Cast off your shackles, Mr Hodgson

4 Mar

The French call it “l’eau”, the Italians call it “aqua”, the Germans “wasser”, and the English call it “water”, which of course is what the stuff actually is.  But it doesn’t stop there with foreigners – they’ve got different names for all kinds of things.  Even their national teams go by a variety of monikers.  The Brazilians will be rooting for the “Seleção” this summer.  The Germans will be getting behind the “Nationalmannschaft”, the Dutch the “Oranje”.  And, with England the only home nation left in the competition, British people will be joining together to cheer on the “Three Lions” in Brazil.

Whatever you’re national tipple, everyone, by default, has a team.  And everyone looks forward to the treat of a major summer tournament.  It’s a bit of a shame, then, that domestic clubs seem so hell-bent on ruining the international game.

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A troubling evolution has occurred over the last ten years.  International football has become tolerated.  Once heralded, it is now endured.  The domestic game has, by self-appointment, assumed a sanctioning role – prepared to brook the occasional national team fixture, seemingly as a gesture of hospitality.  As Neville “Oxlade” Chamberlain found to his cost, these sorts of “well-meaning” concessions rarely come to much good.  The reality is that high-ranking domestic managers continue to whittle away international coaches’ authority with player withdrawals, complaints about injuries suffered, threats of compensation and sideswipes over international fixture scheduling.

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Arsene Wenger neatly summed up the rather poor attitude domestic participants have to the international game.  He likened international managers to joy-riding car thieves.  “[It] is like taking the car from his garage without even asking permission.  They will then use the car for 10 days and abandon it in a field without any petrol left in the tank.  We then have to recover it, but it is broken down.  Then a month later they will come to take your car again and, for good measure, you’re expected to be nice about it.”

This is all very well.  Except, of course, the car in question isn’t fulfilling a lifelong dream.  The car won’t get to swap shirts with Neymar at the end of the joyride.  Nor will it be presented with an embroidered cap that will instantly becoming one of its most treasured possessions.  I’ll defend Arsene Wenger to the hilt against all manner of criticism and airborne pizza toppings, but he demonstrated the exact sort of attitude we need to overcome here.

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It’s an issue of mentality as much as anything.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”.  While a lovely sentiment in principle, the former First Lady clearly never had to deal with Jose Mourinho.  Consider The Strikerless One’s spat with the French national set-up…

Taking great caution with hyperbole, Mourinho once described Raymond Domenech as treating Claude Makelele “like a slave” for calling him up to play for France against Chelsea’s wishes (not against Makelele’s wishes, you understand – he was willing to play).  Poor old Domenech.  It must be a battle not to let self-doubt creep in when your behavior is being likened to the worst atrocity in history.  And all for the crime of wanting a bit of extra protection in front of the back four.

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Last season, it was alleged that Rio Ferdinand was threatened with not having his Manchester United contract renewed if he declared himself eligible to play for England again.  If true, it is a tragedy that this sort of pressure is brought to bear on players (even if, in Ferdinand’s case, he might now be lamenting a gilt-edged opportunity to have extricated himself from the Old Trafford sinking ship).  The covalent bonds of a national team simply cannot forge if there are such persistent countervailing domestic forces. 

The England squad is currently convening for their friendly against Denmark tomorrow evening.  Ask yourself, how likely is it that at least one premier league manager will bemoan either the timing of the fixture or an injury arising as a result of it?  As if fixture congestion and injuries are anything other than an inevitability of the game.

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International football must be allowed to regain its standing.  In search of a solution, I went down to Basement Floor 2 of Too Good Towers to see if our legal team had any thoughts on the matter.  By golly, there were some sun-deprived faces down there.  They’re an odious bunch, too, but the work they did in getting that restraining order lifted that Gareth Barry took out on me was nothing short of remarkable.  So I was all ears to their proposals.  After several hours of listening to them complain about getting paid too little, they came up with the idea of a Charter.

They suggested that the FA should request all 92 league clubs to enter into a binding resolution, whereby each club agrees that the English national team is to be given preeminence.  Each club gives the modest pledge not to interfere with England squad selection or publicly complain about the injuries and fixture congestion that arise from international matches (including friendlies and England youth team fixtures).  If all the clubs sign up to the Charter, nobody is prejudiced in doing so.  If any particular club feels unable to put pen to paper, their players are disbarred from selection for the national side. 

Having agreed to abide by the terms of the Charter, any manager or club official who contravenes it will receive a fine, with such fines compounded for repeat offenders.  The rationale for the proposal is clear – domestic clubs are allowed to profit to great extent through the provision of national leagues to play in by football associations.  The least they can do in return is not to actively frustrate the endeavours of the national team. 

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The relationship between the domestic and international game in football is unique.  Both thrive in terms of popularity to an extent that cannot be said of any other sport.  Like other special relationships, though, it’s recently gone a bit sour. 

The domestic game has turned into a bully, and denial of this reality isn’t going to help matters.  There’s no use in the international game covering up the bruises and telling itself that “the domestic game loves me really”.  This tactic didn’t work with Chris Brown and it sure as hell isn’t going to work with Jose Mourinho.  Enough is enough.  It’s time for the international game to reassert itself.

You can follow Sonny (@_SonnyPike) on Twitter or subscribe to Too Good for the English Game by clicking the “Follow” button at the bottom-right corner of this page (this button is mysteriously unavailable on the mobile version of the website).

Drastic measures were required to rehabilitate Mr Mourinho.
Drastic measures were required to rehabilitate Mr Mourinho.

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One Response to “Cast off your shackles, Mr Hodgson”

  1. Anonymous March 5, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    Absolutely brilliant idea to redress the balance. If only the FA had the strength of purpose to do it.

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