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COVID’s impact on the Club vs Country debate

The club versus country debate has long ranged through our modern era of football. Any professional would be filled with pride representing their nation on the international stage.

Some additional international tournaments have been introduced in recent years like the Nation’s League which provides an opportunity for more silverware and more accolades on the behalf of your nation.

This ultimately has meant more nations have more competitions to go through during the international windows.

With the congested calendar as a result of COVID it has made it difficult to get a schedule to ensure there are no injuries whilst trying to conclude the relevant tournaments.

As we emerge out of the constraints of the global pandemic we have seen that most clubs have just started to find the transition under different government ruling much easier to manage.

Clubs competing domestically and in European club competitions have for the large part been able to follow the respective guidelines to ensure playing staff and non-playing staff for both sides are kept as safe as possible.

The summer just passed we had three different international tournaments take place: the Olympics, Gold Cup, Euro 2020 and Copa America. All played out this year because of the global impact and intensity of the COVID-19 in 2020.

Fast forward to this season 2021/22 and it seems many more clubs are having issues with the national team federations due to the various government rulings surrounding COVID and PCR tests as well as the different ‘’zones’’ certain countries have been put in.

The continents of African and South America in particular are finding it very difficult to find a level of understanding with some clubs and as a result there’s been recent discontent in some players, some club officials and some members of the federations.

An example of this, can be seen with Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani. The 34-year old Uruguayan had a successful 2020/21 campaign, his first in English football. Proving he is still one of the most lethal finishers in the game even in the twilight years of his career.

No doubt Cavani has endured some turbulent times off the field since arriving in Manchester.

A culture clash with the Football Association and long spells away from his family all have contributed to an experience off the pitch which is contrast to one on the pitch.

It’s recent events however that may have annoyed him even further. The September international break saw a lot of PL clubs not allowing players leave for international duty if the Nation lies within the ‘’red zone’’.

This was essentially to prevent a 10-day quarantine period upon their return which was unanimously voted for back in August. This affected the participation of up to 60 Premier League players including Cavani.

Cavani took to Instagram to display his discontent. Understandable if you look at the margins of the South American World Cup Qualifying Table prior to the September International window.

Nevertheless, there are some however who managed to travel to their country’s base with the hopes of representing their nations.

Emiliano Buendia, Emi Martinez, Cristian Romero and Giovanni Lo Celso were central to the suspension of the Superclassico World Cup Qualifying match between Brazil and Argentina on the 5th of September 2021.

With 3 of the 4 starting in the game, Brazilian health officials took to the pitch to stop proceedings as these four Argentines had violated government guidelines.

They failed to declare that they had been In the UK in the past 14 days. Which given the fact they all compete in the biggest League in the world seems almost ridiculous that it took Brazilian authorities so long to recognise.

The confusion arises from the fact there had been mutual agreement amongst health organisations across had agreed players could come for international duty without any provisions.

With Argentina operating under the impression that the same protocols apply to the current situation as they did in the Copa America that played out only a couple of months prior.

The threat of deportation led to the Argentinian squad ultimately refusing to compete and hence we had a suspension of a game. The lack of cohesion in policy had once again impacted the beautiful game.

The Brazilians doesn’t include UK based players in this as the UK for Brazil also falls under the ‘’red zone’’. The Brazilian National Team didn’t include any Premier League based players which includes some high-profile names.

CONMEBOL have to take some responsibility for uniting the respective health organisations. It seems the Brazilian Health Authority have the largest say in Brazil but that isn’t the case for most of the nations in South America.

The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been quick to downplay the significance of COVID-19 coming under scrutiny for his response to the whole pandemic.

The suspension is a clear case of misunderstanding between the various parties involved. Now the cynic in me is suggesting the suspension of the match is a political power play given the attitude of Bolsonaro towards COVID.

 

Communication is key. Claudio Tapia President of the Argentinean FA stated that ‘’ Here you cannot talk about any lie because there is a sanitary legislation under which all South American tournaments are played.’’

The incident has caused a blame game between the different parties involved and now has impacted an already super-congested international calendar.

The Copa America itself was completed under protest by many players as they felt it took away the chance to complete some FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.

CONMEBOL have to intervene and make sure this is an outlying incident. There must be unanimous decisions that satisfy all of the governing bodies under their jurisdiction.

As this was officially a FIFA match, they as must ensure nothing like this can happen again. With the World Cup 14 months or so away it is important to make sure there is some control over the rest of the qualification games across the world.

Despite voting to not release players for international duty players, Aston Villa did grant permission for their Argentine doublet to travel to represent their national sides.

At the time of writing Tottenham Hotspur have a different feeling towards their stars departing. Their pair plus Colombian Davinson Sánchez are expected to face some financial ramifications for their actions.

To be honest, prior to the pandemic there has always been some existing indifferent relationships between club sides and national football associations. Which now may have been strained with the collective discontent during the September International window.

The Premier League had made their stance clear with the number of votes in favour of disallowing players but communication between clubs and nations still remain an issue.

An open line of communication is needed in order to present a united front when it comes to travel by players in conjunction with the respective government rulings. In order to ensure procedure is being followed and the football calendar isn’t being disrupted.

With more international fixtures available in a calendar year its understandable why players are so eager to compete for their countries. However, not every governing body has taken the same approach to travel guidelines.

Politics will unfortunately have such an influence on these proceedings for the foreseeable future. The recent international window should come as a wakeup call for everyone moving forward.

The players themselves who left their clubs against their wishes will see the impact of their actions as they are likely to miss out on two to three matches at club level. Which could be costly for their teams in their respective objectives.

The quarantine period rulings mean clubs will be a lot more hesitant and tentative to give any sort of permission for their players to travel.

Thus, comes the age-old debate over club versus country and the impact of COVID makes it more difficult to present a proper debate.

Where clubs, pay the players wages there will always be a passion to want to compete for the national side.

Perhaps squads need to be bigger in order to cope with this demand but it would be costly just to bring in extra bodies for a just in case scenario. Instead, managers and coaches will just have to adapt to the current circumstances much better for the foreseeable future.

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