Club versus country has an obvious winner

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Phil Jagielka, Steven Gerrard AllsportEverton's Phil Jagielka is set to start for England against Ukraine.

Buying your first replica shirt, going the match with your dad, revisiting the action in the 'Pink Echo'. These are the type of minor but significant details responsible for moulding an ordinary person into a fanatic.

From an early age, there is a link between a club and a supporter. Maybe that is the key omission between a supporter and their country. As a youngster, there was a genuine support for England. That evaporated over time, however, once the cynicism set in; cynicism that has only worsened in the face of a continuum of poor managers, outdated tactics and general ineptness.

There is the age-old question: would you rather see England win the World Cup or your club win the league. Scrap that, the sight of Everton winning the League Cup is preferable to any national team success.

Off the pitch, the same feelings apply. The extortionate prices, the derisory allocations for showpiece FA Cup matches, the absurd kick-off times, the Football Association appears to treat supporters like meal tickets.

Whether it is the prehistoric setup, the appearance of club stature counting above form, or the idea of following players that incur your wrath for most of the year, it is increasingly hard to feel anything for the national side.

As the final whistle sounded against Moldova, there was a pleasing sight for Evertonians. For the first time since 1988, three Everton players ended a competitive England match on the same pitch. This time it was Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley; previously, it was Gary Stevens, Trevor Steven and Dave Watson.

For many, though, the days when this meant something have passed. For example, take the Ukraine match this evening; Phil Jagielka is set to start with Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley warming the bench. Instead of beaming with pride at having three players in the squad, the immediate thought is relief due to two important players enjoying a rest ahead of the weekend.

Although World Cup qualifiers are a necessity, there are few fixtures as infuriating as the England friendly in the days leading up to a new season. This unnecessary, empty exercise only risks the anger of club supporters. Imagine the uproar if a first-team player picked up a serious injury in a meaningless outing.

Furthermore, it is nigh on impossible to warm towards players viewed as rivals during the season, especially the likes of Ashley Cole. Who could forget his response to the £55,000 per week contract offer at Arsenal. Sneering at the offer, which is far above the average annual wage in Britain, the full-back claimed he nearly "swerved off the road" and the offer was "taking the piss".

On the topic of Cole, this leads to the prevailing reason as to why backing England holds little attraction. Despite his form dropping for both club and country, the Chelsea player still gets the nod over Leighton Baines, who overtook Cole on ability some time ago.

The selection of Cole is one of many criticisms to level at Roy Hodgson, a manager with a conservative streak bordering on chronic. There are England regulars who barely feature for their clubs, yet others impressing at club level remain overlooked.

Remember the images of a blood-soaked, bandaged Terry Butcher against Sweden. The current crop remains light-years away from commitment of this magnitude. In the view of many fans, the present squad are more likely to push you in front of the metaphorical bus than drag you out the way. There is nothing to care about for England, and England do nothing to make you care.


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