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The ‘Club versus Country’ Debate is Pointless

The Boot Room

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International football is great. Whether with the Copa America, the recent Euro 2016 qualifiers, the Women’s World Cup, or even the U21 European Championships (and various other age group competitions), there’s also been a great deal of the stuff on television recently, bridging the gap between club season nicely with a smorgasbord of football for viewers of almost all tastes.

International football is, however, intrinsically different to club football. Not on the pitch; it’s very much still eleven versus eleven, kicking a ball around with the aim of scoring more goals than the other team, regardless of whether the game involves Fulham or Fiji. No: it’s different in the sense that the models of being a fan are vastly different between club and country. This has many implications for the game, perhaps meaning that the much-heralded “club versus country” debate should be put to bed for good, finally seen as the irrelevance that it is.

Simply put, the different between the two forms is this: club football is, at its core, about inclusion; you can be born anywhere on the planet, but if you’re good enough you can play for any single club, and if you find yourself identifying with one specific club as a supporter, you immediately belong. A key part of Premier League clubs’ marketing strategies has been attempting to win over supporters in far-flung regions of the world, with the ill-fated “39th game” scheme and pre-season tours aiming to take English top flight football to global fans, old and new. It’s the same in other leagues; Bayern spent their winter break in Saudi Arabia for example, while other clubs in Europe spend time in Asia, America and Africa while warming up for the new season. The other end of this stick, of course, is the cynical purchasing of players; many have claimed that Manchester United’s signing of Shinji Kagawa in 2012 had less to do with his outstanding talent than the hordes of potential fans in Japan, while VfL Wolfsburg have tried something similar (but perhaps more overt) with Chinese midfielder Zhang Xizhe.

However, conversely, international football serves to propagate the current geopolitical boundaries of the modern world, with a limited amount of competitors across the world, and eligibility to play for each team much stricter. It’s very different to the club ethos; you require a link to a country if you wish to play for them, whether through place of birth, citizenship, an ancestor or naturalisation. It’s therefore a natural train of thought that a large part, if not an unavoidable part, of being a fan of a national team depends upon the same requirements to actually being able to represent them. After all, one of the big footballing dreams is to lift the World Cup trophy for your team. How can you do that when ineligible for your national team?

Still, this is an issue which has come to light a lot recently as fans of football around the world openly support a nation other than their own. A lot of this, in Britain at least, is borne from a disenchantment with their own national team; international success at the top level of the men’s game seems, at this moment in time at least, a remote prospect for fans of England, for example, and thus it’s quite easy to decide to sack off qualifiers away to Slovenia – whether committing a weekend to travelling to Ljubljana or just watching the ninety minutes on television – and enjoy a bit of South American flair, or keep up with some of Europe’s best sides in the likes of Germany, Spain and France.

Perhaps in another qualifying campaign it’d be similar for fans of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland; while the changes to Euro 2016’s qualification process have allowed all three to challenge quite strongly for a spot in France next summer, their prospects of success are even remoter than those of England, and so it’s certainly easy to see why football fans in Port Talbot, Lisburn or Fife might prefer to watch some of the world’s biggest names play during the international breaks. A strong shot at qualification, though, does certainly make watching the likes of Steven Fletcher and Simon Church attempt a shot at glory for their nations a more palatable prospect.

Many fans around the globe also follow other nations to their own. Obviously, there are a variety of reasons for this which can’t be boiled down to one specific cause in particular, but it tends to be fans of smaller footballing nations looking for a shot at enjoying success. Of course, this isn’t really an issue, but it makes little to no sense. A better shot at success could be attained by something as simple as supporting the smaller nation more vehemently, promoting the national game and helping it to progress through the trials and tribulations of current struggles. A good example of this recently is Australia, a country with a growing footballing culture which has allowed it to push on to becoming a perennial World Cup competitor – competing in every tournament since 2006 – and pushing on a generation of players to greater success, winning the Asian Cup in January 2015 in their home country. The efforts of Australian fans over the past handful of years have certainly played a large part in increasing their profile as a footballing nation, and also ensuring growing prospects in the world game as they look to submit yet stronger squads to future tournaments.

And isn’t that it? At its root, isn’t being a fan entirely about being a part of something? It’s a lot more difficult for someone to be part of something if their loyalties drift with the wind, or aren’t rooted in something solid or palpable. While this is similar to football at club level; you can’t expect to enjoy success anywhere near to the same extent as other fans if your loyalties change or are meaningless; perhaps the largest difference is that club loyalties are decided by more than lottery of birth or upbringing; it’s not exactly a choice, but it’s also not something thrust upon you in the same way that international loyalties are.

As for the club versus country debate – is it not rendered somewhat irrelevant when the way in which you can relate to either club or country is completely different? It would certainly be a lot easier for fans of the game to realise both forms of the game have their pros and cons and to enjoy both for their merits. After all, as great as it is to see your own team having a standout season, it’s brilliant to enjoy a tournament summer, or watch some sort of international super-team like Spain’s mix of Real and Barca or Germany’s mix of Bayern and Dortmund.

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Tottenham Hotspur

Salomon Rondon would be ideal back-up for Harry Kane and Tottenham

Josh Kerr

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Salomon Rondon
Photo: Getty Images

According to reports from the Daily Mirror, Tottenham Hotspur are interested in adding West Bromwich Albion‘s Salomon Rondon to their attacking ranks.

The recently relegated striker will be hoping to stay in the Premier League and Mauricio Pochettino can ensure that happens for the Venezuela international.

Harry Kane has been a revelation once again for the Lilywhites firing 30 league goals this season and was also nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award.

However, Pochettino has still not found a suitable back-up for the Englishman and is already looking for another replacement.

Fernando Llorente was signed from Swansea last season after Vincent Janssen failed to make an impact in north London.

However, the 33-year-old striker could not improve on his 15 goal tally for the Swans that kept them in the top flight a year ago.

The Spanish forward has one goal in 16 Premier League appearances for Spurs and it’s understandable that Pochettino already wants a replacement.

Rondon would not be a signing that should get fans excited by any means.

After all, he does not represent a world-class striker in the slightest and, similarly to Llorente, he has spent the majority of his Premier League career scrapping at the bottom end of the table.

Despite finishing rock bottom in the league this campaign, Rondon was one of those who emerged from the season with some credibility, scoring 10 goals in all competitions for the Baggies.

The Baggies forward is a striker who has often looked isolated and lacking options in a West Brom side that has struggled to get the best out of him.

In a flourishing Spurs team, his Premier League goal tally, of 24, could steadily improve.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Rondon has a relegation release clause in his contract that can see him leave the Midlands side for a reported fee of £16.5 million.

This may be off-putting for Spurs fans as the fee is not cheap considering the Venezuelan’s lack of firepower.

However, at 28, he is five years younger than Llorente and would only cost £2 million more than the fee they paid for the Spaniard, so it’s not the worst transfer when wanting more attacking options.

There’s no doubt that Llorente has struggled at Wembley this season and at 33, Levy may be tempted to move the former Juventus striker on and refresh his forward line.

A club of Spurs’ stature will always be linked with bigger names, but Rondon could still be a smart appointment for the Londoners.

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Joe Hart should seek Birmingham return in a bid to make England comeback

The 31-year-old needs to find a route back into the England fold.

Max Cohen

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Joe Hart
Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart suffered the biggest disappointment of his career this week when he was left out of the 23-man England squad for this summer’s World Cup.

After a disappointing loan spell at West Ham United and with no future at his parent club, the former England number one should return to Birmingham City in order to rescue his career.

Hart spent the 2009/10 campaign at loan at St Andrews, resulting in a hugely successful season for both club and player.

The goalkeeper made 36 league appearances for Birmingham, only missing the matches against City which he was ineligible for. Hart was named the club’s Player of the Year and was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year, due to his excellent form in 2009/10.

In addition, the Blues finished an impressive ninth in the Premier League, enjoying a club-record 12-match unbeaten run and exceeding all expectations for the newly-promoted side.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Now would be the ideal time for Hart and Birmingham City to be reunited, as manager Garry Monk is on the lookout for a new goalkeeper after telling David Stockdale he is free to leave the club this summer.

For Hart, it is clear he has no path forward at the Etihad after Ederson’s brilliant debut season in England.

Additionally, few, if any, Premier League clubs will be chasing Hart’s signature after an unconvincing season at the London Stadium which was characterised by his high-profile mistakes.

A return to St Andrew’s, where Hart gained his first taste of Premier League football almost a decade ago, would be a prudent career choice for the Englishman.

If Hart can establish himself as Birmingham’s starting goalkeeper and lead Garry Monk’s men to promotion, then a return to the England fray might not be out of the question for the 31-year-old.

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Crystal Palace

Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente would be the perfect addition for Crystal Palace

The Spaniard still has plenty to offer in the Premier League.

Josh Kerr

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Fernando Llorente
Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur striker Fernando Llorente is among five players expected to leave the Lilywhites this summer as manager Mauricio Pochettino prepares for a summer clear out.

According to The Mirror, Pochettino is ready to listen to offers for the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele, Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko.

The 33-year-old has undoubtedly struggled in his time since joining Spurs from Swansea City in 2017. The former Spain international has scored just one Premier League goal and five in 31 appearances, in all competitions, following the move.

Elsewhere in London, the incredible resurgence of Crystal Palace has been orchestrated by the outstanding Roy Hodgson, who has earned plaudits from all corners as his Eagles side finished the season sitting pretty in 11th in the Premier League table.

The former England manager was able to guide the London outfit to safety, despite the team sitting bottom of the league without a win and even a goal after seven games. Avoiding the drop was also achieved without the support of misfiring striker Christian Benteke.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The Belgian’s miserable form could leave Hodgson searching for further attacking options in the summer and Llorente would prove the perfect addition at Selhurst Park.

The Spaniard was monumental in his first season in England for Welsh outfit Swansea, firing 15 league goals during his short spell in South Wales.

It could be a real coup for Palace if they play to Llorente’s strengths, and he could be the signing that gets the best out of Benteke, knowing there’s a direct replacement for him if he isn’t meeting the required standards.

The former Sevilla striker was limited to few opportunities under Pochettino, starting just one league game for Spurs. His next move must prioritise finding a manager who believes in his ability and suits the striker’s style of play.

Llorente’s prowess in the air is difficult to match and with Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend supplying the Spanish forward he could be a real goal threat next season.

At the age of 33, Palace would not have to break the bank to add an established attacking option. For a potential small fee, Hodgson should undoubtedly swoop.

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