Monday, February 15, 2010

Club vs Country, Spanish Style

We have noted the neverending club-vs.-country struggle.

It is particularly intense during two of the four years of a quadrennium -- the year before a World Cup, when qualifying is going on; and the first half of the year the World Cup is played in.

And we are in the middle of example No. 2, above, with South Africa 2010 less than four months off.

Here is a rather bald example of the club-country thing, involving Spain and its coach, Vicente del Bosque, and Liverpool of the English Premier League.

Generally, it is the clubs that are more vociferous about how a player is used. As when Real Madrid almost went nuts when Cristiano Ronaldo seriously aggravated an ankle injury while Portugal was trying to wring out a few minutes from him in a crucial qualifier last fall. When Ronaldo got hurt, Real Madrid essentially shouted, "We told you so!"

This time, it's the national team coach who is being blunt.

Del Bosque tells it like it is: The less that star striker Fernando Torres plays for Liverpool, his club team, the better.

In this case, we have a specific injury at issue, involving his knee. (The hernia situation apparently has been put on hold; Torres seems a bit fragile for such a young guy.)

Anyway, del Bosque probably sums up the feelings of national coaches around the world -- at least, those going to the World Cup -- when it comes to his star players: Better that they miss a few (or more than a few) matches with an injury, as long as it's not catastrophic, and save on the wear and tear of the endless matches of the club season.

If the guy is a lesser player -- say, any U.S. player who isn't one of its 4-5 stars -- a national team coach such as Bob Bradley actually wants him competing for his club as often as possible. The idea being that he stays sharp (before he grows dull from over-usage). When you're the coach of second-tier national teams, you worry more about your First XI sitting on a bench somewhere, watching the club play.

That isn't the case with your Torreses and Ronaldos and Messis. They are proven stars. All that can come from the club season -- from the national team perspective -- is injuries and exhaustion.

It's just not often that a coach is as candid about it as del Bosque has been about Fernando Torres.

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