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Don't blame Sochaux for omission

May 14, 2010
Carlisle By Jeff Carlisle
ESPN.com
(Archive)

It's a drama that has been played out countless times in the history of soccer. A player says he's fit to play in an international tournament. His club says he isn't and won't release him. The national team, which has the ability to put its foot down and call the player in anyway, is caught in the middle. Meanwhile, the player lashes out at his club for sidetracking his dreams of international glory.

Yet while the script allows for an easy distinction between heroes and villains, the case involving U.S. international forward Charlie Davies is not quite so clear-cut.

Earlier this week it was revealed that Davies was not named to his country's provisional 30-man World Cup roster. As it turns out, Sochaux, his club side, had considerable say in the decision. No doubt mindful of the fact that Davies is just seven months removed from a horrific car crash that resulted in numerous broken bones and internal injuries -- including a broken femur, tibia and fibula -- the club refused to give the player medical clearance. This was cited by U.S. manager Bob Bradley as the primary reason for not extending Davies an invitation to attend the U.S. pre-World Cup training camp set to start on May 17 in Princeton, N.J.

After letting this news sink in, a seething Davies, in an interview with Radio France, placed the blame squarely on his club for sidetracking his World Cup dreams.

"I'm very angry because I feel FC Sochaux has denied me a chance at playing in the World Cup," Davies said. "Of course I'm not at 100 percent now but I feel that by the time our World Cup camp starts next week I would be at a level where I can compete for one of the forward spots."

ESPN.com contacted Sochaux, but the club declined to comment further.

That Davies is upset over the decision is understandable. The amount of work he has put into his rehabilitation since the accident has been nothing short of Herculean, and it was his dream of playing in the World Cup that provided much of the fuel for his comeback. But his ire is also somewhat misdirected, because the decision to not call Davies in ultimately rested with Bradley, although even that choice was littered with complications.

FIFA regulations stipulate that a national association can challenge a club's decision to not give a player medical clearance. This would involve a medical evaluation by members of the U.S. training staff.

But here's the kicker. According to a U.S. Soccer spokesman, Davies would not be able to play or train while this process was going on. And if the national team staff deemed him healthy enough to play, then FIFA would become involved to help settle the dispute. Meanwhile, the preparations for the World Cup would be going forward without Davies' participation.

While this scenario may have tipped the scales against Davies even more, it's important to remember that Bradley and his staff have been monitoring Davies' situation for months. As recently as a few weeks ago, head trainer Ivan Pierra was in France to check in on the state of the player's condition. This decision to exclude Davies was not made in a vacuum, nor was it made completely at Sochaux's behest.

And for all the criticism that gets sent Bradley's way, one item that can't be questioned is that he is the ultimate pragmatist. Had he really believed that Davies could contribute to the squad at a World Cup level, Bradley would be more than willing to jump through the bureaucratic hoops outlined above.

That fact that Bradley isn't speaks volumes, and reveals another dynamic at work in this saga. A player returning from injury will almost always say he is ready to get back on the field, even when he isn't. That's why such a decision ultimately rests with more objective observers, such as coaches and medical staff.

So far, the only person with firsthand knowledge of Davies' condition who is saying he's ready to get back on the field is Davies himself. No coach is saying he's ready, no doctor is saying he's ready, and most importantly no one affiliated with the U.S. national team is saying he's ready. Sometimes it's necessary to protect a player from the competitive instincts that have taken him so far in his professional career.

No doubt this debate will continue to rage right up until the U.S. team's first game on June 12 against England. FIFA rules state that the final 23-man roster must be comprised of players on the provisional list. But up until 24 hours before the first game, the U.S. can replace a player in case of a "serious injury," one that must be validated by a member of FIFA's medical staff. The player selected as a replacement need not come from the provisional roster. If such a scenario transpires, the calls for Davies' inclusion will once again reach a crescendo, but clearly, the ship containing his World Cup dreams has already sailed without him.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.