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Monday, October 3, 2011

To Play or Not To Play : A Big Debate

As the blog title suggests , this isn't about Tevez refusing to come on as a substitute for Manchester City against Bayern Munich. So if you are looking out for some news on the already excessively hyped story you might be disappointed.

Comes a time when the fans start complaining of boring weekends due to international matches during a football season. Well, boring or not the players have to step on to the field once again as international players, be it for qualifiers , tournaments or meaningless friendlies. Add to this a new trend where a club team in between a full fledged season travels to the owner's home country to play a game(to appease the owners offcourse) with the manager stating that the trip will be beneficiary for his side to recover from the recent slump. Yes you are right. I am refereeing to Venky's Blackburn Rovers who are travelling to India to play against Pune FC which by far could be one of the most ridiculous decisions a team's management could have made in a season.

When international matches come into picture in between a season and for that matter even after a season it's the managers and the club management seen praying for their players to come back to the club all right. While most of the players come back uninjured, fatigue takes over especially for some on whom the dependency of the team is utmost. The move that a club needs to release players on international duty is widely criticized by most clubs with the argument that it's the clubs who pay their wages for the entire season, the fact that for a player it is a matter of pride to don the country's colours and win glory is missed out. But with the extent of football being played it is now common that a player nearing his 30's is ready to quit international football to prolong his club career which has become just one point for the feud between clubs and countries. The national team management have accused the clubs of paying the players high wages which most of the national teams cannot even dream about.

While international football is still very important for countries, it is the meaningless international friendlies I am against. The argument that it is important for supporters to have the opportunity to watch their national teams play though is true it doesn't merit a friendly game play devoid of passion, exuberance and excitement. Matches like the ones played in African Cup of Nations, Copa America, AFC Qualifiers, Euro Qualifiers etc put the players in a spot where they have everything to play for which the friendlies lack. Last month Argentina travelled to India to play a friendly not against the host country but against their COPA opponents Venezuela. It makes sense when Brazil play Ghana in England because of the fact that most of the players are based in England or Europe but coming to India to play a friendly was totally going out of the way. The reasoning might be promoting the game in India but it seemed more of a commercial stunt which was managed by a private firm and especially hard on the Argentinian players who played another friendly against Nigeria just  few days later in Bangladesh before travelling back to their respective clubs. Though it would have been a wonderful experiences for the fans in India and Bangladesh it was hard on the players to be playing in such humid conditions and also when they had started the season which was reflected on their play.

While the clubs have been accused of monopoly, they have also been advised to understand that for many associations the internationals are their lifeblood in terms of income. However what would happen if a player who plays a game for the national team and is sidelined for the rest of the season due to an injury sustained while on international duty? Who would foot his medical bills and wages? This is something to ponder about and FIFA has to take a hardline on this as few years down the line when the clubs are threatening to get mighty strong these issues could snowball into bigger controversies destroying the image of football. Though the club concept has been very successful in football there has to be clear regulations on such confrontations between the clubs and national teams so that the chances of litigation might be avoided in the long run. It does seem that the ECA(European Club Association) - an independent body which directly represents the clubs at a European level - has already taken the first step by calling for a drastic reduction in the number of international fixtures held every year.Top European clubs seem to be heading for a collision course with FIFA and other stakeholders in international football.The clubs have also asked for a raise in the compensation paid to them by FIFA and UEFA for releasing players to compete in international competitions.

While the debate over club vs country is gonna continue, I was amused to see Blackburn Rovers coming to India in between a season especially when their team is languishing on 19th spot and should have been spending more time on the training ground. The owners of Venkys who have taken over Blackburn lack the footballing acumen and do seem to exploit the club in the market. While they were earlier scheduled to travel to India during the pre season which is a norm with  most clubs to gel the team and also add a commercial touch to it , the team travelling to India now after a total of 8 games where most clubs have reluctantly released their players for international games, the whole team travelling to India to play a meaningful friendly against an Indian side certainly baffles me. If Steve Kean thinks Blackburn will benefit from the Indian eperience he his badly mistaken as this isn't a magic wand which would take his team away from the relegation zone and all I could see is that Kean's days were numbered at the club which is why he couldn't muster the courage to refuse the owners order to take the team to India. Will this become a norm which others teams will follow with the European clubs having owners from diverse countries is certainly something to watch out.

With the 'Club vs Country' debate not gonna end anytime soon it would be interesting to see who would end up happier if eventually there comes out a winner in this debate. But with Blackburn travelling in between a season for a non competitive game the worry is that it could set a dangerous precedent which could harm the game in the future. Perfect time for the fans to voice their concerns.

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