Is player power in football even worse at this level?
The concept of ‘player power’ was once a mere zit on the beautiful game, but over the years it has slowly mutated into an inoperable tumour. Football clubs up and down the country, across all divisions, are continually held to ransom by the demands and ultimatums of their narcissistic employees. However, despite its repeated occurrence in domestic football, I would argue that it’s even more rife on the International stage.
Nowadays it’s painfully obvious that our nation’s stars harbour an unwavering allegiance with their respective club. The juvenile tug of war between club and country is an all too familiar affair, which threatens to dominate the headlines once more should Andy Carroll pick up an injury over the next few days. How many times have we heard troublesome stories of players feigning injury just to secure a prolonged period of rest?
An international call-up is no longer an honour but an extra circular activity that players can chose to participate in. Last summer’s squad selection debacle highlighted a number of players, including Micah Richards and Peter Crouch, who refused to be listed on standby. Whether they believe they should be the first name on the teamsheet is irrelevant, the level of egotism on display is frightening.
There are a growing number of former England internationals that have gone one-step further and retired altogether, dishing out the tired cliché that they have been ‘unfairly treated’. In the minority of cases it’s understandable, especially if their devotion towards the national team has never been questioned. However, it astonishes me that players can even contemplate refusing a distress call from their country, just imagine how different Euro 2012 might have been with Paul Scholes pulling the strings in midfield?
Without wanting to be cruel, the majority of players that have omitted their name from potential selection are no great loss. Unfortunately this is not the case with the latest retiree John Terry, who in the eyes of many remains England’s best defender. Perhaps no one knows this better than Terry himself and I fear he has made this drastic decision just to prove a point, knowing full well that if England look fragile in his absence, the cries calling for his return will quickly increase in volume.
Thankfully England are not the only team to suffer the perils of player power, with their dismal performance during the summer overshadowed by events in the Dutch camp. The Netherlands were heavily tipped to excel at Euro 2012 despite being drawn in the ‘group of death’ and possessing a defence that resembled a house of cards. However, their winless campaign was dogged by rumours of unrest featuring the tantrums of part-time player Rafael van der Vaart and the egotistical nature of Robin van Persie.
Their plight was epitomised no more so by the performances of Gregory van der Wiel, who appeared to abandon his defensive duties at every inconceivable moment. His selfish displays were perhaps unsurprising given that former footballer Johan Derksen, now chief editor of Dutch football magazine Voetbal International, revealed that he had spent a lot of time “doing a lot of things, except playing football”.
“He’s running his own fashion line, working on his music and getting his hair done every day. The players did not see him without headphones on.” (goal.com)
Further evidence perhaps that you can have the best players in the world and not have the best team.
Roy Hodgson cannot rely on the same luxuries with England as he could in the Premier League. Should he make a mistake, he risks upsetting an entire nation and if relations between individual players break down beyond repair, there is no transfer kitty to find a suitable substitute. The pool of potential replacements is significantly smaller, especially in England’s case.
Perhaps this is why morale in the Spanish squad always appears sky high. There are three or four exceptional individuals vying for every position in the starting XI, but unlike with the Dutch this helps create healthy competition. Manager Vicente del Bosque recently admitted he couldn’t find a place in his latest squad for the brilliance of Juan Mata, which highlights how each player must act as model professionals, in every sense of the word, just to maintain their inclusion.
England on the other hand have several indispensible figures inclduing the likes of Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole. It was perhaps the Chelsea defenders status as one of the best left-backs in the world coupled with his impending milestone that ensured he avoided a more severe punishment for his Twitter outburst. However, the 31-year-old needs to justify his selection tonight, especially considering it’s no longer only Evertonians calling for Leighton Baines to be installed as the first choice left-back.
Swindon manager Paolo Di Canio was recently asked about the subject of player power in his latest blog with the BBC and accurately summarises the growing consensus amongst supporters.
“There is a different way in England, the players seem to be able to do what they want and you have to ask yourself: is this why the national team is not going close to winning something at the moment?”