Let’s get one thing out of the way really quickly: this is not a knee-jerk reaction to the events in Montenegro on Tuesday. Yes, I did watch the match, and I thought that the England football team put in a pretty poor performance for the majority of the match. People are now talking about missing out on the World Cup, even though a quick look at the fixtures makes me think that is unlikely. However, this blog isn’t (particularly) about that match, although it is about football in general.
As of late, it has become very fashionable for footballers to find reasons not to play international matches. Rio Ferdinand got most of the abuse when he pulled out of both of the recent qualifiers, stating that it would interfere with his training. I think 95% of the people who read this took it for what he really meant, which is that he has a serious dislike for several members of the England/Chelsea team, following a perceived (and legally dismissed) claim of racism against his brother, and anyway, who gives a shit about a qualifier in San Marino?
However, Rio isn’t the only footballer pulling this trick. The squad was seriously affected by “injury” withdrawals, as players queued up to tell Roy Hodgson that they couldn’t play. I have long held a suspicion that players use illness/injury as an excuse to get out of undesirable matches, ever since the London riots in 2011. Frank Lampard (and please bear in mind this is all from memory) cried off an international friendly a few days before the start of the Premier League, citing a bout of flu as his excuse. However, the international was cancelled due to the riots, and Frank made a miraculous recovery to play for Chelsea 3 days later. I have had flu and it is not the sort of thing you recover from fully in 3 days. Maybe it was a mis-diagnosis, but also maybe it was the case that Frank/Chelsea didn’t want to risk one of their star players in a meaningless match. If they said that, of course, the press (and the FA) would crucify them, but if he’s ill then no one can say anything, and it would be seen as pretty churlish if an independent doctor was sent over to verify the claim…
In case you think I am in any way biased about this, please consider my view of Gareth Bale (as a Spurs fan). I love the fact that this guy has transformed from a “cursed” player to undoubtedly the team’s top talent and reason for any success in the past couple of seasons. It makes me very happy to see him scoring goals in the lily white shirt. However, he and I are both British, and I don’t think I will ever forgive him for his behaviour during the 2012 London Olympics. He was expected to be a key part of the British football team, which was reformed specifically for this event. He could have had a chance to win an Olympic medal, until disaster struck! Spurs declared him injured and unavailable, a call that became more and more transparent when match reports showed him playing 90 minutes for Spurs in pre-season friendlys in the USA during the Olympics. I am still incredibly saddened that he/the club chose to play in a meaningless (though surely far more lucrative) game in New York when eternal glory could have been his in London. Some fans may think I’m over-reacting, but I loved the Olympics, and I don’t understand his rationale at all.
I used to think this behaviour was absolutely disgraceful. Any English boy would love the chance to play for his country on Wembley, no? However unlikely it would be, I know no one who would turn the chance down. I hated to see this selfish, over-pampered wankers turning their back on something that most of us would to anything to be a part of.
However, I have recently changed my view on this. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- England suck! Come on, you know they do. The likelihood of England winning a major trophy during my lifetime is incredibly small (maybe nil?). It actually must be quite frustrating to be in the England team. You are not the best in the world, yet people expect you to be. Opposition celebrate 0-0 draws against you as though they have slain a mighty dragon, and yet the best teams in the world hope they draw you in the knockouts because they know how easily you crumble. Ask Spain, Brazil, Germany, even France and Holland which England players they would swap into their team, and I doubt you’d get many answers. I can’t really blame the players for not wanting to be part of such mediocrity.
- They’re effectively gambling with their livelihood, for very limited gain.
To try and justify this second point, let me give you an example: Ever since it became clear that I was not a footballing genius, I have had a kind of (non-sexual) fantasy; that I could instantly become incredible at anything I chose to take up. Because I’m a bit weird, my choice with the superpower was to take up football, become an international superstar to rival Messi and Pele, earn MILLIONS of pounds, and use my position and wealth to do some good for the world. I am serious, that if I found myself earning £250,000 a week, I would probably keep my earnings from the first 3 months. Buy a nice (but not ridiculous house), a great car, put some money aside to get my kids (as yet not in existence, but still) through university etc. After this, I would symbolically keep one week’s wages per year (still more than enough to live VERY comfortably on), and the rest would be donated to my newly set up charity, which would do really great things across the world.
Now, I don’t know exactly how much could be accomplished with £13m a year, but I reckon it is quite a bit. Add on to that advertising and earnings for my expert punditry, and the number could be even higher. Now imagine that I get asked to play in the qualifier in San Marino. England will of course win, whoever plays, and the only unusual outcome that I can imagine is that I get a Dean Ashton-esque injury (he was injured in training with the England team which ultimately led to his retirement) and I lose the opportunity to cure malaria or something. I don’t pretend to believe that all (or any really) footballers are this generous with their earnings, if you own a Bentley with a custom camouflage paint job in a world where kids starve to death every day, I think you’re a knob. But they too value the position they find themselves in, and it probably seems stupid to piss off your employer/risk your career, even if the odds of it happening are very slim, to play a game that will be remembered by very few people at all.
And that’s why I don’t really care about the England football team. I am not frustrated with their performances (although I am, but as a Spurs fan this does not feel in anyway unusual), but I have found an appreciation for the privileged, but short-lived position the players find themselves in, and know that if I was in the same, I wouldn’t so much as run for a bus in case I lost the position forever.
Incidentally, I still haven’t forgiven Gareth Bale. All players want to play the World Cup games – no one would cry off that opportunity, including myself. You may argue that the Olympics aren’t at the same level, but I disagree. If you have a problem with that, start a blog.