Here's An Idea: Missing For Country Means Missing For Club

Alex StampCorrespondent INovember 25, 2008

Another international friendly, another long list of players pulling out injured and then reappearing for their club sides the following weekend.

Surely, it's time that someone did something about this: players pulling out of matches for their national teams yet magically re-emerging to play for their club a few days later.

This is a trend which is worryingly common and does little for the prestige of international friendlies, and in fact discredits international football as a whole.

International caps, gained in any guise, once were a massive attraction for players and a reason alone to turn up for any squad. Playing for their country is and was a thrill for players which surpassed any possible achievement in club football, and often players would defy their club managers to report for international duty.

However in recent years, a worrying trend has developed when every international friendly comes along. Players develop “injuries,” despite having successfully completed 90 minutes for their club side, leaving them unable to report for international duty.

And so while other players turn up and play and run the inevitable risk of injury, others escape it and emerge fresher and fitter for their club side a week later.

Certainly there are rumours (albeit strong ones) that Sir Alex Ferguson often pressured the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes into missing international friendlies in order to avoid injuries.

This is a long-established trend, and while some players will continue to make themselves available regardless of fitness and condition, they are in the minority, and this fact seems to show no sign of abating.

For instance, in the last England squad, the players who pulled out of the original squad or were termed unavailable for selection in that squad for the Germany friendly included Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, and Frank Lampard, all of whom are key players for England.

How many of them played the following weekend?  All of them.

Bearing in mind this is an important friendly for England, matches against Germany traditionally are matches of great meaning and standing to the fans of both nations, therefore even more reason to play for their nation.

But you have to wonder about the legitimacy of these players' injury claims when they can manage to play a match for their club, some three days after supposedly being injured for a match for their country.

You can see that Fabio Capello himself is suspicious of these excuses, his treatment regarding Steven Gerrard's injury illustrates that he certainly does not rate the legitimacy of his injury claim, and while Gerrard turned out to be injured, his actions illustrated his willingness to be proactive regarding this problem.

But how can you stop this trend of pulling out of friendlies altogether?

Here's one possible way: ban the boycotters.

If a player pulls out of an international match, perhaps the FA could step in and state that unless that player can prove his injury at a medical with the England back room staff, then they could be banned for their next club game.

Now see if the club managers are willing to pull their players out of international squads if it means that they risk losing them for a match.

The benefits of this would be two-fold. Firstly, it would help give some importance and credibility back to international friendlies, especially for the paying public. Since they know that these friendlies will feature the best available players, rather than second-string players who are only playing because the first eleven didn't want to risk injury.

Secondly, it guarantees Fabio Capello or whoever the England manager is some time with his players. He will know for sure that, barring a legitimate injury, he will be able to have a guaranteed core of players available to work with, something which will help create a stronger England team as they will have spent longer working with each other and with the manager.

International friendlies have long been viewed as the weaker dates on the calendar of top level football. Club managers despise them and players treat them disdainfully, lacking motivation to perform as the significance is diluted with each star who pulls out.

But they can be, on occasion, a thrilling watch. For instance, one of the best England matches of all time is the friendly against Argentina which England won by three goals to two, a match generally regarded as a thrilling example of international football at its best and most vibrant.

If treated properly, then perhaps more matches like these could await the fans, and international friendlies could be something which both fans and players alike could look forward to once again.

So for every match a player misses for their country, make them miss one for their club, and then see how many pull out of international matches.