A tale of two national teams

In England, while there are big, goopy question marks dripping down all over interim England manager Stuart Pearce’s face, there is at least respect for the decorum he’s already shown in making personal visits to those erstwhile national team players who didn’t make the cut ahead of the Holland friendly, as Daniel Taylor wrote this morning. This is in famous contrast to Capello, who was far more opaque and ruthless in drawing up his team sheets.

This underlines how, despite the pressure, tabloid attention and general manic-depressive public image of England players in general, all little English boys and girls continue to pine for the national team. As Micah Richards said this week, “Every player wants to play for their country, especially when you are in a club team that’s doing so well.”

There’s a good chance some of you reading this are native Canadians, and therefore know from personal experience that Richards’ statement is not universally true. Stephen Hart struggled to fill just 17 slots for a comparatively rare friendly against Armenia on February 29th. While most commentators were understanding of Hart’s struggle to fill the roster at a busy time of the season, Benjamin Massey differed, and speculated the fact Julian De Guzman was the only North America-based selection was either cheapness on the part of the Canadian Soccer Association, or “short-sightedness by Hart.”

Massey’s article is mostly reverse engineering from the roster, but it would not be wild to assume Hart was diplomatic in his selection policy, both for budgetary reasons and to please clubs and a few far-and-away players. And all of this comes amid continued negotiations to bring Jonathan back in the fold, and entice a fence-sitting David Hoilett Jr. to join him.

In other words, playing for Canada resembles an honourable chore, like paying your taxes on time or voting in a provincial election. The notion that Stephen Hart would have to sit for tea to calm the waters with a cut player seems ludicrous. The easy explanation would be to say that Canada’s relative lack of international success is the reason for the lack-lustre interest in national team games, but there are many countries below Canada in the FIFA rankings with even more limited budgets for whom call-ups to the national team are the pinnacle of success. At some point, this is a problem of soccer culture as it is about resources or track record.

Tip-toeing around the interests of players and clubs feeds into the sense the national team is a waste of time.