A global struggle hurting our clubs

IF money makes the world go around, it also ensures footballers are asked to travel half-way around it to earn plenty of cash for the many Football Associations and Federations who make up the global game.

IF money makes the world go around, it also ensures footballers are asked to travel half-way around it to earn plenty of cash for the many Football Associations and Federations who make up the global game.

The club versus country row is not a new dispute. In fact, like two overly competitive brothers, these two have been at loggerheads since their formative years, constantly sniping and complaining that the other enjoys more privileges than they receive.

In theory, international football takes precedence as the pinnacle of the game. The World Cup is the most prestigious competition and the privilege of representing your country, in theory at least, should be the ultimate honour.

Yet, with the steady rise in power of European football and the Champions League, where the biggest clubs have budgets which dwarf some multi-national companies, club football not only puts the best players in the world on display regardless of national barriers, it also does it far more regularly.

It is a struggle for supremacy which will never be settled to everybody’s satisfaction. Although it is one where tensions could be considerably eased with a little more common sense from the national associations and the men in big suits who run them.

For example, it is difficult to fathom why Scotland, having failed to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in South Africa, would have decided to spend a free weekend in their qualifying campaign making a long haul flight to Japan for a friendly.

The only beneficiaries are the Scotland Football Assocation who receive a sizeable fee for agreeing to the fixture, while domestic managers – including Celtic’s Tony Mowbray and Rangers’ Walter Smith who contested a typically passionate Old Firm derby last weekend – wait to see whether their Scottish internationals return in one piece.

While footballers may have the luxury of flying first class, the draining effects of long haul flights still apply and their vulnerability to injury, whether it is in the international match itself or when they return to club duty, is inevitably increased.

For once, Newcastle United go into this international break with little to worry about. It is a measure of their sharp decline that when Chris Hughton took training yesterday morning he had the attention of virtually his entire first team squad. It is not so long ago that when international football fixtures came round, the United training ground was virtually deserted as their big name stars went off to play for their countries in far flung corners of Europe and beyond.

It was a nervous time for any United boss, as he waited anxiously for the dreaded phone call which would bring news of a long term injury to one of his key men. Hughton, though, will only have to concentrate on Argentina’s progress as Fabricio Coloccini and Jonás Gutiérrez are the only members of the side which started against Bristol City last weekend who will be playing on the international stage.

Instead of a bind, this break will come as a welcome relief to a small squad containing a large number of previously pampered top flight performers who are not used to such a gruelling schedule.

The treatment room will be a busy place over the next few days as a wide variety of aches and strains are relieved and the squad reflects on their far better than expected start to the new season.

It is a time for rest and recuperation rather than the stress and strain of World Cup qualifiers.

In contrast, Sunderland manager Steve Bruce could be in store for more than a few restless nights before the Black Cats return to Premier League action against Liverpool. Having gambled on putting together a small, tightly-knit first-team squad, he knows he is at the mercy of injuries and suspensions this season. He has already suffered once this season when influential midfielder Lee Cattermole returned from playing for England Under-21s with a foot problem which has caused him difficulty ever since.

As for Scotland’s ludicrous piece of fixture planning, you can safely assume he will have some strong words to say to the SFA if his first-choice goalkeeper, Craig Gordon, returns to Wearside next week with the slightest hint of a strain. And then there is the eternal problem of Kenwyne Jones. The striker is Trindad and Tobago’s best player, captain and talisman, but his patriotism comes at a cost to the club that will always argue loudly that they pay his wages.

The Soca Warriors have had a dreadful campaign, but Jones, as he should, still wants to represent the country of his birth. However, it is a loyalty which will almost certainly deprive the Black Cats of his services against Liverpool because of his international appearance on the Wednesday night.

With just the slightest shift in the calendar, the South American countries, whose best players tend to migrate to European football anyway, could play their matches on a Tuesday night and these frictions could be avoided. A simple measure could remove so much complication.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer