Walking out to play for your country should be the pinnacle for any footballer. The pride in knowing that you are representing your nation on the biggest stage is a defining moment and an honour that the majority of us can only dream of.
But with money and celebrity now the driving forces of the beautiful game, patriotism appears to have fallen by the way-side.
Players like David Beckham and Pepe Reina have both said that they will always make themselves available for the national team are a rare breed. Indeed, Beckham’s appetite and commitment to England is clear with the former captain flying across the Atlantic to be included in the squad between MLS matches.
This is a stark contrast to Kevin- Prince Boateng, who inexplicably decided to retire from the international fold aged just 24.
He joins a long list of players who have deserted their country to play more club football or even just because they are not the first name on the team sheet. Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher, Wes Brown, Paul Robinson and Ben Foster have all relinquished their chances of selection when there was still plenty of gas left in the tanks and many more caps to be had. Robinson retired aged 30, a veritable youth for a goalkeeper, having been recalled to the squad after being left out for two years. He said it was because he didn’t want to be “third or fourth choice” keeper. This may be the case but it appears that he retired when he was brought back into the side just to revive his bruised ego.
When Scholes left the international scene he was only 29, saying it was because he missed his family during the big tournaments and while that may be the case, when he was sent a World Cup SOS from Fabio Capello, anybody that valued their national team would have been on a plane to South Africa. While many can question the Italian’s timing or decision, the fact is that he made a special request to a player he thought would make a real difference, only to have it thrown back in his face because it was not important to the midfield maestro.
And even Gary Neville, winner of 85 England caps and a player who appears to ooze passion, said in his book that playing for England was not as important as turning out for Manchester United and claimed that turning out for his country was often a “waste of time”.
“Winning for my club was always the most important thing and given a straight choice of a European Cup with United or a European Championship with England, it’s United every time.”
He says that international duty was a bonus but the stick that players would receive made him question the point of it. That attitude towards criticism is as much the problem as anything. Footballers seem to live in a bubble and believe they should be lauded and never doubted. The people that pay for tickets to come and see them are expected to keep their views silent whatever the situation. Gary Neville is a straight talking man and like him or loathe him, having read his book there are plenty of good points he makes, but if these men were truly patriotic they would feel the same disappointment as the fans and would want to prove wrong anybody that gave them stick, not whinge about it.
The award for the most despicably unpatriotic act however can only go to Kevin- Prince Boateng. Having played for Germany through all youth levels up had failed to break into the national side and his career had stagnated after an unsuccessful time at Tottenham and nothing special at Portsmouth. Seeing his chance slipping away it was declared in 2009: “due to the lack of future chances to earn a call up for his home country, he will play for Ghana in the future and that he had hoped to be part of the Ghana national team squad at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.”
After begging for a chance the Ghanaian FA pulled out all the stops to get his registration switched over and included him in their squad to South Africa and showing their faith in him. The 24-year-old then took his chance, putting in some good performances that had rarely been seen during his time in England and secured a move to AC Milan.
And having accomplished his aim of reaching the top of the game, just over a year after playing in the World Cup and with nine caps to his name, Boateng threw it all back in their faces by ending his international career.
Now that he is earning big money and playing for a big time he doesn’t care for the country that gave him a chance and did everything for him. It is pure arrogance from the money-motivated midfielder who is known for his love of expensive cars and clothes.
While his decision is sickening it is good for Ghana that he has retired so they no longer need to waste their time with a player that doesn’t care about them but the fact that some players see it as a way to make a career for themselves is infuriating.
However, national teams are not totally blameless. To gain a cap for your country meant that you were part of an exclusive club but now managers select a different team each game and throwing on players for just a couple of minutes to delay time. Even the captaincy has less importance now because it gets passed around so much during friendly matches there are very few people that don’t get the armband.
Employers will always think it should be that way because they are paying the wages but there should be something special about being selected above your peers to represent your country.
Past players would accept the club’s stance but their sense of pride in playing international football would always override this, whereas current players seem to be more concerned with their bank balance.
They have even taken to exaggerating injuries in order to avoid playing for their country because they know that they need to be playing club football if they want their extortionate wages.
Footballers are now put on the celebrity pedestal alongside musicians and actors rather than being associated with the common man. These players need to be bought back to the real world and reminded that money does not buy respect.
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