In one photo, it all became clear. Donald Trump, sitting hands pointed downwards, was caught in a moment of quiet reflection: “Hell, I didn’t think I was going to win this and I am wa-a-a-a-ay out of my depth.”
His train of thought is mirrored by the FIFA fixture schedulers. The World Cup qualifiers, in Europe at least, take place tonight through to Tuesday rather than beginning on Thursday through to Monday. Too much to hope for. As is an outbreak of sanity from Alexis Sanchez.
Arsène Wenger’s comments on beIN Sport have made the headlines. Suicide isn’t painless, it’s now playing footballers when they are in the red zone. Insert your own observations about Le Boss being an expert in that field. He is which is why his words carry some weight:
“I got a text last night [to say] that he has a hamstring injury. The team from Chile has travelled without him and they kept him to try and get him fit to play Uruguay for the second game on Tuesday night.
“I believe that with a hamstring injury we have to get access for our medical staff to the MRI scan to see what grade it is, how bad it is and make absolutely sure they don’t make any suicidal decision that could harm his future for two or three months.
Hold on a minute, I thought it was a calf muscle problem. I’m not doctor but there’s a bit of a difference between that and a hamstring, isn’t there?
He went on:
“It’s a grey area between the national team and the club team and of course they look at their own results which I can understand but we have to preserve the health of Alexis Sánchez.
“He always wants to play and that’s where it is a more sensitive case because he’s always ready to play even when injured.”
I beg to differ because it seems black and white with no hint of grey. If the Chilean FA wants to keep him with the squad, that’s it. FIFA, whose members are the national FAs, is not inclined to let clubs have any power and with good reason, believes footballers can’t be trusted with big decisions relating to their fitness. Even Arsène doesn’t trust Alexis on that score.
Which is part of the problem. I love that he is so enthusiastic about football that he wants to play every game. That desire is fantastic but he has a responsibility to the club and to his teammates, to ensure that he is fit for as much of the season as possible.
Knowing he has a muscle tear, he should have withdrawn from the squad. Judging by Wenger’s words, the Chileans aren’t sharing information quickly, possibly knowing that morale might suffer if Alexis flies home. Keep him with the squad and the prospect of being fit keeps spirits up. They might be planning to play him irrespective of his fitness with the short-termism of international football taking precedence over their duty of care to clubs.
And there’s always the possibility that Arsenal are setting the Chilean FA up as the bad guys in case Alexis comes back and breaks down before or at Old Trafford. ‘We’d have won if Alexis hadn’t been mistreated on international duty’ is a nice line to have ready if Mourinho continues to use his ‘Moudoo’ over Wenger.
It’s a grey area with none of the parties being trustworthy through their vested interests. It’s also impossible to police unless, as in Hector Bellerin’s case, it’s a straightforward decision that the player won’t be fit. It’s this conflict of interests which cause the problems with the international calendar. The club season has been interrupted three times already and we’re not even halfway through November.
It’s a ludicrous state of affairs that is not helped by UEFA’s decision to make friendlies ‘competitive’ with their ‘League of Nations & in no way a cheap marketing ploy to revive a dying category of matches Cup’.
I enjoy competitive international football but very few friendlies interest me. England playing an African or South American nation we haven’t met for some time is interesting; England v Spain is just a poor man’s Champions League match although with ticket prices no poor man is attending next week’s match.
England playing Scotland tonight brings back many memories from my youth through to my early 20s when the annual fixture ceased. Gerry Francis cutting a swathe through the Scottish defence in a 5 – 1 rout – Alan Ball captained England that day; Kenny Dalglish’s shot through Clemence’s legs at Hampden; Wembley goalposts wrecked with more grass heading north of the border than any drugs smuggler could manage in a year.
There is an endless list. There’s also a huge amount of boredom involved. Two friends, the day after that night at Anfield, travelled to Glasgow to witness Steve Bull score twice to give England victory. Well, one of them did, the other fell asleep on the Hampden Park terraces and missed the whole match. I can vaguely picture the match in my mind’s eye and as good as Steve Bull was in the domestic game – he turned down a move to Arsenal in 1990 – he wasn’t an international centre forward.
The tube journey to Wembley a year earlier for the Rous Cup fixture was, ahem, interesting and one of the reasons why the annual fixture ceased to be. It was mayhem and carnage on the way to and from Wembley that day. At least Peter Beardsley – Arsenal tried to sign him as well – had the good grace to score the winner.
The spate of competitive matches in the 90s was followed by two recent friendlies – 2013 & 14 are recent in international football – amid the prospect of an annual resumption of enmity. It didn’t happen when the draw for this World Cup qualifiers pitted the two nations together and it will be interesting to see if it does post-Russia 2018. From memory, the FA weren’t too keen but probably didn’t want their shiny new home wrecked.
Tonight? As bad as England are, it’s hard to see them getting anything other than a win. Gordon Strachan recently lamented the standard of Scottish football at all levels, questioning where the young ‘stars’ were. The current crop beat Gibraltar and Malta and drew with Poland in the past eighteen months but their record is far from impressive.
England, despite poor displays, have only come a cropper against Iceland. They do have the quality just not the ability to meld into a cohesive unit, caught between playing to their strengths and trying to play football properly. If they did one or the other, they could be quite good. As it is, they simply remain crushed by the weight of low expectations.