Ignoring the FIFA World Cup fiasco for the moment, there’s been another furore keeping the press busy in England. On Wednesday evening an experimental England side was comprehensively beaten at home by France in an international friendly. Cue naturally laments of how depressing the future of English football is looking (on the back of 90 minutes), but the funny undertone of the entire thing was how seemingly pointless such friendlies are. This has been an attitude growing over the years as club teams play more and more important fixtures in Europe and domestically, and so some of the less events (the League Cup and international friendlies) have lost their importance. It’s funny then that there was so much soul searching for a defeat in a pointless game – where most of the usual England team didn’t play. But I guess it gets readers on to your website…
Moreover though, as hinted by the BBC blog linked earlier, an additional controversial aspect of the friendly was that Steven Gerrard of Liverpool was played for a devastating 85 of the 90 minutes, instead of the reportedly agreed 60 minutes. The Liverpool staff apparently weren’t too impressed. So there have been mootings from others, including Tony Pulis, manager of unfashionable Stoke, that the FA should be liable for the injuries to players when playing in international friendlies.
Now that’s all well and good; it may be an effective and sensible system: After all, the players are contracted to their clubs and their clubs pay their wages. But of course it’s all part of a power struggle in English football between the clubs and the Premiership and the national team, one that seems to be increasingly won by the Premiership, usually at the expense of the national team. Perhaps we must just accept this; we love the way the Premiership is, apparently, and wouldn’t miss it for the world. But perhaps that Premiership doesn’t allow for a successful national team because that national team is pushed to the margins.
The implication of making the FA liable in friendlies is basically that friendlies will stop happening: Why would the FA even bother to play these games if an injury means that it will be liable for hundreds of thousands of pounds, maybe millions? And of course, if we pander to the brigade who tell us that all international friendlies are now pointless, then we end up that the only games the national team plays are meaningful and hence there is no time for the international-level players to gel into playing together via some less high-pressure games – the standard way in which any team prepares for a new season. It strikes me those proposing to abandon all international friendlies haven’t really thought this through, and the implications of it.