It turns out today that Nile Ranger was close to being banned for a Newcastle game after he pulled out of an England under-20 through injury without being assessed by team medics. In the four squads of England sides this week, 24 players pulled out due to injury.
It appears that the FA is going to start banning players from playing for their clubs if they try and get out of international matches with phantom injuries. Apparently the only reason they have not banned Ranger is because they could not single him out as Chris Smalling had also been allowed to miss his match without being checked.
The first thing that annoys me about this is that the FA seem to be scared of the bigger clubs. Why not just ban both of them? Is it because Smalling plays for United? How many times have players from the top 4 missed England games due to injury and then played the following week for their club? I think the FA decided to choose Newcastle’s Ranger, because he is not from a top 4 club.
But the fact is, none of the players want to play. You can see why; club football is their main focus. It is intense and hectic, and it is the clubs that pay their money. Further, with the injury of Steven Gerrard in a friendly earlier in the year, and Dean Ashton’s injury while training with England, you can see why clubs are sceptical of these games.
Would it it be better for the FA to force players to appear against their will, or scrap international friendlies?
I can’t remember the last time I watched an England friendly and enjoyed the match; including on Wednesday. Games that are meaningless just don’t seem to capture my interest, if that means I lack patriotism then so be it. These games never really get going as neither side wants to fully commit, and there is no cohesion on the pitch because there are so many substitutions (which there have to be to appease the clubs). The fact is that international friendlies just don’t work.
You might think that the dilemma for the FA is that they can’t scrap friendlies because they have to try and improve the England team. You might say that without friendlies the team have no chance to develop. But I think friendlies actually make us worse.
They hardly allow players to gel because they only get 45 minutes to play together. Every friendly brings negative press to the side because they never play well, and often are not fun to watch. This is caused, mainly, by the fact that either the top players are missing due to injury (because it is a friendly) or because the players don’t look fully committed (again, because it is a friendly). All this does is reduce the morale of the England camp and the players start to believe they can’t play together. So when they come to play in qualifying games that actually mean something they have no confidence.
These lacklustre friendlies also frustrate the fans and get them in a negative frame of mind before the whistle has been blown. So the pressure on the players to perform is actually increased because of friendlies, not reduced.
I want to see our national side succeed at the highest level but I don’t think forcing players to play in international friendlies is the answer. I would prefer to see them scrapped, this way fans and the media might start to look forward to watching England play, not dread it.