How pointless International friendlies do damage to FC Barcelona and to Spain

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 21: Gerard Pique of Spain tackles David Suazo of Honduras during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group H match between Spain and Honduras at Ellis Park Stadium on June 21, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
Just last weekend, everyone who follows football was finally given a taste of what has been missed so long over the summer, attractive and meaningful football. The games last week between some of the top sides in Europe satisfied everyone's anticipation for entertainment. Even though some teams disappointed their supporters, others made them proud to be their fans, but overall everyone seemed to be happy the continents leagues where active again. Then a week passed, the storm that is FIFA arrived and rained on everyone's parade and today, instead of the beautiful game, we have monotonous friendlies.

International friendlies represent everything that is wrong with how FIFA manage the world of football and serve no meaningful purpose to anyone. The reality is that friendlies are simple games of pride in which there is everything to loose for the players, the clubs, the countries, the fans, and nothing to gain for anyone, including FIFA. This accusation and the case against friendlies will be illustrated in the following examples which are taken from real events that affect Barcelona and the Spanish National team.
So what do players really gain from friendlies? The argument for why to take part in friendlies is the honor to represent their nation in an official FIFA game and defend it. It is also an opportunity to get familiar with his fellow national team members and hopefully, challenge for a permanent place on the squad. To every professional footballer there is no greater honor than to defend the colors of the national team, all for the possibility of being an automatic starter that will be selected at prestigious international tournaments. However, this is merely the glamorous side of playing for the national team but what players often don't think about is how an injury could severely affect their careers both for the national side and their clubs, all over a game without meaning. Since there is no tangible purpose for playing a friendly, the risks involved in such an undertaking are too high when taken into account. For example the case of Gerard Pique who was injured in Spain's last friendly against Italy. The result of his injury is that Pique has been dropped from the Spanish National team, due to unavailability, and that his injury has proved problematic for his parent club, FC Barcelona. New players have now been called into the squad in the form of central defensive pair of Alberto Botia and Alvaro Dominguez, who will attempt to challenge Pique and his also injured partner, Carles Puyol, for a starting place on the squad, all while the Barcelona pair watch the game from his home. Pique HAS NOTHING TO SHOW for representing his country, other than three weeks on the sidelines. At the end of the day, a player has everything to loose by playing a friendly which includes loosing his place in the squad, risking his physical health, and most annoying of all, putting his club under avoidable stress.

The second reason why friendlies are annoying is because they affect the parent club who pay the salaries of the players. While a friendly is played for nothing, a club is playing week in and week out, for a purpose. Every club has an objective to reach, be it to avoid relegation or to win the league. Therefore, when a key player becomes injured it is a serious detriment to its successful execution. Using Pique's example again, FC Barcelona have had to win a Super Cup and their first League game without the influential defender. There is no doubt that if such a key defensive player was available for these games, the task would have been much easier to achieve. Thus clubs have a right to be severely annoyed when a meaningless friendly derails their season ambitions. Not even the compensation national teams pay to the clubs over injuries is worth taking this risk. At seasons end a club owner or president can be bitter at the measly compensation offered to him/her for such an injury which could result in lost titles and revenue. Therefore, to a club, friendlies are high risk affairs in which they stand to loose their investment and revenue. Clubs have nothing to gain and everything to loose when they seed a player to the national side for FIFA friendlies.

Probably the greatest insult to a nation when playing a friendly is the loss of honor & prestige since after all; this is precisely the purpose for why a friendly is played. No case illustrates this more than FIFA's outrageous demotion of Spain from the number one ranked team to number two. FIFA's formula for calculating rankings is faulty in this sense because what they don't realize is that friendly games are not a good measure of a countries power relative to others. Spain lost its number one ranking after loosing some high profile international matches against Argentina, Portugal, and Italy in which according to the new formula, Spain lost the edge to the Netherlands. What is ironic is that friendly matches are not a good indicator of where a nation stands since when countries play actual tournaments for trophies one see's that the allocation of points in the ranking system are very skewed. Take for example the world cup in which Brazil entered as the number one ranked team and lost to then number four, the Netherlands. Or perhaps a bigger example is sixth ranked Germany against seventh ranked Argentina which was battered 4-0 by the Teutons. Clearly there was an enormous gulf of talent between these two sides but the ranking would have you believe that this was an even match-up. Probably the most laughable example is Croatia's number ten ranking even though they failed to qualify for South Africa 2010. Hence even nations are affected by the outrageous of these friendlies and even they stand to gain very little and loose the only thing that makes them worth playing for, honor & pride.

As fans of this game, no one is bitterer about International friendlies than us. International friendlies simply derail the weekend spectacle of exciting league play and replace it with international friendlies that are dull and boring. No one would choose to watch Spain vs. Chile if given a choice to watch Barcelona vs. Real Sociedad or Real Madrid vs. Getafe. The fact of the matter is that club football is exciting, everyone loves it, and to interrupt it with these friendlies only makes FIFA gain the ire of the fans. Nothing is more annoying to a fan than being denied the pleasure of enjoying a good game at the weekend after a long stressful week. FIFA friendlies offer a sub-par performance and a weak medium of entertainment. The fact that FIFA chooses to interrupt the season for its personal gain only draws criticism from everyone affected by these games.

FIFA therefore, also looses more than it gains with such friendlies. Some coaches detest FIFA dates so much that they often have refused to send players to their national squads and with good cause. No coach wants to have to deal with injuries from these events. National teams also don't deserve to have their reputation tarnished over such pointless matches. The players are the one's who have most to loose because they put their health at risk in such matches and often loose no matter the outcome. Lastly the fans are left with a bitter note should their club loose something valuable in a FIFA match and also because FIFA friendlies overall just cannot compare in quality to a league game in which the whole club gives their all to win. All these conditions have served to start a movement that day by day is gaining more momentum and soon we'll start to hear louder cries of dissatisfaction. What these voices will demand is for FIFA to end these pointless matches and stop interrupting the season and good football.


Special thanks to Arron Duckling for serving as a point of inspiration for this article.

 

 

 

 

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