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International Football In A Downward Spiral

588   //    17 Jul 2011, 10:57 IST

The Copa America started two weeks back. Here is a competition you would like to think would provide a platform for entertaining and attacking football. So far it hasn’t done this.

It’s not the first tournament to misfire recently. The World Cup in South Africa last year failed to live up to expectations of many. As Jonathan Wilson points out in the latest edition of World Soccer, it speaks volumes that the winners, Spain, only needed to score eight goals to win the trophy.

So what has happened to the entertaining spectacle that was international football?

Certainly, in England, there is a lack of coherence between club and country. Instead of working together, it almost feels like they’re running against each other – and club is winning by a country mile.

Matters are not helped by the timing of international friendlies. For example, this season, there is a batch of scheduled friendlies on Wednesday 10th August. This comes just five days after the start of the Bundesliga, four days after Ligue 1, and three days prior to the Premier League season. This is madness. If any player suffers a serious injury in the fixtures, relations will only worsen between club and country. There has to be a better time to schedule friendlies like this.

Within the game, matches are not as entertaining. On the one hand, players are not spending much time with the international squad gelling together. It’s probably why Spain won the World Cup. Look at how familiar the Spain team were playing with each other – the majority either played for Real Madrid or Barcelona. What Spain lacks in a truly competitive La Liga is made up for with a great international team.

Countries have to find more time for the players to become more accustomed with each other or all countries must group the majority of their players together in one or two clubs. Only one of these is a realistic option and even then, the likelihood of this happening is low. Common sense isn’t high on the agenda of any FIFA member and at the moment, any FA representative.

On the other hand, look at the situation in a more positive light, the supposedly weaker teams are getting better, both tactically and technically. If you take the Copa America lately for example, Argentina have so far been held twice by Bolivia and Colombia respectively. However, to do this, they have had to set themselves up defensively. They have to play to their strengths. This is slightly unfair on Bolivia and Colombia though as they both had chances to beat Argentina. In the main though, they were dominated possession wise.

Perhaps what the game’s lacking are better tactics from the bigger sides in order to break down the defensive sides. The longer it takes to break down the smaller side, the worse the game is as a spectacle. Early goals generally give life to a match as it makes the side that has gone behind come out and play. To an extent, there might even be some arrogance from larger sides thinking they can roll over the smaller sides with ease.

More all out attacking might help to solve this problem. The Kevin Keegan ‘We’re going to score one more than you’ approach would be interesting to see. Detractors would say that they could just get hit on the break and lose 1-0. However, look at what Ian Holloway did with Blackpool last season. He realised that if they set out to defend, his side were going to get hammered.
His different approach of all out attack earned Blackpool respect even as they were narrowly relegated. With the resources he had available to him, no manager could have bettered what he did with that group of players.
However, its back to square one almost as this was club football where Holloway had the opportunity to work day-to-day with his players. To be fair, no international manager ever has had this luxury but even less so than ever before.
There is even the argument that there’s too much football currently being played which is causing players to perform below par internationally. Repeatedly though, we’re told footballers are fitter and in better physical shape than ever before. Something doesn’t quite add up there.

In an age where money rules supreme, the players motivation at international level could be questioned. Once, country would come before club unanimously. Now, it is not so clear cut. Surely players don’t need more financial incentives to play better for their country?

Amongst all of this, there is one certainty. Changes in structure and approach need to be made if international football is get out of its downward spiral.

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