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Changing priorities of the modern footballer

In recent times the priorities of the modern footballer seem to have drifted more towards club football over internationals, with a greater number of players ‘retiring’ from international football when they are still at their peak.

It can be argued that some have valid reasons, such as wishing to spend more time with their families however, it is also clear some opt out of international football for reasons that do not sit so well.

This has been brought to attention through the situation the current England team is in. With a number of withdrawals due to injury, Roy Hodgson’s squad is starting to look thin in certain areas.

Initially when Hodgson announced the squad there were a few high profile omissions but the squad looked in fairly good shape considering the level of talent presently in England.

However, following a couple of injuries, the number of players who would have been considered had they not made themselves unavailable has been highlighted.

Not a lack of talent

For example, the replacement for injured goalkeeper John Ruddy is Jack Butland, a talented prospect but a very inexperienced player who has just spent the season in League Two with Cheltenham Town.

This was not because England have a particular dearth of goalkeeping talent at the moment, but because players such as Ben Foster and Paul Robinson do not wish to be considered for selection.

The reason for this is they don’t want to be just a back-up to Joe Hart, who is head and shoulders above all other English goalkeepers.

During qualification this has not mattered greatly as Hart has stayed fit and in-form, but going into a major tournament it is slightly shameful that they don’t want be available just in case something happens to Joe Hart.

It is a month-long tournament, after which they will have plenty of time to recover before the start of next season.

Just look at Spain

If you look at the Spanish squad in comparison, Iker Casillas is the obvious number one, but backing him up they have Barcelona’s Victor Valdes and Liverpool’s Pepe Reina, both of which are top quality goalkeepers.

Another area England are lacking depth is in central midfield, yesterday it was revealed that Frank Lampard has been ruled out of the tournament through injury and prior to that Gareth Barry was also ruled out.

The replacement for Lampard is Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson who is largely untested at senior international level with only two caps and is coming of a poor season with Liverpool.

In contrast, Michael Carrick (pictured) is coming off a season in which he has performed consistently well at the heart of Manchester United’s midfield. However, he has made himself unavailable for selection because he is not guaranteed a starting position.

His judgement may have been clouded somewhat by previous experiences with England squads, where managers have chiefly focused on the starting 11 and ignored squad players, leaving them feeling understandably disenchanted.

International tournament football unlike anything else

The situation going into a major tournament is totally different and a player of his ability and top level experience would be very useful to call upon.

It leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth when you look at other players like Frank Lampard and previously David Beckham who have dipped in and out of favour at times but have always made themselves available for selection if needed, in Beckham’s case being more than willing to fly from America to play.

The current situation of international ‘retirements’ shows the changing priorities of the modern footballer, with many placing a higher importance on the Champions League in particular, as that now seems to be the pinnacle for many.

Rather than players simply not caring about playing for their country they may have had their reasoning affected by arduous qualifying campaigns, where games are played at crucial stages of the domestic season and provide little more than a distraction and opportunity to get injured.

I find it very hard to believe that any player wouldn’t jump at the chance to be involved in a major tournament such as Euro 2012, spending a month playing against the best in Europe in stadiums with an atmosphere beyond anything they will experience in club football.

By Duncan Proctor

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