x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Patriot games come at a cost to clubs

The international break offers no respite for some player, who embark on huge journeys to represent their countries, writes Richard Jolly

Ecuador, and Manchester United, player Antonio Valencia played against the United States in New Jersey this week. The US team featured Everton’s Tim Howard and Fulham’s Clint Dempsey.
Ecuador, and Manchester United, player Antonio Valencia played against the United States in New Jersey this week. The US team featured Everton’s Tim Howard and Fulham’s Clint Dempsey.

In one attack, a man who was in Asuncion 80 hours earlier. In the other, a footballer who was in Torreon at the same time.

Both men rushed back over the Atlantic Ocean to be rejoin for Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield today, but it scarcely counts as the ideal build-up for one of the biggest games of the season.

Luis Suarez was in the Paraguayan capital, Javier Hernandez in the north of Mexico, far distant from Merseyside and Manchester, respectively. Patriotism comes at a cost in terms of time when energy-sapping trips to all four corners of the planet can take place a matter of days before crucial Premier League matches.

Should either forward's legs fail him today, there will be mitigating circumstances. In his bid to help his country qualify for the 2014 World Cup, Suarez was deep in the heart of South America, the disappointment of conceding a last-minute equaliser in Uruguay's 1-1 draw followed by a marathon journey, presumably in the company of his teammate, Sebastian Coates, who was an unused substitute.

Quite a contingent travelled to Torreon, where Mexico hosted Brazil. Liverpool's Lucas Leiva started in the visitors' midfield while United's Anderson and Fabio da Silva were on the Brazil bench. To complete the contingent of transatlantic travellers back to Old Trafford, Antonio Valencia helped Ecuador to victory in New Jersey, where the defeated Americans included Everton's Tim Howard and Fulham's Clint Dempsey.

At least the Red Bull Arena is close to Newark, a major international airport. At least, too, Fulham is particularly convenient for Heathrow, another of them. Asuncion and Torreon do not exactly rank as transportation hubs. Neither, for that matter, does La Ceiba. Struggling to place it? The chances are you are not alone. It is a port on the Caribbean coast of Honduras and it was there that the Central American country beat Jamaica 2-1 on Tuesday night.

In their defence was Maynor Figueroa. Today he should be in Wigan's back four for the derby against Bolton. Behind him will be Ali Al Habsi, whose homeland of Oman is hardly near Lancashire. Athletic's problem was that Oman were away on Tuesday. In Australia. Sydney and Wigan are separated by 17,000 kilometres and 10 time zones.

Had the Paraguayan Antolin Alcaraz and the Colombian Hugo Rodallega been fit, Roberto Martinez's squad could have been dispersed still further. Such are the problems for the smaller clubs who cannot compete with richer institutions for deluxe talents. Strange as it may sound, Wigan are the global game in microcosm.

Others are accumulating the air miles while their superiors worry. "As a Premier League manager, I'm always nervous during the international break," said Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager. "It is not just injuries, you don't know how much travelling they are doing."

Arsenal's recent recruit, Park Chu-young, opened the scoring for South Korea in their 2-1 win over the UAE in Suwon, while Sunderland's Ji Dong-won also featured. Teammates then, they have a further 24 hours to recover before they are pitted against each other tomorrow, probably as substitutes.

Preparing for the weekend games has been difficult. "Having a little break left us with four or five players, which was not a lot," said Fulham's Martin Jol. Yet it could have been worse: England's sole game, in Montenegro, was eight days before the Premier League resumed, while international fixtures have been shifted forward 24 hours - Friday and Tuesday rather than Saturday and Wednesday - to help the clubs.

It is understandable that some club managers prefer to keep their charges closer to home. Park Ji-sung would have been in Suwon, too, except that he, like Dimitar Berbatov, retired from international football in the summer.

Manchester United are one of the world's biggest clubs, but Sir Alex Ferguson prefers to keep his players where he can see them. As the performance of at least one jet-lagged player somewhere in the Premier League this weekend will surely show, travel may broaden the mind, but it can also tire the limbs.