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International football rules, OK?

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Jack Ross | 16:11 UK time, Monday, 22 November 2010

I am not sure if a rain-lashed Wednesday evening match at Broadwood Stadium in front of a small crowd would merit a mention in most players' career highlights, but for me it most certainly does.

This was the occasion when I was fortunate enough to represent my country in a B international against Northern Ireland, and while it was neither a packed Hampden nor a full international, it was a huge honour for me to get to draw a famous dark blue jersey over my shoulders.

I can remember the build-up to this match being dominated by criticism of the timing and relevance of it and in some expert's musings the question was why any player would want to play in such a game and that anyone in possession of a pair of boots would be a candidate for selection.

It therefore seemed fitting to recall this fixture and the discussion around it in a week when much of football debate raged over the wisdom of a midweek match against the Faroe Islands.

If I was to offer a defence of such a fixture choice, then to begin with I would point to some of those who played in the B international last year and the success and impact they have enjoyed with the national team since.

One of the strikers that night was Steven Naismith who went on to be one of Scotland's best performers against the Netherlands later that year and has now proven that he is an important member of Craig Levein's squad.

Another who featured was Barry Bannan, albeit in far more of a specific wide role than he is currently playing in with Aston Villa and a player who has deservedly earned plaudits for his performance against the Faroes.

Thus, taking aside the quality of the opposition and the relevance of the actual result, games such as B internationals and alleged 'pointless friendlies' have shown they can provide a platform for future international stars to be born.

Furthermore, I do not believe that the desire to play for your country can be underestimated in football players and the huge surge of pride and achievement players such as Craig Bryson would have felt at earning their first cap is almost indescribable.

It is perhaps unsurprising in a country where we are past masters at talking ourselves down that we seem over eager to demerit a major achievement in a player's career.

I realise that the counter argument to this view is to point to the number of call-offs that countries can encounter for such matches.

In all honesty it is difficult for me to say with certainty whether all withdrawals are genuine, although I would imagine that sometimes players may make considered judgements based on what is best for their long-term fitness.

There is another school of thought that argues that international football is the poor relation to the Champions League and that players view featuring in this tournament as more prestigious than playing for their country.

Undoubtedly, the increased television coverage and blanket promotion and hype of the Champions League means that children and young players are growing up on a diet of top European club football as oppose to recognising World Cups and European Championships as the ultimate achievement, so perhaps future generations will value club success at this level as more significant.

Perhaps I am showing my age, but, for me, nothing can emulate international football. Amongst my favourite football memories from childhood are Charlie Nicholas scoring a wonderful goal against Switzerland and Scotland beating France in a World Cup qualifier in 1989.

Both were at Hampden and both with players wearing a dark blue Scotland jersey.

Flower of Scotland or an adaptation of Handel?

Easy! Someone start up the bagpipes!!

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Jack

    Good blog. I'm glad to read that pride is still important to some proffesionals.

    By the way, have you been promoted to BBC Sports Editor? (see tag at top of page)

    Thanks

    Rob

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm sure that many players would love to pull on the dark blue of Scotland, but how many only do it for the good of their own playing careers rather than a desire to play for their country. Could that be why so many players at the 'top' of their game pull out of friendlies as they know they are definate picks when the big games come round?

    To me a great international player is one who produces the goods against the likes of the Faroe's as well as against the Dutch, French etc. I for one would prefer to have 'players of limited ability' (to quote a former manager) who show real desire to play than a premadonna anyday!

  • Comment number 3.

    Good blog again, Jack - keep them coming!!

    Don't know about anyone else, but even playing 5 a sides I love pulling on the dark blue. Delighted to hear that there are some professional footballers in Scotland who associate as much pride in the saltire as the supporters would expect. I was also very enlightened to hear of Allan McGregor's enthusiasm to get himself to Pittodrie just for the merest possibility of sitting on the bench the other night - a lesson on how to confound your many critics.

    Craig Levein is doing plenty to restore the value of wearing the Scotland shirt, both by calling up the right people for the "big games" and by respecting the seasoned pro's (eg. Davie Weir) the time off in a "meaningless" friendly. The many friendly defeats Scotland have faced in the past are because of a 1st choice team playing in a friendly when they are knackered or saving themselves for the weekend - play a team of 2nd choice players or keen youngsters & you have a side of guys with something to prove & desperate to make their mark. They might also win, too!!

    Double benefit = 1st choice players are fitter for the qualifiers & the pool of talented players experienced at international level is far stronger & larger.

    Is this not a win / win situation?

  • Comment number 4.

    Thank you for the comments.

    Interestingly, Cammy Bell of Kilmarnock was a guest on Sportsound's "The Pitch" on Tuesday having made his international debut against the Faroe Islands. He spoke very well about how proud he was of this achievement and also as to how much his involvement in Scotland squads had benefitted his club form. It was refreshing to hear a young player speak so positively about representing his country.

  • Comment number 5.

    Jack - always one of the more interesting blogs, why do the beeb always seem to tuck yours away so you always have to search for it?

    'B' internationals get an unfair rap and should be credited as full-caps. It's in these games you find the players most willing and proud to make the 'effort' of pulling on the national jersey. Refusal to play in them like David Bentley shows their true colours.

    Couple of questions, first of all did your appearance in the national shirt aid in any of your future contract negotiations? Secondly, do you think with the way contracts are drawn up nowadays eg. If a player plays 'X' amount of games per season he gets paid 'Y' amount effects his decision to risk injury and club wrath by taking the chance playing Internationals knowing he might get rested afterwards?

  • Comment number 6.

    JoC, re contract negotiations and international football, some players will have clauses which give bonuses for being called up for their national team. Also, it is fair to say that representing your country only enhances your reputation as a player and therefore ensures you are in higher demand and in a stronger position regarding the negotiating of contracts. Clubs also include clauses in deals when they sell players that will give them further revenue should that player go on to gain a cap.

    With respect to missing out on appearance money as a consequence of being injured while playing for your country-I do not believe players would take this into consideration when making a decision to withdraw from a squad.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks for your very honest and informative reply Jack. Ofcourse it's only right players benefit from being recognised by their country by being called up to the national team.

    As clubs seem to benefit too it's odd to find some develop such a negative attitude towards International friendlies taking place.

 

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