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Is it fair to question players that withdraw from internationals?

November 16, 2010

I don’t know how it feels to be a professional footballer.

How they think and what they think about. What bothers and what troubles them. What plays on their mind and what doesn’t. How they put bad performances behind them and how they get on with their job knowing that their colleagues are out for their starting place.

It’s something that I can’t comprehend. Not even in a small way.

If I have a bad day at work, I might get pulled aside and asked to buck up my ideas but tomorrow, when I walk into work I won’t find someone else at my desk having taken my place. Likewise if I’m off work sick for a few days and even a few weeks, I won’t walk back into the office and be forced to sit on the sidelines. I might have a quick meeting with my manager to make sure I’m over what was bothering me and get a refresher on any big changes but for the most part, it will be business as usual.

This is not the case for a professional footballer.

Picking up an ankle injury could leave a player on the sidelines for nearly two months. Knowing a player will be unavailable for a prolonged period; their manager could very easily hunt down a loan signing from another club and fill their gap for the three months initially or even go out and buy himself a brand-new player to take their place. Just that easily, the player won’t play another minute that season and could even be out on their ear if their contract expires.

Naturally, this is a very extreme situation and there is the likely scenario that the injured player in question simply puts in the graft in training and earns their place in the team once again.

But there aren’t many irreplaceable footballers in world football today; like completely untouchable. They are the cream of the crop, playing in the Champions League consistently. There isn’t many of the Scottish, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland squads that can sleep safe in the knowledge that they would be hard to replace for their club sides. Maybe even, some members of the current England panel. Of course, they can’t think like that or they would be crippled by their own fear.

In situations like this; I think it’s not hard to understand why footballers withdraw themselves from international friendly matches.

Rolling out of bed after Saturday’s game and they feel a tweak in their back or their ankle throbs more than it should as they pace down the stairs. Their knee swells up and doesn’t go down like it used or the bruises on their ribs make it more painful than normal to breathe. Their country will obviously pay them for their appearance but their main source of income will remain their club side. Regardless of how some of them may come across on the pitch with their insipid performances, there isn’t a single footballer in the world that wants to be sitting on the sidelines week-in and week-out. They want to be playing and not nursing needless injuries picked up or made worse in a game that they could have done without playing.

I’m not saying that every player that plays in an international friendly will get injured or aggravate an injury; but it has to be easier to justify playing through a niggling injury for your club side than your international team.

You can be the most patriotic man in the world but unfortunately, club football has to take precedence.

It just has to.

Take for example, your day job. If you were offered the opportunity to do something on a Wednesday evening that could seriously jeopardise your ability to go to work on Thursday, would you do it? Like seriously jeopardise… You wouldn’t. I think you are lying to me and yourself if you say you would.

Professional footballers are in an incredibly unique position. One moment of carelessness can rule you out of the biggest games of your career. Spain and Valencia keeper Santiago Canizares was ruled out of the 2002 World Cup finals after he dropped a bottle of aftershave on his foot which caused several cuts and serious tendon damage. A simple bathroom accident and he missed the World Cup.

The. World. Cup.

The competition that you and I would give our right arms to get a chance to play in and he missed it because he was a bit clumsy. That is the thin line that these players tread on by simply getting out of bed in the morning.

So is it fair that I can question their dedication or patriotism when they pull out of the international squad?

No. I don’t think so.

I can be disappointed by it and I will continue to be.

It doesn’t fill me with a lot of excitement to know that when I turn up to Windsor Park tomorrow night, it will be a massively disappointing team that lines up for Northern Ireland. But I think I now have a small understanding of why some of them will do it. I fully believe they want to play for their countries but sometimes, other factors have to take precedence.

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