The international break has thrown up the old debate about who should and shouldn’t be selected. Eion Smith thinks he has a solution…
It’s that time of the year where teams have qualified for international tournaments and the selection dilemmas and debates begin. “This one should be on the plane but this one isn’t good enough”. “If that guy goes, I’ll eat my shoes”. It’s possible to go on like this for a good while and, with just a few friendlies to gauge how players will handle the pressure of the international stage, it’s difficult to get a good and accurate judgement on new players. There is, I think, a forgotten solution – the B international.
At its most basic, the B international team is an international reserve team. It allows players who aren’t necessarily ready for the big stage to get the game time they need to impress. However, to treat it like a reserve team is to do it a great disservice. The B team has provided the opportunity for many big international stars to impress the national team manager and to get a place in the squad. Players like Gascoigne and Owen for England, Gary McAllister for Scotland, Hugo Lloris and Bacary Sagna for France and many more have all used B internationals to help stake a place in the first team. These are not discards and youth team stars like at clubs but players of (mostly) genuine quality. Players like Jay Rodriguez (recently made his debut for England without being hugely effective) could get valuable international experience without the crippling pressure that seems to surround the international game.
The B team can also help to bridge the rather considerable gap between the youth and senior international sides. Many players don’t make the progression from youth to senior level and this is likely down to a lack of experience. B internationals can allow them to play senior internationals and give them the experience to make the step up. David James made this point three years ago (have a look here) and it’s still a valid one – not many of the U21 regulars made the grade at international level and those who did were thrown in to the senior side early (not just in England either). Players like Scott Carson and Tom Huddlestone for England or Craig Easton and Jamie McCunnie for Scotland were regulars at U21 level but have only six caps between the four of them. Perhaps they could have played a few more times for the senior side had they gotten the chance and experience that B teams provide.
There are probably some detractors who will always say that B internationals are a waste of time but not if they are done properly. Run them alongside the senior side and only split them off when talking match specifics. Give the young and unproven players the taste of what the senior side get and give them something to aspire to. Make an effort to get any disillusioned fans in the door with cheaper tickets or family nights. Get regular opponents from around the world. Run mini tournaments in the summer to see how new players react to the demands of tournament football. Make the B internationals matter and they’ll work.
In this age of football blogging and social media where we can share our opinions in milliseconds, there is still an intangible with regards to uncapped players in international football that makes opinions and views on whether a player should be playing internationally or not a little bit pointless. B internationals reduce that and give us know-it-alls that little bit extra freedom to tell the qualified managers how to do their jobs. After all, who doesn’t want that?
Hopefully you enjoyed this post and if so then please feel free to leave feedback. Check out The Long Ball on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (information down the right hand side of the page) too and get in touch about anything football related. And, of course, sorry for not posting for a couple of weeks.