Welcome back, normal football. God, we’ve missed you. The first international break is always the hardest. You spend all those summer weeks waiting to hold your baby and then it’s wrenched from you and taken away, whisked down the corridors and there’s no-one to hold you when the tears come.
It would be wrong to call it ‘proper football’, as some are given to do at this time. The third and fourth divisions, the latter is where my own team dwell, continued to clatter away in the shadows of Michel Platini’s big week of fun. Below them, clubs even smaller celebrated ‘non-league day’ by luring in those strange people who felt tempted by the prospect of standing up, not queuing for beer and not having to sell their children to get a season ticket. You don’t get more ‘proper’ than that.
Nevertheless, there is an ebb and flow to the soap opera of the top flight that you rather miss after a few days. It’s like the burbling chatter in the office; you don’t realise how much you need it until you leave your job and suddenly realise your anchor to society has been swept away and you no longer know anything about the X-Factor.
But international football is not just an inconvenience to the daily routine, it’s also destructive to it. Liverpool had high for hopes for Daniel Sturridge this year, a young man looking to prove himself in his own right in the absence of his former partner. Injured. Aaron Ramsey has been playing like a man anxious to make up for the time he lost to injury last season. Injured. The only centre-back Manchester United own who has looked even marginally comfortable is Phil Jones. Injured. And so it goes on. Why do we put up with it?
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It doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t need to have your routine shattered by the intrusion of international football. And it shouldn’t be like this either. What relevance do short bursts of winter football have to the major summer tournaments? What can be learned from gathering together a disparate band of footballers, shouting new tactics at them for two days and then throwing them in front of the bright lights, crossing your fingers and hoping it all works out? Shut your eyes, give your head a wobble, take another look at international football and tell me who benefits from any of this?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to pack all of this football up in a box and tip it out over the summer? Wouldn’t it be more fun to play out an entire qualifying campaign in a couple of weeks, perhaps with smaller groups? Smashing through ten games in a short period might be asking a lot of players, but if you have pre-qualifying rounds for the minnows and final groups of four or five, there’s no reason why the tedium of qualification can’t be turned into a sort of mini summer tournament.
Yes, there’s the Confederations Cup to consider once every four years, but given that it would involve just one or two of the elite, surely a compromise could be made there.
If you cancelled these international weeks, you’d be able to end the domestic season much earlier. You wouldn’t have wildly different squads every game thanks to a combination of injury, fatigue and can’t-be-arsedness. You’d have an extended period of time for national managers to work with their players, time that could be used for bonding, tactical development or a chance to go drinking.
More than that, we’d all be able to watch it without feeling that it was a distraction or a danger to our own clubs. We’d watch with the same level of engagement that we have for the major tournaments themselves. Come on Michel, you know it makes sense.
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