‘Yet another international break and further chance for injury on duty’

It’s tough for fans in England, let alone those abroad with no interest in their national side

Michail Antonio (WHU) at the West Ham United v Chelsea EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on February 11, 2023.

I scrolled through West Ham’s Twitter account, if only to catch a small taste of club happenings during the tedium of the international break. To see Tomas Soucek’s smiling face, overwhelmed by his large forehead, stitched and bleeding.

This time it wasn’t the claret of West Ham he was bleeding but the bright red of the Czech Republic. Another swipe of the finger on the phone, and news of our only functioning striker – Michail Antonio popped up on the screen.

Add Bowen to the mix and we have two injured forwards, an injured midfielder and a disgraced fullback in Coufal returning to the UK as we limped to victory against Burnley. The international break has again failed to yield anything positive for West Ham. As a US-based West Ham fan, the international breaks bring me no joy, in that I don’t support England, and the US until very recently weren’t playing many interesting matches.

With every international break comes the unexpected horror of an early morning Saturday realisation that there indeed will be no West Ham match, with the added fear that the very best of our team has the potential to be injured. I believe that it was the injury to Lanzini’s ACL in his failed 2018 Argentina World Cup adventure with Messi that sank Pellegrini’s plans of unleashing a positive attacking style onto the Premier League.

Pellegrini was brought in to bring about a new era of the West Ham Way fluid football, but he had no number 10 to rely on in realising his 4231 attacking football with the exception of an aged and injury-ridden Jack Wilshere. He was never able to see Arnautovic partner up with Lanzini as we saw in a few beautiful moments under Moyes’ first relegation escape, and that led him to go from Wilshere, to Lanzini to Nasir and Snodgrass. He even utilised our beloved Mark Noble in the number.10 role at times.

The actual international play is usually horrendous and besmirched with injury fears or racist conflagrations as we’ve seen through England’s play in Eastern Europe, and besides the Euros most recently, I can’t see that many England fans would prefer to watch Southgate’s stolid style in a game of dross over their own side’s matches. At what point should a country take priority over a club besides the World Cup?

With West Ham’s squad being depleted with more travelling players called up for international duty, as we now have better players, it’s with fear and loathing that we release them into the world. Then we are exposed to them having career-crippling injuries like Lanzini’s, damaging set backs like Antonio’s and mild alterations to performances in travel and jet-lag.

Often it would be a call of honour to have our players making the international squads but with this new found glory, there is also sacrifice. As each nation lusts for a winning team in this battle of international sporting glory, the actual connection to the country of players they call up can be a bit suspect at worst and lax at best.

While the average spectator can never adjudicate a person’s love for the country of origin in their ancestral line, players who have never lived or played in a country, spoken the language, and who may have even been passed over by the preferred country on their passport, how can they turn up a chance to play on the world stage? This taste for glory sees young Declan Rice play in green and orange in his youth as he played for Ireland, but switched to bitter rival England as he reached senior years.

Juxtaposed we see the nobility of Noble who was passed over by England but rejected a spot in the Ireland squad because he preferred a young Irish person to have a chance. There even comes animosity when players like Michail Antonio who suddenly in his 30s with tentative hamstrings and in poor form, declares his love for Jamaica and runs off to battle CONCACAF teams at the risk of season crippling injuries, with the likelihood of not even qualifying for the World Cup.

How many Antonio fans back his flying off to play in matches that will only result in strained muscles and ligaments for the sake of nothing? Even James Collins, Robert Snodgrass and Fabianski realised their international careers should be put on hold for their ability to maintain positive club performances as they hit their 30s.

And what rights do clubs have to keep safe their investments in million pound players from risking their bodies and reputations in international travel and play? Clubs risk alienating themselves from an international fanbase, turning a player sour, with only international insurance to suffice as assurance of injury.

Perhaps that bright hint of West Ham’s success – that briefly rising bubble – causes me to be nervous about and resentful towards the international break as I don’t want anything to deter from a strong Premier League season. Maybe my irritation with international breaks could also be the habit that is broken on weekend mornings, that causes me an uncomfortable West Ham withdrawal.

I will admit that supporting the US has also been difficult during international breaks as we have not fielded as strong of teams. In addition, Michail Antonio’s first professional goal outside the box did not happen while he was playing in the claret and blue, but against the US in a 1-1 draw.

Whatever it is, my dislike for international breaks is only eased by the arrival of the World Cups – and perhaps this is the price to pay for the teams being well adjusted to give us top quality football.

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