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Should we worry about our lack of international players?

Filed: Monday, 9th September 2013
By: Nick Hilton

We’re living in a strange age for international football. In the past year, football players like Carl Jenkison, Wilfried Zaha and Ross Barkley have all received England caps, despite hardly having a season’s worth of Premier League football between them.

There’s no doubting their talent (I’d kill to see the latter two in claret and blue), but there’s also no denying their inexperience. And, at the same time as this shift in focus has been taking place, West Ham have been steadily dropping off the international map.

The WHUFC.com ‘International round-up’ article made for depressing reading as only Razvan Rat, Jack Collison and Winston Reid made international appearances during the break. Bearing in mind that only one of them is a first team regular, Sam took the boys off to Barcelona for a friendly match. I’m sure that was a sensible decision, especially given the lack of competitive football that our players have been involved in over the recent months.

But doesn’t that mark a worrying trend? Just five years ago we had Green, Gabbidon, Parker, Kovac, Upson, McCarthy, Spector, Behrami, Ilunga and Collison all involved on the international scene. Go back a couple more years, and in Neill, Benayoun and Dailly, we had a trio who captained their respective national teams.

But now we have to rely on the perpetually crocked Andy Carroll to represent us on the biggest stage, whilst our other international stars, Mo Diame and Winston Reid, are playing for teams on the periphery of the international game.

There’s no denying that, on paper, the 2013/14 West Ham squad looks strong, despite the lack of firepower. So why, in an age where Rickie Lambert and Leon Osman are being drafted into the national team setup, are we so under-represented at international level? And should we be worried about it?

This season is a pre-World Cup year, and the squads that end up in Rio will be decided on the strength of their performance over the next 40-odd games. Realistically, the only Hammers who’ll be in Brazil are Carroll and Reid, with Diame’s Senegal having an outside chance in the African play-offs. Our squad, for a Premier League team, is almost uniquely uncompetitive about making World Cup squads.

Compare us with Fulham (who I consider our closest rivals in terms of quality) who have Stekelenburg, Riise, Senderos, Hangeland, Kasami, Berbatov, Kačaniklić, Karagounis, Rodallega, Zverotić, Boateng and Dejagah all in with a good chance of playing in the World Cup.

This difference worries me on two levels. Firstly, the prospect of playing in a World Cup is a passionate and powerful incentive to have a strong domestic season. Most countries have a stronger emphasis on picking ‘form’ players than England do, so to make the squad, they’ll want to be playing their best football all year.

Secondly, the lack of players competing on the international stage is diminishing West Ham’s global profile. We’re not participating in the Champions or Europa Leagues, so the opportunity to showcase our talent across countries and continents comes from international clashes. And, at the moment, we still look like a second-tier team to an outside perspective.

It also worries me that part of our failure to attract some big-name talent over the summer has been due to this perceived lack of competitiveness. Stewart Downing is a decent player, but he’s someone who knows that, even with a strong season under his belt, he’s unlikely to make a return to the England team. He’s in the same position as Matt Jarvis and it’s a pretty cushy, pressure-free zone to be in.

No Go Fabio: Quagliarella decided against joining West Ham

Fabio Quagliarella, Romelu Lukaku and Salamon Kalou, however, couldn’t afford to have an indifferent season and so have opted for clubs with a larger international base.

In the long run, this may not hurt West Ham at all. Not having players involved in, and possibly getting injured through, World Cup qualifiers has its benefits, and our squad will certainly be more relaxed about the end of the season (not to mention avoiding the stress of feeling burned-out before the big tournament).

But my concern is that the lack of international players is symptomatic of a closed-off attitude at the club. Do we defend what we have? Or do we push to try and instill a greater sense of competition at the club, above and beyond the matches that dictate what our final points tally will be? In a world where Kevin Nolan has spent his entire career seemingly unable to buy an England cap, we’re running the risk of looking like a squad of yesterday’s men (Jarvis, Cole and Downing) and underachievers (Noble, Nolan and Tomkins).

With an uncompetitive policy on international football, how can we help but find ourselves lacking drive and edge when it comes to crucial matches- not to mention our transfer policy? West Ham may not dictate national team selections, but if you have an entire squad of players who, next summer, will be sitting on their couches, eating crisps and watching Adrian Chiles, then you can’t help but wonder how they’re going to stay motivated during this make-or-break season.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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