Let’s give a red card to the internationals

Lampard should see red every game

Of all the problems plaguing modern football the biggest, and the first that I would change, is international football. No more World Cup, no more Euro Cup, no more Under 19, Under 16, Under 3, nationalistic pointlessness, I’d get rid of it all. It just seems like a holdover from when Europeans used to kill each other over a line in the forest somewhere. For example, there’s an Andorran national team. A country the size of the city I live in, with half the population is fielding a national team in all of these competitions. And what are they playing for? Andorran pride? What’s that some kind of veiled racism or pathetic nationalism?

More than any spectacular football, the international breaks signal a chance for horrible people like Michel Platini to bleat on about quotas, for fans to display their racism, for football associations to propose preposterous rules changes, for players to give interviews, to watch some really crappy football, and for the specter of injuries to raise it’s ugly head.

Yes, the internationals, what a great idea. Let’s whip people into a nationalistic fervor over a pointless game so that players and associations like UEFA can have a platform to change the game I love while extracting the very last Euro out of the average fan’s wallet.

As the links above show, this break is no different than any other. We start off with the FA’s announcement that they are looking into a “homegrown” quota system. Basically, it takes Platini’s horribly racist idea of forcing clubs to check passports before they field a team and waters it down by allowing  teams to simply follow the current quota rules for Champions League qualification. Which is to say that no matter where you were born as long as you were educated at the club, you count as “homegrown.” Actually, I’m fine with this, mostly because I think it will shut Platini and the English nationalists up about Arsenal’s academy.

These homegrown plans always make me wonder why UEFA and FIFA and the FA refuse to deal with problems like Spanish racism before they start worrying about the passports of players on a club like Arsenal? I’ll tell you why! Because the line between the nationalism they are peddling in the guise of “International Football” and outright racism is more permeable than the Maginot line. You need look no further than the fact that a club like Zenit can openly discriminate against blacks and still be allowed to play in UEFA tournaments or a national team like Spain has so many openly racist supporters that the English team needs 500 cops to protect them from the Spanish supporters to see that there’s a serious problem brewing here. How can those organizations let those teams play unless the reality is that they need those racist fans? Surely not every Spanish fan is racist but a large enough number are that these organizations have to play this balancing act between nationalism and racism.

From “homegrown” quotas we move on to the Irish FA recommending a “sin-bin” for yellow carded players. I understand where this comes from because in a sense it is unfair that a player who gets a fifth yellow is suspended for the next game but there’s just two minor drawbacks to the sin bin idea; the referees seem to have a problem getting calls right, and the referees seem to have a problem getting the calls right. Now I know that technically those two are the same thing, but they seem important enough to mention twice.

On the face of it, it seems like a good idea, like if there was a sin bin maybe Bolton wouldn’t be as quick to tackle. But the problem is that you only need to look at the last game against Bolton to see what would happen: Arsenal got as many yellows as Bolton did! The sin bin idea isn’t going to stop a team like Bolton from kicking Arsenal off the pitch because the refs let teams like Bolton get away with more before they get a yellow.  No, it won’t make the game better, it would just give as all another reason to bitch about the refs.

Not to be outdone by the executives in charge of the game, players too use the international break as a soapbox on which they can give their opinion — and for us Arsenal fans that usually means some disgruntled (former) employee. This time it was the exception that proves the rule and Gilberto gave a very respectful, thoughtful, and even-handed interview about Arsenal’s struggles since he left. Just one quote from the interview should remind us all what we loved about Gio: he was a selfless, hard working, respectful player who did everything asked of him out of love for the club.

It’s a big period for Arsenal. Since I was there they haven’t experienced a situation like this. Now they are out of the Champions League places which is very uncomfortable but I’m sure they will pick up points and get back and qualify for the Champions League like we expect. They’ve got quality and a good manager, Arsène Wenger, will do a good job with them.

♬ Mister, we could use a man like Gilberto Silva again… ♬

And if you’re able to stomach all of that and sit down to actually watch a match, well then you’re likely to be treated to a display of football futility like the goal by Bischoff linked above. I’ll concede that you might catch a beautiful goal or two, I guess Robinho had one yesterday against Italy, and you might even get a good match every once in a while, but the vast majority of these matches are just dross. No one, not players, managers, fans, no one on earth wants to see the Malta first team play; much less their U21 (yes, they have a U21).

Given all that, I say down with the internationals! Instead, let’s give hard working footballers a week off and let them travel to Malta to enjoy the sandy beaches without the added pressure of giving an interview, or having the ignominy of being booted out of some pointless tournament at the hands of the mighty Maltese FA.

What am I saying? They’ll never give up on these tournaments. There’s too much money to be made off the suckers who watch them.

18 Responses to “Let’s give a red card to the internationals”

  1. 1 Matt
    February 11, 2009 at 7:45 am

    I am somewhat on the fence here. I think the “big” tournaments (World Cup, Euros, Copa America, hell even the African Cup of Nations) can be entertaining. You get great football (you really do), great stadiums, great atmospheres, great fans (most of the time). Plus, for the World Cup, you get that kinda cool feeling that the entire freaking world is watching.

    On the other hand, the “friendlies” and the endless, ENDLESS, rounds of qualifying for the above tournaments all need to go.

    Should the Faroe Islands be in the same qualifying group as France? Hell no. That is just plain ridiculous.

    That said: I have been looking forward to the US-Mexico match tonight for weeks and I cannot wait to rush home, pop a beer, and watch the match.

    (Best non-Arsenal match I saw last year was Turkey-Czech Republic in the Euros, FWIW).

  2. 2 WC
    February 11, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Yes we all hate international friendlies but it’s a necessary evil to be honest. If we had no internationals then really the only time a national team plays together is the day before the game. That’s a bit much to ask for 11 people to magically gel in 1 day and then expect them to perform at the highest level. As football fans we know how important it is for a team to get used to one another so they know each teammates’ quirks, abilities and style of play so they can create a fluid team dynamic. What’s more my issue with friendlies is that I just don’t find international football that appealing anymore. Of course I’ll watch th WC and Euros but really who watches most of the qualifiers? Who is really interested iun most group stage games aside from professional writers and pundits? Club football is so much more appealing.

  3. 3 Martijn Stolze
    February 11, 2009 at 8:29 am

    mate, what city do you live in? Andorra ain’t that small…

  4. 4 caribkid
    February 11, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Like Matt, I’m on the fence but could not live without the WC.

    Having read about, seen it on re-runs, seen it on live TV and seen it live and in person for over 50 years, the WC spectacle is so ingrained in my soul and was the sole vehicle of my football passion while growing up. Watching the greatest players in the world perform on the same stage over a period of 4 weeks is the epitome of football for me every 4 years. The “Samba” boys of Pele and “Le Orange” with Cryuff was something no one should ever miss.

    Friendlies, money making exhibitions with no passion and flair, should be banned, but many FA’s utilize this as a major means of revenue and a lot of this money goes back to the grass root programs at home. The smaller nations could not exist without this revenue coming into their coffers.

  5. 5 caribkid
    February 11, 2009 at 9:01 am


    total: 468 sq km or 180.7 Square Miles
    2.5 times the size of Washington, DC

    82,627 (July 2008 est.)

    Life expectancy at birth:
    total population: 82.67 years (Highest in the world)
    male: 80.35 years
    female: 85.14 years (2008 est.)

    Looks like a pretty small and healthy country to me.

  6. 6 T-Town Alex
    February 11, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Tim – This post is so wrong that just by itself it cancels out your previous 350 great posts. :-) Kind of like a black hole that ‘sucks’ everything in. :-) (Did you like that?)
    I don’t know where to start. You are putting a lot of unrelated things in a blender and making a soup. I’ll try to make some time later and articulate my thoughts in a post. Let me just make a comment for now on the “who cares” part:
    Who is interested in international football? Well, how about the players themselves?! Minor detail. The biggest dream for every kid who plays or cares about football in every country (outside the US) is international glory. Even the Champions League IS international football. At the end of the day, Arsenal is a London team. There is also a huge difference between international competitive matches (including WC qualifiers) and international friendlies. Friendlies are similar to the NFL pre-season… enough said.
    So if you wonder who is interested in international football, the short is: EVERYBODY OUTSIDE THE US.
    Now that we established that everybody outside the US cares about international football, in the next class we will discuss if it is actually morally and ethically right to care about international football. Or does that make one a racist pig.

  7. 7 caribkid
    February 11, 2009 at 9:12 am


    total: 468 sq km or 180.7 Square Miles
    2.5 times the size of Washington, DC

    82,627 (July 2008 est.)

    Life expectancy at birth:
    total population: 82.67 years (Highest in the world)
    male: 80.35 years
    female: 85.14 years (2008 est.)

    Andorra is slightly larger than the Caribbean island of Barbados which I circumnavigated with the aid of an old, rickety, Honda 70 motorcycle, complete with passenger, in 5 hours with a beach, food and alcoholic libation stop. (LOL)

    Looks like a pretty small and healthy country to me.

  8. 8 caribkid
    February 11, 2009 at 9:13 am


    Sorry for the duplicate post, my keyboard is going crazy.

  9. 9 Matt
    February 11, 2009 at 9:18 am


    My first exposure to “football” was the 1986 World Cup – before that all I knew about soccer was that you got an orange during halftime and a soda after it was over. Oh, and you had to wear shinguards, which kinda smelled.

    I did not become a committed “fan” of the game until years later, but that World Cup definitely planted the seed.

  10. February 11, 2009 at 9:55 am

    T-Town Alex,

    I never said that International football followers == racists. I said that there are an alarming number of racists who attend international games and that’s because the line between the nationalism and racism is very thin.

    Also, footballers do like playing for their national teams, if the national team will have them, if not, they’ll play for any national team — Eduardo was born in Brazil and plays for Croatia, Aluminum was born in Spain and plays for England next year, Hargreaves was born in Canadia and plays for England, Rooney was born in a swamp in the Kingdom of Duloc and has a smart mouthed donkey as a friend and he plays for England, Amaury Bischoff played for France’s U18 and now plays for Portugal U20, etc. etc.

    Why do they do this? For the money and prestige, lavished on them by the nationalistic fans and their Football Associations.

  11. 11 T-Town Alex
    February 11, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Tim – come on man – let’s go watch England-Spain at 1pm and see live Lampard & Torres both get season-ending injuries. It will be fun. Maybe Rio Ferdinand will get hurt too.

  12. 12 Matt
    February 11, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Maybe Roman Abramovich will buy Andorra and try and turn them into a World Football Superpower!

  13. 13 T-Town Alex
    February 11, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Talking about Abramovich, Chelsea hired Hiddink – it’s official. He’s a great coach.

  14. 14 caribkid
    February 11, 2009 at 11:45 am


    I understand perfectly Matt. Having been raised in the Caribbean, Track & Field, Cricket and Football was my life and only began to take a hankering to American Football and Basketball in the mid 80’s after relocating to the US and suffering sport withdrawal symptoms. Back then, my sole football experience was playing in the UN league in NY and later on with the “crazy” SA league teams in Fla.

  15. 15 T-Town Craig
    February 11, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Behold, a terrible example of free thought

    I guess Tim is only really interested in watching Arsenal players playing with themselves, all other clubs and now countries being a giant waste of time

    I, for one, love the game in every way i’ve seen it, I love watching little kids, like balled up schools of fish, chummed by a little round bait, I love playing in my over 30 games with all the asshole expats from around the world having a kick-out at my legs and yelling inanely at the ref, I love watching clubs go at it, I really love watching big international tournaments (because they are much harder to buy the winning of), and I even love watching Tim run around like a barbarian in his tights on a frozen T-Town pitch – Hope to see you out there this week.

  16. 16 lux
    February 11, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Although I think that when it comes to racism in football the real problem isn´t the supporters at international games, I really liked the perspective of the article. Because it does feel a bit hypocritical when the vocabulary being used for a football match between two countries is basically the same as the one used in/for war, there are flags, anthems, etc., one could say, the whole symbolic inventory of nationalism is used there. And on the other hand football is propagated as a place where it doesn´t matter where you´re from, which colour your skin is, there is this “say no to racism”-campaign (as if it was a drug) and so on.
    Sure, nationalism and racism are not the same – but they base on very similar convictions and lead to the same kind of violence.
    But I think the bigger problem is that everyday-racism in european stadiums, at least in some countries (as italy, for example).


  17. 17 Cord
    February 11, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I have read your blog for about a half year or so and this is the first time I had to reply
    to one of your posts. Club football is great, but the World Cup Trophy is the most prestigious and coveted trophy in all of football.

    I was in Rome when Italy beat France in July of 2006. Absolutely the craziest thing I have ever experienced. The emotions that football can suck out of people are much more powerful from International Football. Watching the United States beat Mexico tonight just reassures me on the greatness of International Play. I dream of the day Arsenal wins the Champions League trophy, but I would prefer a US world cup trophy…..

    Sure there is the chance on injuries, but that’s tough and it is apart of the game. Players grow up watching their international icons represent their country and dream of doing the same.

    If a player has a chance to represent another country, sometimes it is just necessary or a smart choice. Almunia is behind a ton of great keepers in Spain (Iker, Victor and Pepe) .. Eduardo realized he had a better shot playing for Croatia than he did Brazil. Bischoff thought he had a better shot at having success in a Portuguese kit compared to the very talented French squad.

  18. 18 shaun
    February 12, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Believe me guys, when the World cup comes to South Africa next year, this country will go wild with entertainment!!

    Other than that, I agree international friendlies are a bit of a waste but are a necessary evil. But to do away with the WC would be a bit of a tragedy. It is after all one of the most watched sporting events on the planet.

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