International football is rubbish



England’s turgid performance against Wales at Wembley on Tuesday night was simply the latest in a very long line of mediocrity from Fabio Capello’s side. Plus ça change, no matter the coach, of course. It is now so long since England put in a genuinely exciting performance that fans under the age of 20 are unlikely to remember it. (England 4-1 Holland, Wembley, 1996, for those who can’t).

Yet, it is not solely England that fails to thrill on the international stage, even if Capello’s men offer a particularly unique brand of insomnia-inducing fare. Indeed, international football is now such a poor cousin to the latter stages of the Champions League that it is genuinely hard to muster any excitement for the non-club game. Last summer’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa was a much discussed case in point, of course, with 64 matches of dull, uninspiring, negative and often disjointed football performed by shattered players.

Even the tournament’s deserved winners Spain, with a plethora of Barcelona-bred tika-taka stars, failed to truly spark into the thrilling brand of the game served up by the nation’s champion club. The final, which descended into a level of thuggery rarely witnessed at the game’s highest level, seemed a good précis for the tournament as a whole, where negativity was the dominant emotion.

Yet the World Cup finals tournament is by no means the worst of international football. That, seemingly, belongs to the European qualifying tournaments; a never-ending cycle of the depressingly familiar and homogeneous. Replete with the endlessly mediocre, Euro-zone qualification for European Nations Championships and World Cups now rarely delivers excellence.

Perhaps not helped by the vast expansion in teams from Eastern Europe, and the very real need to improve standards in some of Europe’s smaller nations, but there are now so few games of genuine quality during qualification that fans are deserting in droves. Wembley, more than 13,000 short of capacity for the international equivalent of a local derby, was one of the fuller European grounds this week.

Just 16,000 watched World champions Spain and there were only 8,000 for Italy;s match in Genoa. In Russia the giant Luzhniki remained half-full – or empty depending on your persuasion – for matches with Ireland and Macedonia. Only in Germany, where fans enjoy a buoyant national team and reasonable prices, was the ground bursting at the seams this week.

With mercy perhaps, the game’s club administrators have decided to put down the suffering beast. Well, end a third of meaningless international friendlies that have become a never-ending excuse for ‘experimentation’ that cheats supporters with a carousel of substitutions and disruption.

Manchester United chief executive David Gill, in his dual role both on the Football Association board and as a leading member of the European Club Association (ECA), led the charge this week in attempting to reduce international friendlies from 21 every two years to 14.

“These topics have been discussed at length,” said Gill, an ECA board member.

The ECA hopes to reduce the number of single dates and “end friendlies in August and June and reducing it to meaningful games plus the Euros and the World Cup. Ideally we would have six double dates over the period. That gives the right balance while being a reduction for the interests of the national teams against what the clubs want.

“Six games a year is the best from a club point of view. Before Euro 2012 we have to release players two weeks before the tournament and there is space for two or three friendly matches then.”

The proposed changes are born of club self-service but, if enacted,will have the positive effect of ensuring no future summer friendlies that add little to the calendar and increase the burden on the best players. Tournament football will remain unaffected, although the ECA is on an unwavering path to extract ever more compensation for the players used in international football.

None of this guarantees an increase in quality though and international managers may well be faced with even less time to construct fluid teams. Perhaps that is irrelevant. After all, Capello has largely wasted three years and £18 million in salary deploying the same failed strategy and players as his predecessors. The ‘golden generatio’n now an allegory for the handcuffs around each successive national team coach.

Indeed, on Tuesday against Wales Capello ignored calls to rely on the youthful zest of Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and others. Instead, back came 33-year-old Frank Lampard to anchor, alongside Gareth Barry and James Milner, one of the biggest-boned English midfields in recent times. No surprises in the glacial speed of England’s movement then, with 117 FIFA-ranked Wales genuinely unlucky not to snatch a late point.

England round off qualification against Montenegro in Podgorica next month before Capello embarks on an eight month farewell tour that is likely to take in a plethora of utterly meaningless friendlies before England bow out of Euro2012 in Poland and Ukraine at the first knock-out stage.

Mercifully, just in time some might say, there is United away at the Reebok this weekend to distract. And for once Sir Alex Ferguson may have escaped international fortnight with no fresh injuries.

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  • The Kid

    100% agree.

    The days of international football being the pinnacle of our game are long gone. It now pales in comparison to the Champions League

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    I maintain, that the biggest obstacle to England playing well, is the FA, and their obsession with the non-English game.

    The Premier league, for better or worse… is what it is… our players are born, raised and trained on the Premier league game.

    Then the FA brings in a coach, who knows nothing about the Premier league…???

  • Toby

    Couldn’t agree more with this. As much as I want to be excited by watching England games, I find myself becoming more and more bored by the football on offer. Watching the national team has almost become just another opportunity to watch United’s players, as I spent most of the last two games solely following the performances of Smalling, Young and Rooney.

    Inevitably, though, I will find myself caught up in the fever of an international tournament in 2012, just to be punished yet again by woeful England performances and an early exit.

    It isn’t all doom and gloom though. There’s thankfully still hope that Smalling, Jones, Cleverly and Welbeck will restore my excitement for England.

  • sidney

    Stuart Pearce has emerged as one of the favourites for the England job

  • squigs

    Christ almighty, Stuart Pearce has done nothing to suggest he should be England manager.

    England potentially have the players, but Barry, Downing and Milner in the team last night is just absurd.

    A foreign coach prepared to ignore reputations and abandon the glorified kick and chase tactics that England adapt in place of more technical players is what’s required.

    • Mongoletsi

      Moyes won’t manage England for the same reasons that Fergie won’t. Well one reason really.

      Pearce has done well with the U-21s but there’s no way he’s ready for the main job…

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Right… like Sven… who was responsible for shifting Scholes out wide to accommodate Lumpard… and therefore convincing his most “technically” gifted player, to quit the team altogether.

    And who ignored reputations to the point where, he let the players dictate pre-tournement policy, and kick off the “WAG” farce that was WC 2006.

    What England needs is a hard-nosed coach… foreign or British, who understands, and has experience of the English game… who knows the way our lads play, week after week…

    What we don’t need, is some ambitious foreign Johnny, who sees England as a “beautiful challenge”, and a fat pay day… but has no idea of what the Premier league is really like, never mind the English player.

  • bman

    David Moyes would be good for the job, he consistently gets much better performances out of players with only a tenth the reputation of England’s big names. Wouldn’t mind giving Moyes his chance at United, actually.

    I thought ‘Arry had the job in the bag anyway, and he might be alright.

    But yeah, international football is just wank, and the friendlies are beyond pointless. The French world cup was the last one I remember really enjoying, and that was probably only because I was younger.

  • http://www.sourceofgravity.com Bill

    Imagine your manager at work couldn’t speak English and was on 5 million a year!!! Pearce is pretty clueless towards to technical side of the game too.

  • captainhormone

    international football gives me no enjoyment

  • captainhormone

    WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE

  • brianofnazareth

    captainhormone said:
    WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE

    I FULLY AGREE.

    Mind you as I’m Welsh and we are fucking dire as a footballing/rugby/place to live/ country then I have been out of love with international football ever since Giggs left the set up.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    what’s so great about the champs league witha shite group stage and then when it gets to the knockouts every manager trying to 451 the shit out of each other

    • RobDiablo

      I agree. Many of the CL matches are of as much interest to me as watching QPR v. Norwich. Truly becoming a league of champions rather than the Champions (and as many as three runners-up) League would be a step in the right direction: fewer but better games. And, since the whole thing is almost completely driven by TV, how about dropping qualifiers from Israel, Turkey, and the former Soviet block; the quality of the football played in these leagues is woeful, and so are their champions; no one wants to watch them play. Put all of those shite teams in the Europa League.

  • captainhormone

    i agree

    in fact why dont we have auper league

    utd
    liverpool
    milan
    inter
    juve
    barca
    real madrid
    bayern
    ajax
    benfica
    porto
    marseilles
    lyon
    celtic
    stoke

  • Andrew

    Turgid. Never has a word better summed up England’s recent performances.

  • RobDiablo

    I really don’t like the timing of Rooney’s injury and possible recovery; it’s too close to England’s match against Montenegro. If the past is anything to go by, Rooney will be just about fit but still mending when the next international break arrives, and the same Crapsmello, who gave a knock-carrying Rooney 80+ minutes in a f*cking friendly on a dodgy Wembley pitch in Feb ’08, will feel he has to use his star striker and to hell with the consequences – for United. Rooney, of course, will answer the call to duty.
    I don’t understand why the international qualifiers and tournament can’t be played in June and July every two years. The schedulers could even add August to the summer break. If all of the two-week international breaks were removed, the EPL season could easily fit into a Sept-May calendar with less fixture congestion for teams competing in the Champions and Europa leagues. Another plus: every other year, ALL the players would get a full summer to rest and recharge.

  • RobDiablo

    Hypocrite that I am, I am watching the England match out of sheer boredom. In light of the news that Evans isn’t playing for Northern Ireland, it wasn’t good to see Jones seeming to feel a twinge of something. Will United have any actual, fully fit defenders in their back four when they go to Anfield?

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Red card for Rooney… deserved.
    Very silly.

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  • RobDiablo

    Jones seems to be okay, but Rooney just got sent off. England up 2-1.

  • dozer

    Get ready for his next purple patch now.

  • madredmonkey

    Who cares what England do, they have no chance in euro 2012,
    Rooney is a united player, and as long as he performs for us, then I am happy with that.

  • sidney

    Way to put an end to Rooney’s oustanding form

    Fucking England

  • RobDiablo

    sidney said:
    Way to put an end to Rooney’s oustanding form

    Fucking England

    I don’t understand this reaction. Rooney was entirely at fault for getting sent off, but while he was playing, he was in fine form, playing an important part in both of England’s goals.

    England started strong, got a lead, and then switched off. Once Montenegro started applying pressure, however, England discovered that they couldn’t switch back on. Where have I seen that before?

  • sidney

    RobDiablo said:
    I don’t understand this reaction. Rooney was entirely at fault for getting sent off, but while he was playing, he was in fine form, playing an important part in both of England’s goals.
    England started strong, got a lead, and then switched off. Once Montenegro started applying pressure, however, England discovered that they couldn’t switch back on. Where have I seen that before?

    He is responsible for his own stupid actions, aye. I’m not disputing that
    But if did the same thing for United, he would get protection. Fergie would bollock him privately, but defend him to the hilt in public because he knows how a witch hunt can fuck up a players form… Especially the tired old narrative about him having to watch his temper… We’ll have to endure that from now ’til summer
    Listening to Five Live earlier and it seems as though Rooney is already the scapegoat. He’s fucked if he gets a 3 match ban. Probably no point in taking him

  • RobDiablo

    sidney said:
    But if did the same thing for United, he would get protection. Fergie would bollock him privately, but defend him to the hilt in public because he knows how a witch hunt can fuck up a players form…

    Listening to Five Live earlier and it seems as though Rooney is already the scapegoat. He’s fucked if he gets a 3 match ban. Probably no point in taking him

    Ah, I see what you mean. Look on the bright side: this is very good for United; now, there is no chance that he will be injured while playing for England before the season finishes.