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Monday, 17 November 2008

Steven Gerrard situation suggests a ban would help

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Earlier this season Steven* Gerrard was sent for an operation in the days leading up to an international break; with modern surgery he played for Liverpool on 27 August, missed the league match with Aston Villa on 31 August and the internationals with Andorra and Croatia games on the 6 and 10 September - but was then able to recover sufficiently to play in the Manchester United fixture on 13 September.  Barely two weeks between games.

Another international game comes round and Gerrard is just the latest withdrawal of many, but it is not suprising that the FA had asked to check on the extent of Gerrard's injury especially as he completed 90 minutes for Liverpool on Saturday and scored a diving header whilst showing few signs of injury. The England physio has confirmed the injury and sent him home, but there remains a wider question over withdrawals.

Gerrard is not the only notable absentee; Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Emile Heskey, Ashley Cole, Joe Cole and Wes Brown are also missing - leaving just David James, John Terry, Gareth Barry and Theo Walcott from a probable first choice eleven. Interestingly John Terry plays despite earlier reports that he too had withdrawn through injury.

Most football fans put club before country these days, and it is a no-brainer to suggest that managers do as well. Especially when they have absolutely no interest in the national team in question.

I've recently been reading two biographies from different eras, Tony Adams' 'Addicted' and Denis Law's 'The King' and they both had plenty of similarities. Both spent much of their respective careers suffering from niggling injuries - injuries that fundamentally curtailed their careers. Both were encouraged to play for the club with injections where necessary - Law is especially scathing about the effects that regular cortisone injections have had on his life - but when it came to international football, both had to fight hard to overcome their managers' objections to play.

It seems that little changes. Law's career was in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and Adams' in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s; both contained a number of club versus country conflicts - although they were much lower profile than in these media saturated times. But for just about any international match any footballer playing three times a week could cite some sort of niggle.

A solution to these cynical times? Ban the player from the next club league match; with an exception for players who were unfit for the league match immediately preceding the international. In that way players get enforced rest - which will extend their own careers and managers will get no benefit from encouraging a player from 'resting his injury'.

For my money I would put a quota on all players so that they could only play in 40-45 club games and 10 international games each season - this would prolong the careers of stars and give academy players more chances to prove themselves. But instead we will continue this charade of club vs country, where the country can only lose.

* Sorry about the Stephen thing

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Antony Melvin



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