International Break for the Clarets

By The Editor's Chair
05 September 2017

Leaving on a jet plane.

A warm welcome is extended to Nahki Wells, a player who Burnley have coveted in previous transfer windows and whose arrival completed what was, despite my misgivings expressed in a previous article, a largely successful transfer window.

I should perhaps have shown more faith in Sean Dyche and the Burnley board of directors, although the lack of cover in the centre of the Clarets' defence remains a nagging concern.

Wells’ arrival aside, this has been an infuriating few days. Just as the new club season was gaining momentum, the teams are required to go into purdah, whilst their players board planes destined for the far flung corners of the globe in the service of their respective nations.

It has always seemed to me that the September international break and the one in April are superfluous and should not occur.

But the way international football is run is an increasing source of frustration. Time was that when Sir Alf named an England team it was akin to Moses descending from the mountain with the tablets. The whole nation pored over his selections and the match in which they were to play was keenly anticipated. 

Nowadays, Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Malta was only the fourth item on that morning’s radio sports bulletin, after the transfer deadline (itself a monumental non-event), the US Open and some idiot firing a crossbow bolt onto the outfield at the Oval. 

For myself, I had only a vague notion of how England’s qualification group was progressing, which was something that troubled me more and more the longer I dwelt on it.

You see, I remain firm in my belief that the pinnacle of any sport is when nations are represented. It is that way in Rugby, in Cricket, in Athletics, but no longer, it would seem, in football; at least not in England.

The Germans usually get it right, and we have a tendency in England to measure the state of our football against their watermark. Germans still by and large value their national shirt above all else, whilst England players seem to go about the business of representing their country as though discharging an irksome chore, rather than the ultimate accolade their profession has to offer.

This may be a rhetorical question but how and why has it come to this and what can be done to correct it?

First off, international football has been grossly mismanaged by a governing body whose primary concern has, for many years, been financial gain and political expediency. FIFA’s machinations have led directly to a decline in the allure and the relevance of the international game.

The dubious process that led to the World Cup being hosted in Qatar – a country who have no domestic league and have never previously qualified for the tournament, was the most glaring example of FIFA’s hubris. It is the equivalent of holding the competition on the Isle of Man.

The structure of the qualification process is also at fault. England should not be required to play so many qualification fixtures against the likes of their Friday opponents, Malta, a poor team of part-timers, whose only ambition is to avoid embarrassment. That does not constitute a sporting contest.

San Marino, for example, have been playing international matches for over twenty five years, it would take a very generous spirit indeed to assert that they have got any better during that time.

So how's about the likes of San Marino, Malta, the Faroe Islands, Andorra and the other lowly ranked nations, played off against each other for the right to enter the main qualification draw?

This would mean that those nations would have the boost of winning a game or two now and then, and advancement to the main draw would have been earned and therefore celebrated.

In addition, the qualifying groups could then be restricted to just four teams, making every match a critical one, generating greater enthusiasm for the matches and enhancing the focus of the players. 

Forgive my indulgence, but international football matters hugely to me and I want few things more than a successful and pride-inducing England team, preferably one with a few Clarets lining up in it. I will be reverting to Burnley matters next week as the Clarets prepare to host Crystal Palace.

This opinion  has been written by Clarets Mad regular commentator on all things Burnley Football Club related, Dave Thornley. (TEC)

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