by Richard Brook
At half time, at Wembley Stadium, on Saturday June 2nd 2012 the handful of players with international careers sufficiently long to have, out of pride and duty, answered England’s call 100 or more times were honoured on the pitch. Billy Wright, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Peter Shilton and David Beckham, who are amongst the true legends to pull on the famous three lions, were each presented with, in person or to a representative, a commemorative cap and medal, as part of an initiative by UEFA.
These five individuals typify the ability and more pertinently the sense of honour that should accompany being asked to represent one’s country at the highest level. It is a lesson that a number of individuals in and around the current England set-up would do well take on board.
Heading into Euro 2012 the England squad have been limping from one injury setback to another. Without mentioning England’s absentees from before the provisional squad was announced in mid-May, since this point players such as John Ruddy, Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard had withdrawn through injury, ahead of the friendly with Belgium. An injury scare for the squad’s only genuine right back, Glen Johnson, and a question mark over the full fitness of Scott Parker have only added to highlight the lack of options, in terms of cover available to, England Manager, Roy Hodgson.
The emphasis is on the word available.
At the time the provisional squad was announced two of the most obvious questions were; “Why are England, going to a major tournament with only one out-and-out right back?”, and “How has Michael Carrick been omitted from both the squad and the standby list”? Both have been answered: The first answer is that there was a straight choice between Micah Richards and Phil Jones, a centre-half that can also play right back, and Hodgson preferred Jones. The response to the second question was that Carrick had declined a bit-part in the England setup, Hodgson stating: “I wouldn’t dream of putting Michael Carrick on a standby list after he’s made it clear in the past he doesn’t want to be involved like that”. Richards too reportedly declined a place on the standby list, when he was left out of the squad.
During the Belgium game England faced further injury concerns, with John Terry being taken off, and being sent for a scan on a hamstring injury, and with more catastrophic ramifications, Gary Cahill was ruled out of Euro 2012 with a fractured jaw. Cahill was attempting to shepherd a loose ball forward, over the by-line, on 18 minutes, when PSV midfielder Dries Mertens gave him a hefty shove, causing the Chelsea midfielder to collide with Joe Hart in the England goal, the fracture resulted from the incident.
Mertens has shown remorse over the incident, tweeting: ‘I sincerely apologize for the harm I’ve cost to Cahill. When in the heat of the moment, you often don’t think about the consequences. My thoughts go out to him and I hope he recovers well’. The apology will give little comfort to Cahill who will now miss the first major tournament since his England debut in September 2010.
Putting the circumstances of the injuries aside, it is human nature to consider how the likes of Richards and Carrick might be feeling about their respective decisions now. Two standby defenders have been called into the squad since Richards’ refusal. Martin Kelly has replaced Cahill, and Phil Jagielka was brought in as a replacement for midfielder Gareth Barry. Carrick could well be thinking of what might have been, with Jordan Henderson’s inclusion as cover for Lampard raising a few eyebrows amongst the England fans, following an unspectacular first season at Liverpool. Carrick in particular would have been at least close to, if not in, the starting eleven with only Gerrard and Parker, himself lacking match sharpness, of the originally selected central midfielders, still in contention.
Surely though a player’s desire to represent England on the international stage should not be driven by matters of ego, or of how many players are in front of an individual for the position he plays. Nor should it be about how many more seasons a player can make money for, on a Premiership contract, by retiring from international football. If an English player is available to play, then they should be available to play for England if called. I don’t buy into the idea that players retire because they believe they can no longer do themselves justice, or be of use, at international level. That is the decision of the England manager, and therefore if a player has no role to play, they would not be selected.
The “centurions” honoured at Wembley during the interval, at the Belgium game may not be able to be held up as the epitome of my views – at least one of these men did retire from international football. However, all their international careers drew to a close in the waning phase of their careers, and at a time when their international careers were permanently over. Too often we now see players in the height of their careers, using their international career as a rattle to throw out of the metaphorical pram, in a petulant reaction to being omitted from a squad, or some other trivial matter.
What does it say for a player’s will to win, if at the first sign of having to fight for a place in the squad, they quite literally take their ball and go home?
One of the English legends, sadly honoured in his absence, at the weekend was, England’s World Cup winning captain, Bobby Moore. Moore was dropped in 1974 following a poor display against Poland, that resulted in the return match between the sides being a must win game for England. Moore’s reaction to being dropped to was to ask Sir Alf Ramsey, if that spelt the end of his international career, to which Ramsey reportedly replied: “Of course not. I need you as my captain at the World Cup next year”. How would a modern day footballer react in that same position?
It appears England do have a current option, although not one that Hodgson is currently taking, that still has a hunger to play for England in spite of having been controversially snubbed for the initial Euro 2012 squad. Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand has not directly closed the door on England despite being left at home, for “football reasons”.
It has been widely speculated that the real reason for Ferdinand not being included has to do with, John Terry’s impending trial as a result of the infamous on field incident with Rio’s brother Anton, during which Terry allegedly used racially insulting words.
Despite this it seems clear that Ferdinand still at least feels passionately about his omission from the Euro 2012 squad. When the squad was announced Ferdinand tweeted: “Absolutely loved playing for England….to say I’m gutted is an understatement of the highest order…”
In addition to this, apparently in response to the news of Martin Kelly being drafted in to fill the hole left by Cahill’s enforced absence, the Manchester United defender posted the following tweet: ‘What reasons?????!!!’. It seems a fair question given that Ferdinand, unlike Kelly, has been a regular for his team, has 81 caps under his belt and has captained his country. Ferdinand plainly understands the level of pride that should rightly accompany being an England player, and that is should never be taken for granted, or lightly dismissed.
Does it cross the mind’s of the young players, who declare themselves unavailable, how they will feel if they reject a standby place, because they’re too good for that, miss a tournament, and then they find when they are at the natural end of their international careers that they come up a handful of shy of Shilton’s record number of caps, or Charlton’s record number of goals?
The truth is that it shouldn’t even be about that. Every chance to be on standby, to be in the squad and to sit on the bench should be an absolute honour, and every one of those is also a shot at getting on the pitch. That is not to say that being in the team is not a greater honour, of course it is. Surely though, a successful international sportsman’s confidence should not be so fragile as to be dented beyond repair by having to prove himself one more time.
Beyond this every chance a player has to play for England is an opportunity to serve his country. The England manager should have the chance to act, unfettered, in the best interests of the nation, and to select the best English players, in his own opinion, rather than having certain avenues closed to him. The players should be giving the manager every possible tool to bring success to England, by keeping themselves available for selection.
The harsh truth is that players that make themselves either temporarily, or permanently, unavailable before they are in the twilight of their club careers are letting the nation down.