We have decided to write a collaborative post about the International Break. Mark, Paul and I will give you our thoughts on having International Breaks during the season.
Okay, I struggle with international football and honestly, will probably only actively watch games from major tournaments rather than qualifiers and friendlies. Why? That’s a tough question. I will normally watch any match, yet find international football to not be as interesting, exciting and entertaining as club football. It doesn’t feel like the prize for winning or the cost of losing is as big as in club football. I get the national pride element to international football, yet is watching your side batter a group of part time players something to be proud of? Even worse, can you be proud when your side doesn’t batter a group of part time players? At the end of the day, International Breaks during the season are just a distraction from the really important football which takes place between August and May!
I don’t think there are many league managers who want to break up their squad, send their players around the world and risk potential injuries for no particular reason, yet every year managers are forced to do this four times. The first three of these breaks take place within the first four months of the season. Just when you want to be building momentum, cohesion and form you have to let your players go and play against a group of part time, semi-professional players from San Marino, Malta or Gibraltar. Why not use the summer where there isn’t a major tournament to play more qualifying games? If this became the norm, then you may have players who are used to playing 11 months of the year and then cannot complain of tiredness when it comes to a major tournament.
I understand the need for qualifying, in Europe we have too many nations who believe they should be at major tournaments compared to places, however having England play against Malta, Germany playing San Marino and Spain against Liechtenstein you do wonder what any side really learns. This isn’t the FA Cup, there are no giant killings, it’s a league so even if one of the smaller nations beats a bigger nation, they will probably go on to lose their next 3 games and won’t qualify. Qualifying should be split up, the smaller nations do not have competitions in the summer, when the bigger nations are at World Cups and Euros so why don’t they have a separate preliminary competition to qualify for qualifying? If this was introduced then you would reduce the number of games which needs to take place during the course of a season.
I get that International Managers want games, they need to train the players, work on tactics and form a harmonious squad, yet doing this during the course of a season is a risk, mainly for the players and clubs, rather than the country. Personally I believe that for clubs, players and fans, the best option would be to have 2 international windows a year for games. One in the Summer from 1st June until 30th June, where up to 8 games could be played and then a mid-season break, probably in the 2 weeks before Christmas, where an International side could get 4 games in before the continental Winter break. This would give them 12 games a year, which is not to dissimilar to the number of games they currently play over a 12 month period. I know some will say that the players won’t get a summer, but they don’t get one every other year anyway so they will get used to it. It also means you give back 2 weeks of the season so you could start the season in September rather than August if the players need a longer break. Anyway, now I have fixed football, I am going to move onto solving world hunger, poverty and war!
For me, international football has gone from being one of the things I loved as a kid to one of the things I dread the most as an adult. I’m not sure if I’m in the majority or not, but growing up watching England was quite … enjoyable (?).
I was on 6 years old when Euro’96 took the country by storm and later anguish (cliché, penalties!). Aside from the Three Lions song and the fact that the Manchester IRA bomb was the same day that Gazza scored ‘that’ goal against Scotland, I sadly don’t have any real tangible memories of the tournament. However, two years later, I was a little older and a littler wiser, and the World Cup really caught my imagination; England were gonna win it… (Yep, we we’re all that stupid – and have been fooled like that time and time again!). There was something ‘fun’ about watching England back then, Shearer, Beckham, a young Michael Owen. In contrast to the dryness that these players now show when they’re being pundits, that England team had a bit of character about it. The Argentina game tore at every emotion. Everyone felt the pain of the Beckham-Simeone-kick-red-card-villain-traitor-lost-us-the-world-cup…. blah blah.
But honestly, whether people hated Beckham for that red card or not, I cannot believe that there is a single English football fan on the planet that didn’t scream when Owen scored that blinder and England had a glint of hope…
Since then, each tournament has seemed to get progressively less interesting as an England fan if I’m honest. Worst still, I’m not fully convinced that my disenchantment is solely based of the increasingly drab style of football that the national team has employed…
In addition, the team isn’t picked to my liking. Up until recently, I’ve not agreed with 75% of the players that get selected. They’re often not players I would have picked and so I’d have little interest. At times I’ve not even felt sure that the players selected were the manager’s choice; a lot of the caps given out during the last 10 years seemed like they were picked by a panel at the FA and pressure from the media. Capello was supposed to be this imposing and cut throat manager, but he was squirmed into giving Beckham his farewell caps. Not that Beckham didn’t deserve it, he did, he’s one of the players that I was actually proud to see wear the armband for the national team – despite his United ties.
We won’t talk about John Terry. Craig Bellamy’s comments on JT over the years, are all that need to be referred to. Google it if you’re not sure.
The Capello and McClaren periods might actually have been the root cause to my declining passion for the national team. McClaren for obvious reasons. The fool should never have been given the job… but I digress. Capello’s tenure as manager was the same: boring football, routine group stage victories, but bugger all at tournaments. The Three Lions were just flat track bullies, nothing more.
Nowadays, we can be more optimistic in terms of the national team. The likes of Alli, Dier, Stones, Walker, Rose, Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain etc, are young, hungry players that I think in the next few years could actually give England a good chance of performing well at a tournament – we won’t win anything, I don’t believe, but we might do better than lose on penalties in the first round knockout stage…
That said, international football and International Breaks in the domestic season are soul sapping. Club football is so much more important to me, because it’s so entertaining. International Breaks during the season are dreaded. Most of the games are unnecessary and more often than not, they lead to injuries and disrupt the domestic season. Why do England need a friendly against the likes of Malta, San Marino or Latvia in February?
There’s a growing call for a winter break in the Premier League; Sod That! Just stop the daft friendlies and let the players rest. If you want the national team to bond, gel, and get used to playing away from home in tournaments, then cluster the internationals together over a 2 week period at the end of the domestic season. The players and coaching staff will learn a hell of a lot more from that then they will spending 5 days together every 3 or 4 months! The football world doesn’t stop for the African Cup Of Nations, so why should it for qualifiers for the Euros, Copa America and the likes?
Let club football run its course without interruption, and then club the internationals together at the start of the summer!
If someone asked me the question of whether I would rather see my club team win the league or my country win the World Cup, the answer would be a no-brainer. Having seen my national team fail year in year out I can safely say I’m not a huge lover of international football these days. For me, the days of thrilling World Cups such as France ’98 are very much in the past, and in the UK in particular, the majority of football fans are more passionate about the club game. As far as I’m concerned there are a number of reasons for this, which I will discuss my in piece to follow.
A lack of quality at international level
Of course I understand that there are world class teams at international level such as Spain and Germany, with squads packed with talent which can be seen regularly at the highest level of the club game. However, there are far too many teams who are given too much respect by UEFA, and quite frankly haven’t earned the right to test themselves against Europe’s best. In federations such as Asia and North America, these teams have to battle it out in preliminary qualifying rounds before they earn the right to play their respective confederations’ ‘big boys’. However, in Europe, teams such as England are repeatedly forced to play the likes of San Marino and Andorra, and quite frankly fans have had enough. There is no benefit to any party when fixtures like this take place. For England, absolutely nothing can be gained in terms of practise for big Championships and for the minnows it’s nothing more than sheer embarrassment. I for one would be much more interested in qualifying if my country were playing teams who can compete properly. The usefulness of friendly games has also been called into question in recent years. For example, England were magnificent in defeating France 2-0 and Germany 3-2 in the build up to the 2016 Euros. Unfortunately, this experience proved to be a false dawn as the team were abject at the finals, eventually being humbled by Iceland in the last 16.
In addition to qualifying, the last few major Championships have been less than enthralling. Compared to the Premier League and Champions League, where there are many goals and attacking football, international matches are very slow and lethargic even in World Cups and the Euros. Players appear tired and in some cases uninterested which is very concerning.
If you look at all major finals starting with the World Cup 2010, the results have been startling. Spain and Holland played out a dire 0-0 draw after 90 minutes in 2010, followed by Spain’s annihilation of Italy in 2012. World Cup 2014 was also a dull 0-0 draw after 90 minutes between Germany and Argentina and what about 2016? You guessed it! A 0-0 draw after 90 minutes between France and Portugal in Paris. To add to this, incredibly the last 2 Copa America final’s have also ended 0-0 after 90 minutes! Having seen these results it’s not a surprise that people are becoming disillusioned with the quality of matches at international level.
Is this just the situation in England or worldwide?
One thing I have noticed about living abroad is that the further east you go, the more people care about the national teams in sport in general. In China, the league enforced a three week break only 2 weeks into the season to give the Chinese national team more time to prepare for their crucial World Cup qualifiers against South Korea, which they won 1-0 and next week against Iran. An extra week was provided to give manager Marcelo Lippi time to train his players and see what team was best suited to start the game. In the Premier League and Europe in general, it is unimaginable that leagues would accept this situation.
In addition to the scheduling, the league in general caters towards national success. The league recently combatted the huge spending by Chinese clubs by increasing restrictions on the number of foreign players in a team. The number was decreased from 4 to 3 following a year of poor results by the national team. Furthermore, Chinese clubs are obliged to play a Chinese goalkeeper in every match!
In Russia international football also takes precedence over the club game. The number of supporters who attend games is drastically higher at international level, with stadiums almost always sold out when Russia play. However, aside from teams such as Zenit and Spartak, many smaller clubs struggle to attract a large number of supporters. This is in contrast to in England, where even teams like Sunderland draw crowds of 40,000 and in the Championship crowds average 20,000 a game. This kind of support for the club game is unprecedented throughout the world. Maybe English people’s dedication to the club game is partly the reason why we don’t have such a high interest in the international fixtures. Obviously many rival clubs’ players are representing England, and it’s not easy for a Manchester City fan to cheer Rooney’s goals, or for an Arsenal fan to applaud every Deli Alli assist.
Is this issue unique to football in England or does it affect other sports?
I think we can safely say it is a problem unique to football. Britain’s other two major sports, rugby union and cricket are dominated by the international games. So much so that club and country sides are required to release players for many months should a player be selected for the national side. In cricket, players are paid a separate salary by the English Cricket Board (ECB) and county sides are effectively played as a training exercise for the country. In terms of attendances, international matches attract hoards of supporters and media interest from up and down the country, whereas at county level very few people attend matches partly due to inconvenient timings.
With regard to rugby union, the club game has slightly more influence but nothing comparable to football. For example, the English Premiership has applied a rule where any player playing outside England will not be eligible for the national team. This suggests that the national game is again taking control over the club game, with the manager more able to see players in action in a league where the players are encouraged to play ‘English style’. Players only tend to leave their national league when their international career is effectively over, with many choosing to seek pastures new in big money leagues like ‘Top 14’ in France.
All in all, I still believe that international football has a vital place in the footballing elite, but changes need to be made, and not the ones which currently look like happening. FIFA president Infantino has proposed an increase to the number of teams in the World Cup to 48 from 32. This would further dilute the quality of the finals, much like the decision to increase the Euros to 24 teams this summer, leading to certain teams lacking the quality to make any sort of impact. On a positive note these finals did upset the ‘status quo’ a little, with Wales making the semi finals and Iceland making the quarters. However, it would take a large restructure of the qualifying process in particular for English people to regain a love of the international game.
Let us know your thoughts on the subject, are you country first or club first?