London: England, on Wednesday, will be playing Italy in a meaningless friendly in Berne. Both teams will field scratch sides. England will be spared the threat of Andrea Pirlo, who tore them to shreds in the recent Euros, and casually stroked home an exquisite shootout penalty. No players from either Juventus or Napoli will figure in the Italian side, while England will field a wholly secondary back four. Good at least to know that Fifa have decided in future years to do away with the utterly superfluous and ill-timed list of fixtures before the football season begins. Germany, too, will be using a team of reserve players in their friendly with Argentina. And English club managers who have players in the England team just three days before the Premier League begins its programme will doubtless be praying that none of them is injured.
The facile argument is that hitherto neglected players have a chance to establish themselves as internationalists in the absence of their seniors. I remember what John Hansen, a former inside-left who was tall, elegant and dangerous in the air and who was a star turn in the late 1940s and well into the 1950s with Denmark, Juventus and Lazio, once said. When a fine Danish team beat a brave all-amateur British side 5-3 for third place in the 1948 London Olympics, its best players at once went off to make money abroad. The problem for the Denmark national team, said Hansen, was to survive without the wiser, older heads to help them.
The likes of Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley, striker Daniel Sturridge and a revelation in goal in the 19-year-old Jack Butland are all worthy of attention, especially when the full England team looked such a jaded lot in the Euros. But they deserve experienced support.
Stuart Pearce’s cobbled together Great Britain team did far better than anybody could have expected in the Olympics and Pearce proved fully justified in excluding a 37-year-old David Beckham, who had nothing valid to offer bar his exaggerated public profile. How drily right he was to say of ignoring Beckham that he had hardly shot Bambi. And what a remarkable display he got from the 33-year-old Craig Bellamy, an exuberant and fearless figure on the left flank, and sometimes on the right. After GB’s elimination, Bellamy modestly said that he had no real talent to which I, who has watched and admired him for so many years, would fervently disagree. He has, even at his relatively advanced age, pace, ball control and tactical flair. Now he is keen to return — on his second successive free transfer — to Cardiff City, his local club. Yet, I remember him telling me in the past that, as a teenager, he turned down the chance to play for Cardiff because he didn’t believe in them as a club. Personally I feel that he and his ability belong in the Premier League.
You would hardly call Sir Alex Ferguson, the most long lived of successful managers, naive. But it was surprising to find him expressing the hope that Uefa President Michel Platini would intervene at Paris Saint Germain to implement the new fair play rules; PSG having shelled out immense sums of money for such stars as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and now the 19-year-old Brazilian Moura, for a colossal £45 million (Dh206.44 million). Alas, it was Platini who celebrated the acquisition of PSG by Qatari money; Platini who not only backed Qatar as hosts of the 2012 World Cup, but also even suggested that European tournaments should be postponed in winter to enable Qatar to stage the World Cup out of the fierce summer heat.
The author is an expert on football based in England