Club versus country - Which side are you on?

Roy Hodgson

Whether it’s been Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, David Moyes or whoever else, club football managers have made it clear they take issue with the use of their players by the national team.

For many years now club managers have bemoaned the use of their players by their national teams but whom exactly do football players belong to and which side are they on?

Across the board, club managers have criticized the scheduling of international breaks and, predominantly, ‘pointless’ (as they perceive it) international friendly fixtures.

Meanwhile, the England national team boss (and across other nations too) whether I be Roy Hodgson, Fabio Capello, or Sven Goran Erikssen and probably further back have complained that club managers do not help them with their preparations for ‘crucial’ (again, as they perceive it) international fixtures, friendly matches or otherwise, which help them asses, prepare and organize their national teams.

On the one hand, one could sympathize with club bosses – after all, it’s the club that pays the players wages and it’s the club who suffers it the player gets injured and it’s the club who has to take the players back in whatever shape they are returned in.

Arsenal boss Wenger once compared it to a man stealing your car, driving it all night until the fuel had run our, leaving it broken down in the middle of nowhere where you have to then go and retrieve it and then a few weeks later the same person takes your car and repeats the process all over again.

That is an interesting (and humourous) simile but in that same point there is the implication of ownership of the car in the first place – ‘your’ car. Do football players actually belong to their clubs? Well, when you look at it financially, yes they do – they pay their wages and purchase players just as they sell them too.

So, where does the national team come into it? They too have a hold over the players – the ownership is not quite as clear-cut but it’s there – it’s in the players’ hunger and pride to put on their country’s shirt and play for their nation.

It’s in their boyhood dreams and in their development that one day, if called upon, they will serve their country. It’s quite a parochial and archaic tradition, I suppose, that is probably rooted in wartime ideology and patriotism of another generation but, nonetheless, it exists – at least in the hearts and minds of the players and the fans.

Club bosses are used to dealing with players from a diverse range of national and ethnic backgrounds so what do they care about national pride? For them and their fans, the player plays for the club’s badge, if not for his handsome weekly pay package.

I suppose a fair fence-straddling stance would be if the club boss and the national coach could find some middle ground – a gentlemen’s agreement of sorts – as they sometimes do, to agree on the ground rules and guidelines for use of their players. I think if there were a better and more constructive dialogue between clubs and national teams, everyone, the players especially, would benefit.

image: © nicksarebi

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