But once again it has taken it’s toll
Football is a unique sport. In many ways, its unique qualities make it special. But when it comes to international competitions, football is illogical and flawed. Imagine Derek Jeter missing significant playing time with the Yankees because he played for the US in the middle of the MLB season. Imagine if Tom Brady’s knee injury last season had been suffered while playing for the national team in a mid-season competition. Not only would fans be outraged beyond description, but every media outlet with a satellite dish would express their righteous indignation and the aggrieved team would probably file some kind of civil action.
It’s beyond comprehension that professional athletes with multi-million pound contracts, who cost millions of pounds to acquire, can simply saunter off to another team in the middle of a season. In an age where sports in general, and professional football in particular, are such huge businesses, the fitness of key players has never been more crucial. Failing to qualify for the Champions League, or to sell-out home games can cost tens of millions of pounds. But often it’s the sale of player-related clothing and memorabilia that really brings in the big money. So when a player gets hurt and the team suffers on the field, there’s a massive domino effect that can cost the team millions of pounds and even destabilize the organization long-term.
Ultimately, there will be a moment in time where the popularity of international competitions comes squarely into conflict with the multi-billion Euro industry of professional football. Clubs cannot continue to pay multi-million Euro transfer fees and salaries and then watch their players march off to play for their country. Consider what would happen if Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka both came back from this international break with season-ending injuries. While there have been discussions about national teams compensating clubs in case of such a contingency, there wouldn’t possibly be adequate restitution for such a loss. Madrid have risked much to acquire these players and have much of their fiscal success riding on their contributions. How would they react if they saw it all destroyed over a fortnight of international friendlies?
Due to the popularity of competitions like the European finals and the World Cup Finals, it’s hard to see anything changing in the short term, but eventually the clubs will decide that they no longer want to subsidize the competitions that make organizations like FIFA and UEFA so filthy rich. The clubs find the players and train them. The clubs foster the popularity of the players. And as the players popularity grows, the desire to see them play international football grows. But ultimately, it is the clubs, and not the international organizations that bear all the risk and financial burden. It’s an inequitable arrangement that cannot exist in perpetuity. How long will the clubs be willing to watch their investments recklessly manipulated by international teams with little or no consideration for the ramifications? Clearly it can’t continue forever.
And so we have the case of Arsenal’s latest victimization at the hands of international managers. As far as I’m concerned, it’s worse than ever. Theo Walcott’s current injury is the result of blatant misuse by England. But what happened this past week was totally unnecessary. Spain have a perfect record in qualifying and were a lock to win their group. Cesc Fabregas was held out of the Celtic and Manchester United matches with an injury but that didn’t stop Spain from playing him in both of their matches. Considering the incredible depth of talent Spain can call upon, there was no reason whatsoever for Cesc to be involved. And yet, there he was, coming on as a sub in the first game, and inexplicably starting in the second game. It wasn’t called for, it wasn’t necessary and now it looks as though our captain will miss yet another crucial match this weekend.
Andrey Arshavin’s international break was even more controversial. Arshavin was taken out of the Manchester United match with a groin injury that had been troubling him for at least a few weeks. The injury was problematic enough that he was unable to play for Russia in their first match last weekend. And yet, when Wales hosted Russia on Wednesday, Arshavin not only started the match, but played the entire 90 minutes. While it’s true that the match was important for Russia, and Arshavin is the captain, it is not appropriate for a player to participate if he’s not fully fit. It’s even less appropriate in the middle of the club season.
As a result of Arshavin’s contribution to his national team, he will now be unable to contribute to the club that paid for him and pays his wages for at least three games. Does that seem equitable? Does that seem like an acceptable resultion? Not to anyone with any business sense or sense of basic fairness. But that’s what we’re forced to live with. Arshavin is out at least three matches according to Arsene Wenger and he is not pleased. Regarding Arshavin’s participation for Russion, the boss said, “We are upset because he should not have played. He was not in a condition where he could afford to play 90 minutes.” Simple. Succinct. True. And let’s not forget that Russia’s manager, Guus Hiddink, is only a few months removed from managing Chelsea. I’m not suggesting that an antipathy for Arsenal factored into Hiddink’s decision to play Arshavin, but certainly, were Arshavin a Chelsea player, his thought process might have been different. Especially considering that Chelsea’s owner is a prominent Russian oligarch.
This blog entry might be tedious to read and it’s certainly not the most enjoyable to write. But this situation with players coming back from international breaks injured just doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe I find it so difficult to understand because there’s nothing like this in American sports culture. Maybe it’s hard for me because Arsenal seem to have worse luck with injuries during international breaks than other clubs. Either way, it’s frustrating. It’s particularly frustrating at the moment because we’ve made a bright start to the season, we’ve got a big game at the weekend, and again we’ll be forced to field a team missing our best players. Last season injuries were a problem, but we never really looked like a team that was ready to challenge for the title. But this season we seem to have the right attitude, right spirit, right formation, and right combination of players to contend. We really have a chance to compete for trophies this year. But without players like Cesc, and Arshavin, and Nasri and Walcott there’s really only so much we can achieve. Ultimately we will only go as far as our best players can take us. And they can’t take us anywhere if they’re not on the pitch.
Tomorrow we should get a better idea about who’s available to play at Citeh on Saturday. Maybe we’ll get lucky. It’s still possible that Cesc could play although it sounds unlikely. Walcott is back in training but not ready to play and I can’t imagine Rosicky starting such a big game with only 58 minutes of competitive football under his belt this season. More than likely, we’ll see the same team that started at Old Trafford minus Arshavin of course.
I’ll be travelling this wekeend for work but should have plenty of time for a Citeh preview tomorrow and a match report on Saturday. Forgive my foul mood today and come back tomorrow for an upbeat and jovial examination of our prospects on Saturday.
Let’s leave this on a positive note; international break is over and we’re one day away from proper football. No matter who plays on Saturday, it’ll still be Arsenal football.