The International Break: Football Clubs’ Worst Enemy

Why most Clubs and managers dread and despise the international break

Bleacher Report calls it an “accepted annoyance”. It is one of the most dreaded time of the season, with players leaving for as long as 14 days just to be with their respective national teams. A time when players will put their club rivalries aside and team up for their countries.Be it FIFA qualifying matches, continental qualifiers, or needless friendlies played just to increase the number of caps, the International break is surely a dreaded period in a football season, a period that can make or mar a season for any football club. Players have been criticized for not “trying hard enough” for their nations, just because the nations do not pay them as much as their clubs do. There are also ridiculous instances of players threatening not to play just because their FA did not release their wages. All in all, the international break is an interesting period

The international break can come as a respite for some teams (Arsenal), a time to steady the almost sinking ship, while some teams and managers will be wondering why it came early due to their team’s impressive form with a sense of foreboding (Manchester United), the manager unsure if the team can and will continue with their previous momentum. Add in the inevitable injuries, fatigue and jet-lag some players will accumulate and you understand managers’ reluctance to release some players.

Managers watch international games with dread as they see their summer signings lunging into a 50/50 tackle. Most, if not all, pray to the God of football (if there’s any) to keep their players free from injury.

Injuries are “part” of the game; an unwanted but unavoidable tumor, affecting virtually every player. Players get injured in international duty as often as they get injured in club appearances. What irks club managers more is when a player picks up an injury in a “pointless” friendly. An example is former Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, who tore his ankle ligaments in a 2009 friendly between Netherlands and Italy, rendering him out for 154 days, with the hit-man missing 33 games for the Gunners.

Most national sides do not insure players against injury because, under FIFA’s rules, they do not have to. Instead, the governing body makes clubs foot the bill. Not only must clubs release players for national duties, they must insure them against injury and accidents while they are away and continue to cover their wages when players return limping from national matches and training camps. Manchester United paid an astonishing £34m to players unable to play in just seasons. And while not all these players were injured on international duty, the figure might have been reduced and the club would know that the player got injured playing for them, not their national team.

According to FIFA, ‘if a player is injured due to an accident while on duty with his representative “A” team, the player’s club will be compensated for having to continue to pay the player’s fixed salary although the player is temporarily disabled and unable to perform footballing activities for his club”. With the governing body laying more emphasis on players and clubs welfare, the FAs will also treat them well, hoping that no player gets injured on their watch.

This is not to belittle the importance of the international break — and matches, after all, a player is considered to be one of the greatest if he has achieved international or continental success. Rather this is how how club football has gained permanent precedence over international football, with players often choosing to decline their nation’s call up just to focus more on club duties. No matter how the issue is looked at, it is rarely beneficial to the players. There is no winner, neither is there any loser. We are all stuck somewhere in the middle.