Friendlies bring out the anger in Roeder

David Cuffley The old club versus country argument was given another airing yesterday after Norwich City midfielder Sammy Clingan suffered a shin injury, playing for Northern Ireland against Scotland at Hampden Park.

David Cuffley

The old club versus country argument was given another airing yesterday after Norwich City midfielder Sammy Clingan suffered a shin injury, playing for Northern Ireland against Scotland at Hampden Park.

Wednesday night's goalless draw may have given international bosses George Burley and Nigel Worthington - former rival managers in East Anglia - food for thought ahead of their respective countries' World Cup qualifying campaigns.

But back at Carrow Road, City boss Glenn Roeder was far from amused at the sight of one of his summer signings having to hobble off after less than an hour in Glasgow with an injury that made him doubtful for today's Championship trip to Cardiff.

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It does seem bizarre that, after just one Premier League weekend and only two Championship games, players are whisked away from their clubs for international duty in matches that carry no real significance.

With England playing the Czech Republic at Wembley and Wales entertaining Georgia in a near-empty stadium at Swansea, all four British teams were in action. None of them won and it is debatable whether the exercise was really worthwhile.

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Roeder said at yesterday's Press conference at Colney that he was in no doubt about the value of the home nations' midweek games - precisely nil.

He said: “To be honest, I'm one of those managers who thinks these international friendlies, a lot of them, are a waste of time.

“What are we doing playing international friendlies in August?

“They will come back, the international managers, and say it's preparation for the competition games, the championship games - but I don't think they make one iota of difference.”

It was not the first time in Roeder's managerial career that he had watched anxiously as one of his players was injured on international duty.

He recalled: “When I was at West Ham, I bought David James, from Aston Villa. He played in an August international friendly at White Hart Lane, then came on in the second half and one minute into the second half he was in collision with a Dutch striker, ruptured his cruciate ligament and didn't play until Christmas - it was then before he could pull a West Ham shirt on.

“When I was at Newcastle, Michael Owen, in the World Cup in the summer, did his cruciates and that was the start of 13 operations that season at Newcastle - he did it playing for England. It's just about bearable if it's a competition like the World Cup. But David James was in an international friendly, and now Sammy gets carried off.”

Roeder argued that the motive for staging the games was financial, and as the Football Associations make money from the matches, they should pay the clubs for the services of their players.

He said: “I just think the games are totally unnecessary. I think they are arranged just to try to fill the coffers of the associations of the countries. Lots of managers agree with me but not many of them say it.

“In what other business would you give something to another business, free of charge, to use as they see fit, and they give it back broken and you mend it?

“I'd be one for not playing the games in the first place. But I think they (the FAs) should pick up the basic salary anyway, full stop, and pay for them. They're earning out of the game.

“It's ridiculous. You're watching your players getting carried off injured. At club level you have to pick up the pieces and it's your best players that get picked for international football.”

The most recent example of a City player suffering serious injury on international duty was goalkeeper Robert Green's ruptured groin, sustained playing for England B against Belarus two years ago. It cost him his place in the 2006 World Cup finals and he missed the start of the next Championship campaign, not playing another game for City before moving on to West Ham.

Those of us with longer memories will remember centre-half David Jones suffering a knee injury playing for Wales against England in 1978. He eventually returned to the City first team but his comeback was brief and he was forced to retire two years later.There is the issue, too, of whether too many friendly internationals - and too many substitutions - have made caps ten a penny.

“I'd even go as far as to say - and this is radical - these international friendlies devalue the cap. I'd award caps for championship games only, for playing in competitions, such as a European Championship game or a World Cup,” said Roeder.

“There are so many players walking around who have had 20 minutes playing for England and they're calling them internationals. It's a laugh, it's a joke. That's my personal feeling.”

What qualifies a player for a cap is unlikely to change, however. Even the greats such as Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright played a high percentage of friendlies in their 100-plus internationals. To deny today's players the same recognition would first require re-writing the record books.

One factor that has increased the pressure on club managers is the way qualifying competitions have expanded. The break-up of nations has put a whole new list of international sides on to the football map.

In the infamous qualifying Group Five for the 1974 World Cup, England played just two other countries - Poland and Wales - home and away, making four games in all.

In the 2010 qualifiers, they must take on Kazakhstan, Belarus, Croatia, Ukraine and Andorra, making a total of 10 matches.

Northern Ireland and Wales are also in groups of six and Scotland are in a group of five.

Even without friendlies, there is plenty of scope for Roeder and his fellow managers to be chewing their fingernails and lamenting the congested fixture list in the months ahead.

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