Shambolic international break helps neither club nor country

England face Italy on Wednesday but Roy Hodgson has been forced to name an 'experimental' squad to appease Premier League managers, with other leagues suffering their own problems
By Oliver Platt

Chris Hughton's frustration is understandable.

Entering his first season back in the Premier League as Norwich City manager, the 53-year-old has lost four first-team players – John Ruddy, Steve Morison, Russell Martin and Robert Snodgrass – to an astoundingly poorly judged international break just days before the start of the campaign.

"It's a frustrating time," he bemoaned to Sky Sports. "Us at Norwich, we lose four players, and I suppose in some ways we've gotten away a little bit lightly. But you've got some players that will be playing on Wednesday night that don't return to their clubs until Friday. Not a good time.

"Certainly, if we have to play this game, can we play the games on Tuesday as opposed to Wednesday?"

The Manchester City goalkeeper pulled out of the squad with back and toe injuries that also saw him miss the Community Shield win over Chelsea.
Picked up an ankle problem in Arsenal's pre-season friendly against Koln making him a doubt for the Gunners' opening Premier League fixture.
The Chelsea striker featured in the Community Shield but pulled out of the England squad with a toe problem
The Arsenal has a thigh injury leaving him unable to train properly. However, he is expected to be fit for the weekend.
On Saturday, just a day after Hughton anticipates his quartet will return – many players joined up with their respective international squads as early as Sunday – Norwich travel to London to take on Fulham.

As the former Birmingham City boss mentioned, other clubs have it worse. Not just, as he referenced, in terms of the number of players receiving call-ups, but in the distances they will be travelling. While Ruddy goes to Switzerland with the England team, Morison, Martin and Snodgrass play home games for Wales and Scotland.

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, though, who openly described the timing of the international break as "most unfortunate", will travel to Ukraine with Czech Republic while Santi Cazorla, David Silva and Fernando Torres will make the trip with the Spanish team to Puerto Rico.

"There is plenty of cynicism in Spain," says Spanish football editor Ben Hayward. "This is a friendly they don't need – especially just three days before the start of La Liga and halfway across the other side of the world. Spain's Football Federation are reportedly pocketing €2 million (£1.6m) for this, but the clubs are more concerned with their own interests."

It is important to note, however, that it is not just the clubs that suffer. "I believe that the German FA (DFB) and the clubs that give their players agree on the fact that a match right before the Bundesliga starts is relatively worthless," Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chief executive of Bayern Munich, said.

"But the DFB isn't to blame. That's a date Fifa fixed, we have to accept that. The DFB, also, won't be happy about it, but there's nothing you can do. The most important thing is that no player gets injured."

Roy Hodgson has attempted to make the best of the situation, talking up the opportunity to test some of the country's younger players, as well as those on the fringes of the first XI, against a team six weeks or so removed from the Euro 2012 final.

That is true enough but also makes this effectively a 'B' international and many of the players of interest – Tom Cleverley, Steven Caulker, Ryan Bertrand – have just played five games against quality opposition for Team GB. What more exactly can we learn about what Michael Carrick, to give an example of a more senior player, might bring to the side?

These friendly matches should offer international coaches the chance to work with their squad with the emphasis on performance, rather than the result. Instead, in a situation such as this, they are forced to name 'experimental' sides in an effort to appease club managers.

"There's no way you can really help the clubs because every club would rather have the players to themselves up to the start of the season," Hodgson admitted. "But we are one of 80 (national) teams all over the world that needs to play and I'm just hoping the clubs realise I've done my best to keep a balance."

9/1 England are 9/1 to beat Italy 2-1 with William Hill
The later start to the domestic season in Italy has posed different problems. "While there is still a week between the players returning to their respective clubs ahead of the league campaign, it also makes it doubly difficult for Cesare Prandelli to field players who are still a week and a half away from tip-top preparation," Italian football editor Kris Voakes explains.

After the drama of Euro 2012 and enjoyment provided by the subsequent Olympic Games, it is sad to return to the international fixture list in such a cynical and dismissive fashion. "I don't think anyone is happy with it, but that's the reality," Southampton manager Nigel Adkins reflected. Not a good time indeed.

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