The controversy surrounding international friendlies

In just a few short days the waiting will be finally over and the Barclays Premier League will kick off again for yet another year of high drama and brilliant football. Pre-season is over and many managers should be breathing a sigh of relief that that their players have come out unscathed and raring to go. However, for a large majority of managers this is not the case. That is because with just three days to go until the Premier League’s curtain raiser, over 30 international friendlies are taking place throughout the globe, featuring a host of Premier League names.

Were it not for the terrible events seen throughout London in the past few days then England would also be playing a friendly against Holland at Wembley. However, the fact that English players won’t be stepping out does not solve the problem. The Barclays Premier League is now a truly international league, with players drawn from every corner of the globe and so the sheer number of fixtures occurring tonight means that it is inescapable that a majority of Premier League teams will lose at least some, if not most of their starting XI.

It is therefore understandable that many Premiership managers despair at those whose responsibility it is to organise the international calendar. It is bad enough that they are missing out on at least 3 days of vital last minute preparation and are at risk of injury but the fact that the games are not competitive must rub salt in the wounds. As must the realisation that the friendlies are basically just money-making exercises aimed at gaining support from other footballing federations.

Of course, the FA and other footballing federations will say that the players should be proud to play for their country, but from the players’ point of view, it is the clubs who pay their wages. Furthermore, the notion of representing your country has lost much of its real meaning as players are constantly carted around the globe for meaningless games with random opponents. Players are still proud to pull on the shirt of their country when the games are competitive, but many seek to avoid games like the ones taking place this week, fearing injury.

A prime example of this is the evergreen Ryan Giggs of Manchester United. Whilst he was and still is a passionate Welshman he rarely turned out for his country in such meaningless internationals but chose rather to concentrate on his club career and only play for Wales in competitive matches. Although it is doubtful that it was a conscious decision to prolong his playing career there is no doubt that it must have played a part in his longevity; Giggs is 37 and still a key member of the United team.

Top players are starting to follow Giggs’ lead and if the FA and football federations are not careful they will soon be staging friendlies featuring little or no major stars. International friendlies need not be completely abolished, they allow fans who might not usually get to attend competitive matches the chance to see their idols. However, the number of such games played per year should be scaled down dramatically to maybe one really high quality match, and one that is played at a suitable time that is beneficial for fans, players and clubs.

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