.
It isn’t just English players make themselves unavailable. With most of their star players based in Europe, Brazil and Argentina often call on home-based representatives for friendlies. Diego Maradona used an astronomical 107 different players during Argentina’s qualifying campaign for last year’s World Cup. Both South American superpowers have just three players in their history in the exclusive ‘100-Club’ for international caps – it seems unlikely that they will be joined from any members of the new generation anytime soon.
Senior stars withdrawing from the England squad means peripheral players can gain international experience – youngsters Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere both recently made their England debuts with key players unavailable. But Jay Bothroyd, Kevin Davies and Stephen Warnock also made surprise international appearances this season, during the twilight of their career. With experienced members withdrawing there is a danger that youngsters won’t be able to integrate with the ‘real’ senior squad, if caps continue to be distributed like confetti.
This article was submitted for publication in Doncaster Rovers’ matchday programme for the npower Football League Championship match against Queens Park Rangers on Mar 19th 2011.