INTERNATIONAL CALL-UP NOT MERELY A REWARD FOR CLUB FORM
International Call-Up Not Merely a Reward For Club Form
In terms of the quality of football on display, it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that the World Cup today is superior to the latter stages of the Champions League. With a handful of elite sides able to sign the most gifted players from right across the globe, the concentration of talent among the planet’s superclubs surpasses anything that the modern international game can offer.
Another reason for the primacy of club football is the amount of time that domestic managers are able to spend with their teams: coaching a group of players on a daily basis allows any boss to get his ideas across relatively quickly and work on their implementation over an extended period of time, with philosophies and styles of play naturally far easier to establish.
On the international stage, conversely, it is far more difficult for coaches to create a coherent identity given their limited contact time with players. The likes of Spain and Germany have done extremely well in this regard in recent years, though both nations were aided by the fact that many of their stars played together for the same club sides and were thus already familiar with each other and the unique demands of a certain way of playing.
It is within this context that the recent criticism of Roy Hodgson’s call-ups for the final European Championship qualifying matches with Estonia last Friday and Lithuania on Monday night looks a little unfair. The England boss was denounced for including the likes of Kieran Gibbs and Phil Jones in his squad despite their lack of playing time domestically – Andros Townsend has been another target previously – and ignoring players starring for their clubs such as Mark Noble and Scott Dann – although 19-year-old Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli was handed his first cap after just 412 minutes of Premier League action.
While England have already qualified for Euro 2016 after winning their first eight matches, any matches before the tournament represent an opportunity for the team to increase their experience of playing with one another and enacting Hodgson’s demands away from the training ground. With only three friendlies currently scheduled before the action gets under way in June, it is perfectly understandable for the 68-year-old to promote continuity in his selection.
Moreover, a look at the numbers suggests that the former Liverpool boss has handed out his fair share of opportunities since taking charge in 2012: Hodgson has already used 64 players in three-and-half years, more than Kevin Keegan (41, 1999-2001), Steve McClaren (45, 2006-07) and Fabio Capello (63, 2008-11) and only a handful fewer than Sven-Goran Eriksson (72, 2001-06).
There is certainly plenty of merit in rewarding good performances at club level with international recognition; even in today’s world of million-pound contracts and sponsorship deals, the carrot of representing your country can be a significant motivator for Premier League players.
It is more important, though, to maximise every possible moment in an international break by preparing a group of players for an event that is only eight months away. Even when there are no points on the line in friendlies or when qualification is already confirmed, it makes perfect sense for Hodgson to stick with those who he knows, trusts and is likely to include in his squad next summer, even if they are not currently starting every week for their club sides.