Do international friendlies pose too much risk for clubs?

Liverpool striker Andy Carroll and England manager Roy Hodgson

The matter of international friendlies is one that has caused much debate over the years.

England have already played six international games so far this season, with the latest batch of international fixtures having happened this week.

However, it is clear that this week’s cycle has had an adverse effect on many Premier League teams.

For example, Papiss Cisse was banned from playing in Newcastle’s Swansea match this weekend because of national team Senegal invoking FIFA’s five-day rule following his withdrawal from their friendly due to an injury concern. And Newcastle’s result? Well, coincidentally, they lost, and in a match, arguably, they would have been expected to win.

Newcastle were hit with another problem stemming from an international friendly, with Yohan Cabaye missing the game after picking up a groin injury while playing for France, and now could be unavailable through to January.

Many clubs have suffered through injuries players have sustained in international friendly games. For instance, Pepe Reina injured himself playing internationally, while Moussa Dembele aggravated an existing injury playing an international game and is still missing matches for Tottenham.

Take the example of Robin Van Persie in 2009. Before Van Persie took part in an international game on 14th November 2009, his then club Arsenal had been on a forward march in the race for the Premier League title, second in the league, and trailing leaders Chelsea by five points. Van Persie had already scored eight times across all competitions by this date.

However, the striker suffered ankle ligament damage, and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. Where did Arsenal eventually finish that season? Third, eleven points behind winners Chelsea, and ten behind runners-up Manchester United.

Perhaps this cannot be entirely explained by the absence of Van Persie, but must be seen as a factor which damaged the club that season.

Of course, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has been particularly critical of international friendly matches ever since. He talked last week of how he feels that the motivation behind them is “greed”, and was reluctant to let Jack Wilshere play for England in Sweden last Wednesday.

He said: “There are a lot of politics behind these games because when you see some teams travelling during that period, you think it is more to pay back some corporation rather than preparing a team for the next official game. I believe the friendly games are there as well to help some federations to raise money. The problem is not to have too much conflict with the interest of the club.”

Other managers have also been angered by issues surrounding international friendly games. Roberto Mancini stated how Sergio Aguero’s call-up to Argentina’s international squad in September, was “ridiculous” after the striker had injured his knee.

However, this is not to say that all international friendly matches should be scrapped. Of course, international football is a significant part of the game, and it is vital to work out what the best team is before an essential international match. However, why are we having the games now, when the next World Cup qualifiers are not until March?

But changes are coming, from 2014. FIFA have decided the friendly in August will no longer be played from 2014.

Following the beginning of the 2014/15 season, nine sets of two dates will happen over the period of two seasons, which allows up to 18 international friendly matches and qualifiers during that cycle. The “international weeks” will last nine days, with each set of teams playing three days apart from each other, for example, one group of teams would play on Thursday, and the other on Sunday.

While this will be an improvement, with the August friendly usually proving a headache, often taking place days before the Premier League season’s first games, surely the calendar of international friendly fixtures should relate to when significant international games are taking place?

It could also improve relations between country and club. It can be guessed how Alan Pardew feels about the row over Papiss Cisse. Newcastle have accused Senegal of holding “an agenda” against them. Could this situation have been avoided if the timing of international games held more of a compromise between club and country?

So do international friendlies pose too much risk to clubs? Well, of course, international football is an enjoyable part of the game which captures the attention of football fans across the globe and encourages great passion. However, it must be ensured that a compromise exists between club and international football, which could be achieved through a massive shake-up of the international schedule. Otherwise, players will sustain unnecessary injuries, which can damage clubs and their campaigns, as well as the international sides.
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