There were three things that really defined my time at junior school. Shell suits, an unshakeable belief that Panthro was actually the best Thundercat and pretending to be England players when we played football. A combination of unmanageable hair and inaccurately toe-poked passing meant I was always Steve Hodge.
Nowadays if you were to wander into a school playground, without being tazered in the genitals, I’d imagine you’d find a lot of Diego Costas, a fair chunk of Lionel Messis and a handful of increasingly sheepish kids still pretending to be Yaya Toure (or at least a Yaya Toure that actually runs and tackles). For a whole generation England, it would seem, is the thing you endure between Champions League games.
It’s an attitude that permeates beyond the ‘loom band’ generation. Talk to a fistful of grown up Premier League fans and I’m not sure you will find much fervour for international duty. Whereas a player from your club being called up for England used to be a source of satisfaction, it is now a source of anxiety. Rather than wishing him well, some fans are now simply hoping he comes back with un-twanged muscles and the ability to walk.
Daniel Sturridge is the most recent example of Country very much kicking Club in the back of the knees. Whether or not Roy Hodgson failed to adhere to Sturridge’s tailored fitness schedule is a matter for Liverpool and the FA to scowl at each other about. But the situation remains that Liverpool lent England their best toy and they broke it. And the fact that the once free-scoring Liverpool currently have less goal threat than a smashed muffin is as much to do with the injury to Sturridge as the departure of Luis Suarez.
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) November 8, 2014
So it then probably didn’t help that Raheem Sterling got ‘tired’ at the same time doubts were being raised about Hodgson’s ability/willingness to properly look after his players. In reality though this particular England campaign, that is now about as exciting as helping Michael Owen choose a lawnmower, will always mean ‘nothing stories’ like Sterling’s fatigue get far more attention that they merit.
And perhaps this whole debate isn’t especially new. Alex Ferguson of course would sooner shove a fistful of Tic Tacs into his eyelids than freely let important players depart for what he deemed to be ‘unnecessary’ international duty. Maybe now that attitude is no longer the exception, amongst managers, fans or even players?
Or, like Andy Carroll’s new fiancé, should we be looking for the bright side? Yes England do face a particularly uninspiring trudge towards qualification for the European Championships but 80,000 people will still crowd into Wembley for the game against Slovenia. I’m not sure all of those will be there just to make sure their favourite player doesn’t get hoofed into an ambulance by a bear-sized Slovenian bruiser.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) November 6, 2014
And while the big club bias still seems to be Hodgson’s selection safety net the arrival of Fabian Delph, Jonjo Shelvey, Stewart Downing and Nathaniel Clyne in recent squads has enthused fans from clubs outside the top 5 or 6 – and lifted the burden a little from the others.
Saint It A Treat…For Now
Yes Southampton fans wouldn’t be delighted if Clyne returned to St Mary’s with anything other than a full contingent of working hamstrings, but primarily his first cap will be greeted by Saints fans with pride (or as much pride you can take from having a player who’s better than Glen Johnson).
The Club vs Country debate is as old and tired as Sepp Blatter’s lucky pants, and injuries on international duty will never fail to fan the flames. But if England can provide fans with the dashing, combustible entertainment to rival what they get from their clubs then an international call up might once again be something to celebrate. After all, it never did Steve Hodge much harm.