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Saturday, 25 June 2011

Retiring from the international game...

Playing for this? Or for yourself?
Firstly for our regular readers a point of business, I now have a Football manager team. It's PAOK Salonika. I know, I know it was obvious, don't know why I never thought it sooner. For the record, Salpigidis is a hell of a player.

OK, now to my rant. The rant is going to be Scotland-centric but the same principles apply regardless of whether you're from Canada, Wales or Tibet.

I wish to announce my retirement from international football. Pointless isn't it?  I may be stating the obvious but I'm not an international footballer. That being said in his time Berti Vogts handed out Scotland caps to dozens of people who weren't international footballers. Kevin Kyle for instance. Seriously, Kevin Kyle has TEN Scotland caps. Ten. Take a minute and think about that.

It's not pleasant is it.
Back to my mental meanderings. International football is an honour, not a choice. If you're body is almost kaput and not playing international football will extend your career for a year or so I'll cut you some slack but if a footballer is in their prime and they choose to quit international football it should be a one way ticket. Once you've said your gone, your gone. Or if you've blotted your copybook enough to be kicked out, you're out. Let me illustrate by taking a few Scotland players as examples. 

1. Barry Ferguson - Arguably the most talented Scottish player of his generation, not that that's saying much, and Scotland captain Ferguson showed his reverence for the office by getting alcoholically hammered after a football hammering by the Dutch and then flicking obscene hand gestures when benched for the following game against Iceland. The SFA told him he was finished and showing the intestinal fortitude and backbone of an amoeba with dysentery said he could play again a few months later. Ferguson to his (meagre) credit said no thanks. He can concentrate on the big time of playing eternal sideways passes at such footballing Valhallas as London Road, Peterborough and Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster next season.

2 Allan McGregor - Arguably Scotland's second best goalkeeper of his generation but with the advantage of not being made of glass and cobwebs unlike the slightly more talented Craig Gordon. Gordon would be Scotland number one for years to come if he could only go for longer than 10 minutes at a time without breaking a bone in his arm. Anyway back to McGregor, he too was banned for his involvement in Ferguson's booze and V flicking but lo and behold was back in the team within 18 months. 

3. Lee McCulloch - Arguably one of the most functional players of his generation. Mcculloch was always an "all right" player. Decent at Motherwell and a squad player at the footballing giants of Wigan Athletic, McCulloch became a utility player at Rangers and picked a fair few Scotland caps before retiring from the international game to spend more time with his family and save his ageing body for his club career. That would seem fair enough but a few months later made himself available for selection again as his reasons for quitting weren't what he said at the time but that he didn't like the Scotland management. 

4. Kris Boyd - Arguably the finest Scottish goalscorer and flat track bully of his generation. I confess that at one time I thought Boyd was an integral part of Scotland future being that rarest of commodities, a Scot who could score goals. Through his career Boyd scored barrowloads of club goals and in fairness had a respectable international record. Then the Norway game happened. An admittedly disappointing 0-0 draw in which poor Chris Iwelumo had one split second of madness and missed an open goal. Boyd then informed the world, through Sky Sports News, that he would not play again for Scotland again under then manager George Burley (although Burley had rarely picked him). It's interesting that Boyd, who has never fully understood how to stay onside, should have a tactical and tactical disagreement with his coach. Now here's the thing, if Iwelumo had scored as he should have and Scotland had won 1-0 would still have flounced out? Boyd has shown Scotland what they're missing by going on to be very disappointing for both Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest and achieving the status of "expensive fringe player" at these clubs.

5. Steven Fletcher - Now Fletcher is unusual as he wasn't a Rangers player when he walked out on the Scotland team. Fletcher chucked the toys out of the pram after not being picked to play against Spain or the Czechs and texted the Scotland management to say he wasn't playing any more. As good a player as I think Fletcher is he wasn't even first choice for Wolverhampton Wanderers at the time so why he thought he should be first choice against the World Cup winners is a bit of a mystery. To use a good good Scots phrase he's "pissed on his chips" as far as playing again under current manager Craig Levein goes. While this robs Scotland of a decent striker it leaves a space for someone who will work as part of the team and maybe keeps an unnecessary (and somewhat unwarranted) ego out of the dressing room.

1 - Playing for your country is an honour. While on national team duty you are literally representing your country. The world is watching, well at least Eurosport is. If you can't stay professional for three or four days maybe you're not the right temperament to be a sports professional in the first place.

2 - If your national coach tells you to sit on the bench you say "Yes Boss" and train harder to start the next game. If your national coach tells you to play out of position you say "Yes Boss" and give of your best. If your national coach tells you to put on a skateboard helmet and run into a wall you say "Yes Boss" and do it. If you don't like the coach or disagree with him it doesn't matter a jot because you're not playing for him, your playing for the flag, the badge, the 50000 paying punters in the stadium and the millions at home watching on TV. If you don't understand this you're not playing for the badge, you're playing for yourself and that's the biggest sin you can commit playing for your country. If you don't want to be there you don't have to be. If you think you're too good for the Scotland squad go home. There's five million souls behind you in the queue to take your place who know what it means to pull on that shirt.

3. You don't retire from international football, it retires you. Or at least it should. 

So where are we at the end of all that? International selection isn't the honour it once was and it appears to expose character flaws in those without the cojones to knuckle down and commit to the cause. To be a primadonna in a team sport you have to be special. To be such a primadonna that you disrupt your national team you have to by quasi-legendary. players like Cruyff and Maradona are in that echelon, Fletcher, Boyd and McCulloch are most certainly not. Sadly it seems that sometimes everyone in the stadium is interested in an international match apart from the players.

Incidentally, if anyone knows where I can get a PAOK Salonika shirt for the collection then let me know...