Posted on Monday, 28th March 2011 by Alastair Bayliss
Upon hearing the news that Kieran Gibbs has returned to Arsenal, having sustained an injury on international duty with the England U21s, one has to wonder whether Arsene Wenger should have exerted his influence a little more widely and attempted to pull him out of playing for his country.
These issues seem easy to speak about in hindsight, but Gibbs is a special case. He defines the expression ‘sick note’. Every time he leaves the house he seems to pick up some kind of knock, and consequently when he departs on international duty, it would almost be worth the effort of ringing an ambulance before he even arrives.
Sir Alex Ferguson has the right idea when it comes to the international game. Not only does it appear likely that he encourages his players to receive yellow cards in order that they miss future matches, but he also appears to do deals with the national coaches when it comes to how long his players actually spend on the pitch, if they actually go at all that is.
Wenger does not seem to be quite as forceful as his Manchester United based counterpart, and this is to the detriment of Arsenal. Indeed, the Frenchman enjoys the international game and is consequently not quite as reticent to allow his players to leave, but often it can adversely affect his own club’s chances of winning silverware. In two of the last three seasons the main striker, Robin Van Persie, has been out for extended periods with injuries sustained whilst with his country. The same can be said for Theo Walcott.
Acting morally on this issue is something that is done only when it can be afforded. Even Wenger, who has a relatively decent record on releasing players, made out that Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie caught the flu during an international friendly week earlier this year. One cannot help but feel that should the Champions League final have been played in that week, they might just have made it out of their beds. It has become almost accepted that this kind of thing goes on, and whilst it is not entirely morally upstanding, everyone turns a blind eye to this sort of behaviour.
Wenger should probably play this game a little more than he does. Perhaps a suggestion for him could be that he only allows one player in each position to play the full ninety minutes in a game, meaning that he would always have his reserve fit at least. Also, the players flying to further flung countries could be prevented from doing so. Since Carlos Vela’s late returns from Mexico last year, Wenger managed to lobby FIFA to change the dates from Saturdays and Wednesdays to Fridays and Tuesdays in order to prevent late returns of players. This is a step in the right direction.
In an ideal world, there would be no international disruption of the club game, but that is not the world in which football operates these days. Wenger may act more respectfully of the international game than the rest of his Premier League counterparts, but that might inhibit Arsenal’s season. Such is football’s morality.
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