When the time comes for Premier League clubs to break away from their main focus and allow the big guns to join up for international duty, we are all treated to a few age-old arguments about whether or not the games are actually worth anything, or how players are wrong (or right, depending on your opinion) to drop out of the squads due to ‘injuries’. But after last week’s delightful show of mid-week friendly internationals, something else dawned on me. The influence of an international manager seems to be eclipsing that of a club’s, with players doing all they can to stay alive in the international scene. But how disruptive is it to the domestic games and especially club managers?
Just ask Steve Bruce. Darren Bent left Sunderland in a spot of bother last month after his self-imposed transfer to Aston Villa, and for those of us cynical to believe it, we are told the reason he moved was because England manager Fabio Capello, told Bent, that should he want to progress with his country, then he is better off plying his trade away from the Stadium of Light.
Part of me wonders why Bent needed to jump ship, though. Sunderland were getting the best out of him, in a system that worked and showed just how clinical he could be. What are Villa going to do with him differently which will make Capello sit up and think, “yes, actually, Signor Bent must be good enough, he’s still scoring for Villa!” In all probability, what really happened is that Bent firstly had his head turned by money, and then twisted even further by Capello’s wise words. The end result? Bent played and scored for his country, yes. But wouldn’t he have done if he was still at Sunderland? My guess is yes. So really the end result is the Black Cats are a player short, half way into the season, through no fault of their own.
He’s not the only one, though. Darron Gibson had been put under some unnecessary pressure by the Republic of Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, after he played and scored for Ireland. But at this stage of the season, what has the Italian actually achieved by saying Gibson should move away from Old Trafford? The window’s closed, he can’t move until the summer. So every time Gibson isn’t included in a first team Manchester United squad, is his international place going to be under threat? In his own mind it will be, and I’m sure neither the player himself nor Alex Ferguson will want such an unnecessary weight on his shoulders. Realistically, whether he is playing first team football at Old Trafford or not, Gibson is going to be picked for his country because I can’t think of too many better options.
Players should want to play for their country. If the fact that they are not getting regular football at their clubs means that their starting berth internationally is under threat, then sure, they have every reason to think about moving clubs – but at the right time. Robbie Keane is an example of that, David Beckham is another. But in the case of Darren Bent, Capello has been nothing but a disruption. If he plays and scores in the Premier League, does it matter if it is at Aston Villa or Sunderland? Maybe if Man United or Chelsea came calling, he would have a point as Champions League football can only enhance a player’s ability, but I can’t see too much difference between the team from the North East to Bent’s latest employers.
It’s a strange argument, I know. Players would have to be confident in their own ability to undermine the thoughts of an international manager, but there comes a time when Capello and co have to take a step back and leave players and clubs alone to their own devices. If players are good enough, they are good enough, it shouldn’t take ‘Capello the agent’ to prove that.
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