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International Breaks, Friendlies And Paranoia: Club Before Country (Sometimes)

You hurt those who play for my clubs, there <em>will </em>be an international incident.
You hurt those who play for my clubs, there will be an international incident.

The football - loving world is often thought of being divided into two sets of people: those who place their love for their club ahead of their love for country, concentrating on wanting a club team to do well above all else. Then there are the people who are obsessively fanatical about their country, even to the point of declaring themselves a "fan" of more than one Premier League side, simply to follow those playing for their national team. In my biased, not very well researched opinion, I've noticed that people who support national sides that tend to perform well, year in and year out, favor their club rather than their country. Those that are fans of nations with something to prove, well, those tend to be the ones that obsessively follow the performance of their country's players across any league.

Again, that's a pretty broad statement to make, and I'm sure there are people who follow, say, Spanish players obsessively (that aren't just into their dashing good looks). But at this moment, I just can't understand supporting national teams over club teams. It's nearly April. That's make or break time for most clubs. I'm a fan of a club struggling to stay above the drop (clearly Aston Villa) as well as of two clubs in title contention (Napoli, Fenerbahçe). (Exeter does not count in this analysis because they seem almost safe in League 1 and also, how many third - tier players get called away to international duty?). One injury, even a fairly minor one, could decide the fates of any of these teams.

Now, for Euro qualifiers, I'm all in for my team. I screamed and ranted so much during the Slovakia match that you'd have thought it was the World Cup match against Italy all over again, not a game against tiny Andorra. But at the same time, I also had this thought in my head: what about Marek Hamšík? And then when he was taken out by a leg-crunching tackle and needed assistance leaving the field, I damn near declared war on Andorra. None of this anguish was prompted by the thought that the repre captain could miss the next Euro qualifier. No, it was pure terror at the idea that Napoli could lose one of their attacking three, thereby rendering a scudetto challenge impossible.

So that was my reaction to watching my national team playing a Euro qualifying match they absolutely had to win in order to make it feasible that they could get out of the group. Can you imagine me dealing with the England game? Yeah, I couldn't watch it. I know Ashley Young was superb, but I couldn't bear the anxiety. There are those that think there's no point to Ash, but losing him from Villa in the midst of a relegation battle would certainly not help the club stay up. And Darren Bent can't ever score again if he's injured on the sidelines.

Then there are the friendlies. What an utterly pointless waste of time for anyone not looking to make money off a gate. Yeah, I reveled in the opportunity to see Ezequiel Lavezzi paired up with Leo Messi, but when Clint Dempsey went in with both feet on Pocho, I was nearly thrown out of the bar for muttering death threats. Napoli's Champions League ambitions are more important than the USA showing they could hang with the big boys.

And now we've got more friendlies today. Stephen Appiah, former Ghana captain, has said that England's decision to send home key players is "disrespectful." Let's get a grip, shall we? Fabio Capello sent home players from Chelsea, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur: all teams still playing in the Champions League. This is a friendly. Not a match where trophies are handed out at the end. If I were a fan of one of those teams, I'd be clamoring for my players to return, England be damned.

As it is, there's still plenty of paranoia to endure today. Three Villans still left in the side to face Ghana. At Wembley. Which has never hurt anyone, ever. Hamšík has to lead Slovakia in a friendly against Denmark. The third member of the Napoli trident, Edinson Cavani, is set to play against Ireland, along with Diego Lugano, an essential part of the Fenerbahçe back line. That's what I can recall from the top of my head and, quite frankly, I don't want to dig any deeper. I just want to get through this day without any injuries and then hope that someone starts to wise up and limits international breaks to actual tournaments. And then I will go watch pigs sail across the sky and take a duffel coat to hell.