James Corrigan: King or country? Scholes and Co let the side down
The Last Word: Refuseniks prove club football means everything as they leave their nations to feed off the scraps
Sunday 29 March 2009
Ask the grim and grizzled involved in the game who happens to be the greater football man, Paul Scholes or David Beckham, and they would likely provide a snort of derision and hand over a copy of Alastair Campbell's latest tome: How to interview legendary managers: obvious answers to stupid questions.
Scholes is a brilliant player who lets his feet do the talking; Beckham is a brilliant player who lets his publicist and, very occasionally his wife, do the talking. No contest.
Except, surely, when it comes to international football. Scholes retired from playing for his country at the age of 29, while on Thursday Beckham announced that his country will have to retire him (which, in his dreams, will be sometime around bus-pass qualification). In this regard, the greater is not necessarily the more admirable.
Perhaps one of the reasons Scholes ripped off those Three Lions was because of the circus-like atmosphere generated by Beckham's fame and the England camp's sudden influx of WAGS. Who knows? Scholes is so unassuming he isn't saying. Neither is he saying why he has rejected the pleas of successive England managers since. The word is, Scholes was spending too much time away from his family, but why is it that when something has to give in a top-class English footballer's life, that something is invariably England?
It is a question that has been doing the rounds as the tedious countdown to a Wembley friendly has been dominated by an inevitable club-versus-country barney. As a suitably crestfallen Ledley King pointed out: "An international who cannot train" is a special case; but the reaction of King's manager certainly was not unique. As is his way, Harry Redknapp said all the right things in making up for his picking-him-was-ridiculous outburst, but one issue Harry never cleared up was why it made so much sense for King to rest his chronic knee on an England weekend rather than a Spurs weekend. But then Redknapp did not really have to, as everyone completely understands why.
Club football now means everything, and international football is left to live on the scraps. The World Cup is still big, sure, but it's a bonus big. In reality, it's a competition footballers compete in when they are knackered at the end of a season as long and as arduous as the seasons before and after.
Clubs, certainly British clubs, do not concede an inch more than they have to when it comes to assisting the home nations in this supposedly sacred tournament. But perhaps the saddest aspect is that the universal cry goes up: "Why the hell should they?" It is this entrenched acceptance of the God that is the Premier League that probably best explains why an England refusenik can be held up as the ultimate role model for the young professional.
In fairness, Scholes is not on his own. There are Alan Shearer, Jamie Carragher and another Old Trafford untouchable who received the barest amount of criticism for calling a premature end to his international career. In fact when Ryan Giggs waved goodbye at Cardiff 18 months ago, the whole of the Millennium Stadium stood and applauded with an outpouring of sentiment usually reserved for those coming back from battle.
The Welsh fans were actually grateful to a Welshman for playing for Wales. "It must have been hard for this wizard to slum it with such unworthies for so long," went their reasoning. "Giggsy could have chosen to play for England in World Cups and things, you know."
Wrong. Giggs never was eligible to play for England. If he wanted to play international football, he knew he had to play for Wales and, in the end, he didn't much fancy playing for Wales. He preferred to concentrate on playing in the intense environs of Manchester United, which in his own words would "allow me to enjoy the last two or three years". And what a two or three years it has been. For United.
What makes it a win-win for Sir Alex, and the other Big Four managers, is they can hold up the examples of Giggs, Scholes and Carragher and so highlight the undoubted benefits of this small sacrifice. International football is no longer the be-all, so why not end it all? It has always been expendable. But never more expendable than it is now. That thought might just console Ledley King after a week in which his playing career was probably extended – and his England career ended.
Financial holes for golf but Kim's head is in sand
Nice to see that even the modern golf professional, that most pampered of individual sportsman, is feeling the effects of the credit crunch. "At one of the tournaments this year we did not have courtesy cars," said Anthony Kim last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational (purse: £4.2 million).
Whatever next? Might this 23-year-old one day be expected to clean his own clubs, iron his slacks, polish his shoes and, whisper it, carry his own bag? Only when hell freezes over. Or the Barry Burn, of course. Whichever happens first.
But then, if this grotesque breed is allowed to mutate any further, with visor disappearing inexorably up orifice, then very soon those who fund golf may soon decide to transport their rapidly dwindling fortunes elsewhere. That is a very live concern to the American Tour as they attempt to plug the huge financial holes left by the banking crisis.
At last Sunday's Transition Champions tournament, officials felt obliged to post the following notice in the locker room: "Please remember to thank the CEO of this week's event. Cards have been placed in your lockers for your convenience."
Little wonder that some of the older pros read it and wept. "The fact that the Tour even had to say that makes me nauseous," said Rocco Mediate, a 46-year-old who remembers when there was more courtesy in golf than cars.
"We have to tell people how to be to the sponsors who are putting up a bazillion dollars for us to play golf? Think about that for a second. It's ridiculous."Hear, hear, Rocco.
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