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A friendly word from Fab

Robbo Robson | 14:22 UK time, Monday, 17 November 2008

So let's just recap on the revised England squad for Wednesday's game against Germany... withdrawn are:

Joe Hart (foot's knackered); Steven Gerrard (torn muscle thing); Wayne Rooney (bit of a sniffle); Rio Ferdinand (sprained his hand trying to write summat); Frank Lampard (dodgy rib - possibly Chinese barbecue, we're not sure).

But oh no! We've just heard of more troubles of our stout-hearted lads! Also out now are:
Theo Walcott (his dog's poorly); Joleon Lescott (certified hopeless); Gabby Agbonlahor (cheese allergy); Gareth Barry (needs to take a jumper back to M and S cos his Mum bought him the wrong size); Jermain Defoe (he's got a Pilates course Wednesday night)
Ashley Young (eye test); David Bentley (brylcreem removal)....

All right, I'm overstating the case but clearly I'm exaggerating to make a point that professional footballers seem to treat international friendlies like the rest of us treat a visit to the in-laws.

I'll quite happily fake a migraine if it means I avoid a lot of interrogation about my beer consumption or the time it takes for me to tile a bleeding bathroom (15 months and counting, and by the way, the tiles make well-handy beer-mats in the meantime).

Every time this club or country debate comes up it gets me right heated. Here's how I'd solve it. Either you play for your country or I hit you with this club.
Fabio Capello
How refreshing it is, though, to have a manager who starts laying down the law to the teams. You get the impression that every time McClaren or Eriksson had players released for international games they had to send out 23 bouquets of flowers, along with 23 handwritten scented notelets with kind sentiments on them in order to say thank you to the clubs for their generosity in letting their little darlings out to play for the evening.

Capello sends them a stern e-mail and a couple of muscular paramedics cos he doesn't need to take that sort of crap. He's been there, knows the score and if Liverpool say Gerrard's got a poorly groin then Fabio's going to make damn sure that's the case. Probably by personally bending the Scouse snorkeller's leg over his head until he yelps.

It's about time. I don't think Capello would be sending out anyone who's not fully up to it for any game but it's the 'hands off, he's ours' nonsense that bugs me.

I know there'll be tons of big four fans out there who'll be doling out the old 'we pay the wages' argument. But if you lot had your way international football would be dead in the water.

I happen to believe that a thriving national team is good for the game as a whole. Players do get injured playing for their countries, that's true. And Newcastle have been compensated for Michael Owen, haven't they? But surely it's just a small price to pay for employing a top player.

Playing for their country is just part of the rest of their lives. If Owen got injured taking his kids ice-skating, would Newcastle sue the ice-rink? If Rio Ferdinand put his back out reaching up to a high shelf for a copy of the collected essays of Friedrich Nietzsche would Fergie be sending warning shots across the bows of Waterstones? (Granted the last example is about as hypothetical as it's possible to get without it being summat out of Terry Pratchett).

This club v country debate goes deeper than whether players fake toothaches to get out of a game every now and then, of course. Clubs are doing less and less to cultivate young local talent - unless you're Arsenal (and how ironic is that!)

Now again you might argue that you should only pick on the basis of talent and if you can go round the world hand-picking the best crop of baby-faced third world Maradonas then fair play to you. Me, I'd still argue that clubs represent their area first and their global fanbase second. And that that representation should be on the basis of at least some local lads.

You can't argue against the fact that if the academies bring through local talent it would benefit the national team and to be frank England is my joint favourite first team with the Boro and I really want it to do well.

The other accusation I get for spouting this is that I'm a xenophobic northern muppet. (Only one of these is true). You can be pro-England without being anti-the rest of the world, although granted when you see p***heads lobbing furniture around European town squares you wonder why you'd ever want to be pro-England ever again.

I've got nowt against foreigners at all, especially when they start laying down the law to the managers who spend international friendly week rolling up their precious cargoes in bubble-wrap and cotton wool until Saturday comes.

There is an argument for saying we should drop friendly internationals all together - and when Sven was playing every Englishman in the Premier League and handing out more caps than a family planning clinic, it was hard to think why anyone was bothering.

But I like them. It gives a chance for the manager to find out how some young lads tick, how hard they work and if they can hack it - especially when the opposition is Germany! If it's Germany, we want a win. Put the speed merchants up front, Agbonlahor, Walcott, Defoe, and watch the dodgy German back four wobble like a Geordie hen party!

In fact, dare I say it, let 'em play like the Boro at Goodison, only with a bit more nous.In the meantime, Fabio, check out every single sob-story these Premier League clubs chuck at you... good on you, pal.


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