Club vs Country: Redux


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Ah, the old club versus country row. Worth the tedium if only for the mental image of international managers in a pink nighty, chasing their offending players out of the house with a rolling pin to the Benny Hill theme tune.

Just take a moment to do that with Stuart Pearce and Gareth Bale now. Amazing.

The furore that's arisen from the lavishly-lobed Welshman's early departure from the Great Britain Olympic football team is the latest in a very, very, very long line. A line so long you wonder why people continue to stand in it, arms crossed, brows furrowed, scowling, and muttering things like “no passion” and “it should be an honour”. It's like a Post Office, except the queue never shortens and the letter's only addressed to yourself.

The logic from the fans' perspective goes something like this. As a child, you often dreamt about what it would be like to pull on the colours of your national team. It was seen as an honour, that only the chosen few, pure of blood and steely of determination would ever get to experience. It was, in this country anyway, the closest you'd ever come to attaining immortality and taking your place amongst your nation's great cultural icons: Cromwell, Churchill, Jagger... Anderton.

Apparently it's ridiculous that people who get to play football every day for millions of pounds would refuse to leave the relative safety of their mansions and their supermodel girlfriends to go and play a friendly in Kazakhstan with a team full of people they're liable to end up in court against one day. In this particular example, Gareth Bale's turned down both his duty to achieve a drab quarter-final exit and the privilege of sharing a room with Marvin Sordell, in favour of doing some light running in America with the people who pay his wages. Is he mad?

Well, no, he's not. While Team GB (or Team Geeeeeeeb, as those intent on making me roll my eyes to death are calling it) may be a wonderful thing, it's just not a wonderful thing if you're Gareth Bale.

Just like his career with Wales - as delighted as he no doubt is to be getting picked - it's a sideshow. Here's a lad who has stripped Champions League defences apart, has flirted with huge money moves and not unreasonably entertained notions of lavish silverware. He might well fly past the world's best right-back in the red of his country one day, but the cross will do no better than find the head of Steve Morrison or Jermaine Easter. That would infuriate all of us.

The very ethos of the Olympics is that it should be the highest possible accolade in your particular sport. It isn't to someone like Gareth Bale, and Ryan Giggs is only there because, presumably, he's not allowed to be hanging around the house while the kids are on their school holidays. These players have a short space of time to carve out a career, and a very delicate instrument (the human body) with which to do so. They don't erect statutes of players who heroically blow a knee chasing down a clearance in a Euro qualifier.

If the financial structure of the modern game has ensured one thing, it's that players will only take satisfaction from competing at the very highest level - the key word there being “competing”, not simply making up the numbers. On the off chance an unlikely surge for the podium occurs for the home nations this summer, in 20 years time the likes of James Tomkins and Neil Taylor will cherish their bronze medal an awful lot more anyone who goes on to have an illustrious club career. Conversely, Brazil have send a terrifying array of talent to the tournament, but that's mostly because they can safely expect to win the thing.

Besides, international football probably annoys most players by now. If Gareth Southgate had only missed the decisive penalty in a League Cup semi-final, he could have brushed that under the carpet with a well timed clearance in his next match. David Beckham had to marry a Spice Girl to make people forget about a sending off in the World Cup.

Representing your country has, one way or another, ruined more careers than pints of stout, the tax office, and nightclub CCTV combined. Let's lay off Gareth Bale, shall we?