Club vs. country – who was right?

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Club – Chris Bickley

The age-old debate of club vs country has surfaced yet again, this time surrounding Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge. To cover the facts, despite speculation he would be included in Brendan Rodgers’ squad against West Bromwich Albion (which he wasn’t), Rodgers categorically ruled him out of any action in England’s two qualifying matches against San Marino and Estonia.

Perhaps Rodgers was still irked by Sturridge’s injury after the friendly against Norway, when Sturridge requested to participate in only a light training session, only to injure his groin and consequently miss out on key club games against Everton and Basel.

So, Rodgers is perfectly justified in feeling aggrieved, and was well within his right in banning the forward from England’s qualifiers. It would be petty to say that the Northern Irishman does not have a vested interest in England’s performance. These young players, including Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, can improve greatly from representing their national side via confidence and experience.

Yet at the end of the day, Sturridge is contracted to Liverpool. If Rodgers wants to keep his star player from aggravating his injury against European minnows, who is Roy Hodgson to say otherwise?

Particularly in games like this, Rodgers rightly feels that Sturridge would be more beneficial fully fit against fierce rivals Everton than a drab friendly against Norway in front of a meagre crowd. An unnecessary token game means nothing to Rodgers, or any manager for that matter who is placed in this predicament. I’m sure were this a must win game to qualify, Rodgers would be less insistent that Sturridge is excused. But with all respect to San Marino, England were playing San Marino.

Ask fans of both England and Liverpool what they would prefer; a match-fit Sturridge playing against QPR and Real Madrid for example, or a barely match-fit Sturridge playing against Estonia, with a reasonable chance of him damaging his fitness at such an avoidable cost? Liverpool fans have even more reason to side with Rodgers. This is their first season back in Europe’s elite category after a five-year exile, so understandably they will want Liverpool to have a full strength squad as often as possible.

People have chastised Rodgers in the press for his actions, which is completely wrong. Sturridge’s involvement against San Marino and Estonia would not have solved all of England’s woes and turned abject performances into glory. As a follower of England, I would much rather the English prodigy be on top form for Liverpool and improving his game than burning out in pointless international affairs – and feel I am not alone in this belief. And once more, he is Rodgers’ player, not Hodgson’s.

 

Country – Ollie Orton

Perhaps led by a desire to return to the ‘good old days’ of football, I have always thought that representing one’s country must be the pinnacle of any career. That belief is why Brendan Rodgers’ latest decision to openly state in the press that he would not allow Daniel Sturridge to play in England’s two qualifying games exasperates me so much.

Although Sturridge did indeed get injured on his last England call-up, for Rodgers to stop a player going on national duty smacks of pettiness. Links with the national team are crucial, both to develop young players and to protect older ones. Rodgers has not only strained this crucial link, he has also put Daniel Sturridge in an extremely difficult position – by practically forcing him to choose between club and country.

After a summer of great disappointment from England in which Daniel Sturridge would have been expected to perform far better as the leader of England’s line, many would expect all players to be ready to get back on the pitch to prove to the public that England football matches should be enjoyed once again. However, the refusal to allow Sturridge to play simply serves to exacerbate the discontent surrounding the national team at the moment. Fans are far more engaged and entertained watching a dramatic win in the Premier League than they are watching England labour to a 1-0 win away in Estonia. The recent friendly against Norway at Wembley drew the lowest attendance since its re-opening – this is a time when we need our best players to be playing and performing well at international level. By stopping Sturridge from joining up with England, Rodgers simply serves to add to the apathy that currently surrounds the English national team.

There is a danger that Rodgers’ actions may result in other Premier League managers following suit and withdrawing key players from international matches. For many years Arsene Wenger has complained about his players leaving for international duty and returning injured – now that Rodgers has set the ball rolling by preventing Sturridge from travelling, Wenger will potentially follow suit. Not only will this cause disputes across the board, it will also begin to trivialise international football, with the best players being rested as a protective measure by their clubs.

But international football should be about far more than turning up. It should be, as previously stated, the pinnacle of a player’s career – to be classed as the best in the country is an extremely high accolade. To place this below the needs of club football is surely wrong, and football in general would be worse off if Rodgers’ actions become widespread in the game.

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