Are these Arsenal and Sunderland players more important for country than club?
The international break is viewed as an inconvenient caesura in the season by many supporters, stopping us from getting out weekly fix of Premier League football. There is no doubt that many tune in to watch their national team with a sense of ennui (especially if they are English), and it is hard to shake of the feeling that international football puts us through two years of boredom in exchange for four weeks’ excitement every two summers.
The prestige and honour remain, but for fans brought up on the never-ending soap opera of the Premier League, much of the international calendar just doesn’t satiate their need for narrative and controversy.
On the pitch, international football’s claim to the be the sport’s ‘highest level’ looks increasingly fatuous. The standard of football in major tournaments pales alongside the latter stages of the Champions League, for example. Moreover, with Premier League squads packed with 25 internationals, another trend can be traced – that many players are more integral for their countries than for their clubs. This is interesting, because it could soon force national coaches to abandon the dictum that players have to be playing regularly for their clubs to be picked.
Over the next few pages, we have picked out three home nations players who seem to be in this boat.
Ramsey is absent from this international break as he recovers from a hamstring strain, but the reaction to this injury reveals a tension between club and country. Chris Coleman has publicly questioned Arsenal’s training methods, and whether Ramsey’s injury could be prevented. Arsene Wenger generally finds a place for Ramsey in his team, and he will be an important player at the Emirates once he returns. However, Wales are set up by Coleman to get the best out of him and Gareth Bale and as Euro 2016 showed, the Arsenal man thrives on this status.
The impression many Arsenal fans get is that Ramsey has a strong sense of his own worth and wants to be one of the ‘main men’ in any team he plays for. He is a dynamic, box-to-box midfielder and his bombastic style embodies this ‘Roy of the Rovers’ approach. Ramsey enjoys tactical freedom on the pitch so that he can put his engine to good use and run free; Colman gives him this by placing Joe Ledley, Joe Allen and three centre backs behind him.
At Arsenal, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez are the planets around which Wenger’s football orbits. Ramsey has not always appeared happy in a support role; he did not like playing on the right flank despite the fact he was very effective there. The arrival of Granit Xhaka might allow him to move into his coveted midfield role, but he will have to fit into a collective structure. For Wales, the collective is moulded to fit him.