This week, take a look at the football fixtures. Buried under a big pile of guff is a game between San Marino and the Czech Republic. You'd think at this time of year it's just a money-grabbing friendly like all the others.
Not quite. It's a World Cup Qualifier.
And therefore it should be regarded above all other games this week.
Managers all around Europe have complained about this round of international games, either worrying about getting players back late, or in the case of Alex Ferguson, Luis Felipe Scolari and Rafael Benitez, attempting to withdraw players to ensure their fitness for Saturday's league games.
And it's shown more than ever in this round of games. Just look at England's squad for Wednesday's trip to Germany—no Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole etc. Instead, there's Jimmy Bullard, Scott Parker and the uncapped Michael Mancienne, who's never played a competitive game for Chelsea.
It used to be a running joke that Paul Scholes would somehow get injured around the time of England games, yet somehow he'd be there at Old Trafford in a Manchester United shirt the following Saturday. Until the end of his international career, Ryan Giggs never played in a friendly for Wales.
The managers at the big clubs hate these games, and with every single one that comes around, they have more power over who plays and who sits out. It's the fact that they don't bother explains why we don't bother watching.
Although this has led to a good trend of blending in younger players and giving them international experience, it has also led to a decline in the quality of international football, with the big players not getting together as often, and sometimes getting found out by smaller countries who take their games far more seriously.
For Fabio Capello to get it right for England and for us to do well in the 2010 World Cup, he needs his big stars to be available for friendly games, and to build team cohesion, even if it does annoy Ferguson, Scolari, Benitez and Wenger.
There is little chance of us winning the World Cup if valuable time is wasted playing second rate players just because the top stars can't be bothered. The likes of Gerrard, Lampard, and Rooney need to get their act together and do their bit for their country, even if the result isn't the most important.
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