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Things learnt from the Carling Nations Cup

February 10, 2011

No matter how you dress up a friendly, players won’t show up. Despite there being a trophy on offer for the eventual winners and a chance to win bragging rights over local rivals, it’s clear that club football still means more to certain players. Over 25 players withdrew from the original squads named by the nations with Darren Fletcher, Robbie Keane, Gareth Bale, Jonny Evans, Aaron Hughes, Craig Gordon, James McCarthy, Chris Brunt and Craig Bellamy being the biggest of all those names. With the exception of Bale who has already been ruled out of Tottenham’s upcoming Champions League clash at the San Siro, the rest will more than likely be available this weekend for their club teams.

International managers need tips on communications. It can’t be that they have too much on their plate but something somewhere is stopping international managers from actually speaking to their players. A few months ago Fabio Capello was left rather embarrassed when two players he had included in his squad for a friendly decided to announce their international retirement instead of report for duty. And this week the same kind of mistakes were made by Nigel Worthington and Giovanni Trapattoni. Trapattoni admitted he doesn’t have the phone number of Wigan youngster James McCarthy. The Scottish-born midfielder had previously stated his intentions to play for the Republic of Ireland but despite having appeared in a friendly game, rumours have started to surface that he may change his mind. Why don’t either of the managers have the time to check with their players about their availability? They should.

Scotland have developed some strength in depth. Without causing a fanfare or making it a big public deal of their squad strength, Scotland have slowly but surely built up what appears to be depth in their overall squad, except maybe up front. Despite a host of withdrawals, they were still bringing quality players off the bench as the game played out with a whimper. While Northern Ireland brought 17 year-old midfielder Oliver Norwood and 18 year-old Adam Thompson, who are both dangerously close to playing more for their country than their clubs, off the bench Craig Levein was able to introduce Robert Snodgrass and Craig Conway. Snodgrass is a constant performer in the starting line-up for Leeds United while Conway has started to make waves in the Scottish Premier League for Dundee United. The squad in depth is enviable compared to the other nations in the cup.

Gary Speed’s task with Wales is huge. As John Toshack approached the end of his tenure in charge of the Welsh national team, there was a certain feeling that a change of manager would invigorate the players and get them back on the right track. That hasn’t happened. While they were far from full strength, their performance against Ireland was simply abject. There was no urgency in anything that they tried; anywhere on the pitch. Nobody even looked like they were trying to impress their new gaffer. Speed has lot more planning and thinking to do before the Welsh will be ready to compete with England at the end of next month.

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