Tottenham Hotspur's English contingent will be annoyed today at being dragged into England's World Cup post-mortem.
They—along with a number of Spurs compatriots now retired or playing elsewhere—have come under scrutiny after comments from their former manager Harry Redknapp alleging attempts to get out of international duty.
The current Queens Park Rangers boss told BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek, via The Guardian's Dominic Fifield: "They'd come to me 10 days before the game and say: 'Gaffer get me out of the game. I don't want to play in it.'"
The comments were then jumped upon by England manager Roy Hodgson and captain Steven Gerrard:
Redknapp's comments are undoubtedly worrying. The idea of players not wanting to represent their country does not bode well for the national team's aspirations, especially in the wake of another disappointing major tournament performance.
As simple as it would be to boil it down to a matter of patriotism, or lack thereof, it is more complicated than that. As Redknapp also noted, media criticism, money and a more satisfactory club career are among the considerations influencing a footballer's feelings toward representing their country.
As it relates to the current and former Tottenham players he brought up—those applicable being Ledley King, Jermain Defoe, Michael Dawson, Aaron Lennon, Jermaine Jenas, Tom Huddlestone, Darren Bent, Jonathan Woodgate, David Bentley, Peter Crouch, Kyle Walker and Scott Parker—that they could be the subject of a witch-hunt is unjust, and bordering on ridiculous for several reasons.
Grouping them together as culprits for England's failings at the world level, especially when they were overlooked or injured anyway, is just about a typical response from Englishmen once again missing the obvious, or at least more immediate problem areas.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the witch-hunt is dubiously being led by two men who actually played a large part in England failing to progress from the World Cup's group stage—the arguably incompetent Hodgson and the hypocritical, hysterical and extremely underwhelming Gerrard.
Speaking to the Daily Mail's David Kent in the wake of the furore, Redknapp noted, "You’ve only got to look at how many players pull out of an international game on Tuesday and Wednesday then are running about for their clubs the next Saturday to see that this is a very real issue."
Gerrard's response to that would be intriguing. He might have really been injured, but is this not the same man who pulled out of a friendly against Holland in August 2009 because he "felt a slight soreness in his groin," as per The Guardian? The one who was fine to play and score in Liverpool's Premier League season-opening 2-1 loss to Spurs five days later?
The England skipper's eagerness for Redknapp to name names saw him put forth a few suggestions of his own in the aforementioned article in The Guardian by Fifield:
'They' didn’t want to play for England. Who? Name them. We need names. Is it Aaron Lennon, Kyle Walker, Andros Townsend? I don’t know who he means. Does he mean five years ago? Or 10 years ago?
Well for a start, Townsend never played for England while Redknapp managed him at Spurs. Gerrard might have a bit more respect for a guy whose performances helped ensure he would even be at the World Cup, which was not a sure thing after he had been a central figure in a qualification campaign that had underwhelmed prior to Townsend starring against Montenegro and Poland.
Hodgson was quick to rule Defoe out as one of Redknapp's infamous wannabe withdrawals. The striker was "devastated" not to be in this World Cup.
Now, this writer would not agree with any English Spurs player not wanting to represent their country. They are part of a proud lineage beginning with early 20th century stars like Vivian Woodward, and later including great players such as Sir Alf Ramsey, Jimmy Greaves, Paul Gascoigne and Teddy Sheringham.
A degree of sympathy would be afforded to the modern crop, though, if they at least wondered whether playing for England was worth the bother if...well, they do not actually get to play.
They have not all deserved to be starters, or even selected for squads. At his Spurs peak, Jenas was not a better midfielder than Gerrard or Frank Lampard, not different enough to warrant playing alongside either. Bent, Bentley, Woodgate and Huddlestone (the latter, at least until recently) were probably not deserving of more than a bench role during their Spurs careers.
Others, though, have suffered from undeserved favouritism by managers, as well as perplexing, sometimes idiotic decisions by managers which undermined their international careers.
King was dropped by Sven-Goran Eriksson during Euro 2004 for John Terry after the Chelsea defender became fit. This, despite the Tottenham man's great performance against France, one that prompted the Daily Mirror's Darren Lewis to glowingly recall it in his column in the programme for King's recent testimonial:
Among his 21 caps was an outstanding first competitive game for England against France at Euro 2004. Amid despair at surrendering the lead to Zinedine Zidane's brilliance, there was universal praise from the scribes at King's imperious silencing of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Robert Pires.
Defoe was coming off a tough season prior to the 2006 World Cup, scoring only nine goals but still contributing to Spurs' best campaign in years. Even so, he was still a potentially dangerous weapon for England at the upcoming tournament.
Instead, Eriksson chose to take two unfit and injured strikers in Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, as well as 17-year-old Theo Walcott who he did not bother to use. The Swede wanted to give the youngster experience. That surely could have been arranged without forsaking a valuable squad place.
Against Greece in August 2006, with the balanced partnership of Lampard and Owen Hargreaves in central midfield, Steve McClaren opted to accommodate Gerrard at right midfield.
It was a pointless experiment that damaged the momentum Lennon had built up with a series of impressive cameos at the World Cup that summer. His next starting opportunity would be the following March away against a tough Israel side who sat deep and defended for 90 minutes.
Crouch scored 22 goals in 42 international appearances but got little respect from Fabio Capello. After an outstanding season helping Tottenham into the Champions League, Dawson was only selected by the Italian at the last minute for the 2010 World Cup when Rio Ferdinand was injured.
King and the experienced Terry then playing ahead of him was understandable, but Matthew Upson? Despite scoring against Germany, the West Ham United defender was woeful and clearly inferior to Dawson.
Spurs players have done their best to try and represent England, but they can only do so much when the chances are not there. Instead of jumping on comments by a man not even involved, Gerrard and Hodgson should be looking at themselves.
They are part of a culture of big-name selections always taking priority over what is best for the team and the naive, often moronic tactics set up to accommodate these "stars."
English football has wider-ranging problems than that, perhaps which some Spurs players have been a part of.
But that is not why Hodgson set up England to fear Italy, or why Gerrard looked afraid to go into combat with Luis Suarez and the Uruguay attack.