I know exactly how Chris Hughton felt when he waved farewell to his finest as they embarked on worldwide travel in the name of an international break.
I did the same thing yesterday morning.
Well, not quite the same… but I did send off two of my own out into the big wide world – their activities completely beyond my control; who they mix with completely down to their own judgement; their training in the hands of others.
And if I’m honest it left this old worrier feeling more than a tad apprehensive,
Of course, sending your kids out in to the big wide world known as comprehensive education differs slightly from sending your players off to international duty, although both leave you with a slight feeling of helplessness based on a lack of confidence in the organisation caring for them.
In terms of my daughter’s first day at High School, I’m now happily convinced it passed off without incident (her new friendship group successfully vetted for Ipswich supporters) and the school year ahead has started off on a sound footing.
My son was slightly less of a concern in truth (he hasn’t changed schools) and I’ve been assured the lunchtime game of footie resumed unabated, with Gowers Jnr offering a more than passable impersonation of an eight-year old Robert Snodgrass.
While Hughton’s worries are obviously of a less paternal nature, there’s little doubt he will be shuffling uncomfortably in his Colney office chair until his players arrive safely back in Norwich next Thursday; the thought of any of them picking up injuries while away ‘on duty’ unpalatable in the extreme.
Nigel Worthington once famously cited the biggest problem with international breaks as being how often players came back in poor physical shape; the inference being that training while on international duty was of a less intensive nature and so took the edge off a player’s fitness.
While I was never 100% convinced by Worthy’s sentiment (one would assume sharpness to be a prerequisite for an international footballer) he also had less of an issue with players disappearing to all four corners; Youssef Safri and Paul McVeigh the only ones who – off the top of my head – departed on a regular basis under our once-favourite Irishman.
The issue for Hughton is rather more acute with ten of his first-team squad currently away with their respective countries – not to mention the Under-19 lads who today made up a sizeable chunk of the England side that beat Estonia 6-1 – but I’m still not expecting him to do a Worthy and use England’s poor training regime as an excuse for under-performing at the Lane.
Besides, we’re NOT going to underperform there are we? Especially if Hughton’s prayers are answered, and his men return next week with all limbs intact.
Earlier this week FA chairman Greg Dyke, in what’s been described as a ‘call to arms’, cited Qatar 2022 as a potential target for an England World Cup victory; his vision for 2018 taking us to the semi-finals.
Interestingly, if the progression of City’s current Academy crop continues, there must surely be a chance that some of those same boys are going to be involved in helping implement the masterplan of the former Director-General of the BBC.
Throw a 28 year-old Nathan Redmond into the mix and it will indeed be intriguing to see if the FA are able to construct a plan that will come to fruition by the early 2020s, and if it will involve players who – on their footballing journey – have passed through the fine city.
No pressure then…
But that’s for the future. In the ‘now’ – without wishing to wholly re-enter the “why are England so rubbish” debate – I can’t help but think one of many hurdles preventing us becoming anything close to a decent international side is how few players from these shores actually play their trade abroad.
While City’s class of 2013-14 sees more than a fair sprinkling of foreign talent, the chance of an Englishman popping up in a squad in any of the major European leagues is as rare as Portman Road full-house. In footballing terms it’s what Nigel Farage would delight in calling ‘positive net migration’.
The financial lure of the Premier League is such that few are tempted to try their luck oversees and as a result Roy Hodgson is denied the chance to select from a pool of players who are well-versed in different footballing styles and cultures.
Of course there are many other issues that stretch far beyond the stereotypical ‘too many foreigners’ debate’, not least the permanent collision course on which the FA and the Premier League find themselves; Richard Scudamore (chief executive of the Premier League) perceiving the success of the national team to be little more than an irritant to the continued success of his baby.
Alas, while Scudamore’s tunnel-vision is understandable, your average supporter’s perception is not too dissimilar, albeit for entirely different reasons. In the club versus country debate, few will side with country, with success of your club – wherever they sit the pyramid – of far greater concern.
Only once every two years, for a period of about a month, does the nation throw itself to the mercy of the three lions – which, in itself, optimistically assumes tournament qualification has been achieved. The occasional midweek international during the season will briefly ignite the same fire – before it’s extinguished just as quickly by Adrian Chiles and Roy Keane – and then we simply replace the white shirt with the yellow one without a second thought.
So maybe OUR appetite for a national side has been dulled? Besides, Dyke has already told us to forget Brazil 2014.
Speaking personally, I’m still recovering from Bloemfontein, June 2010, when the sight of Mesut Özil skipping past Gareth Barry as if he were running (make that power-walking) in quicksand made the stomach churn; a scene that will now be amusingly re-enacted twice more in the coming months (7 Dec and 5 April – note it in your diaries).
For now however, I’ll leave the debate around our dearth of qualified coaches to others; settle down with 8 year-old ‘Snodgrass’ to hopefully watch England beat Moldova and Ukraine (yes, I’m nervous about that one too), and then join Hughton in praying for the safe return of our Canary heroes.
Then it’s back to the really important stuff.
I’m sure Mr Scudamore will approve.