It`s far too early in the season to be drawing too many conclusions from what we`ve seen so far but we may have seen enough to be clear on the benefits that a summer rest can bring.
Paul Scholes has picked up quite a lot of praise for the way he has started the season, quite rightly as he has performed pretty well in the few games played so far. Wenger added his praise to the player when asked, accepting that he would like to have had him in his team while not being blind to his darker side. Naturally enough the media has churlishly seized on the one negative while ignoring the more manifestly positive nature of his comments. At Schole`s age he may not be able to sustain that level of performance through the season but he has clearly benefited from resisting the Italian overtures from Capello to appear in his World Cup opera.
Walcott`s decision not to take part in the same competition was not one of his own making but he has also benefited from the same opportunity to put his feet up for a few weeks. Compared to the early part of last season where his performances followed the folly of allowing himself to be used by the national sides in both U21 and the full national team he has looked notably sharper for nation and club. Wengers anger last summer proved completely justified as young Theo had to endure one insult upon another in a disjointed season, eagerly seized on by the unthinking, as pundits like Chris Waddle claimed he lacked a football brain. Waddles own football brain allowed him to overlook the fact that he was playing part time non league football and working in a sausage factory at Theo`s age such was the extent of his particular football brain at the time. The damage done to Walcott`s fragile reputation still allows Alan Hansen to feel confident enough to continue the theme even after Walcott`s weekend hatrick. Again Hansen`s grey cells didn`t allow him to point out that they weren`t plentiful enough at the age of 21 for him to be playing anything other than 2nd tier football in Scotland.
There is a price to pay for chasing the ancillary glory of international football – I wonder if Michael Owens career would not have waned so markedly by the age of 25 had he not made more England appearances by that age than Scholes was prepared to in his whole career. Ryan Giggs career, and his club, has also benefited from Giggs’own modest commitments to international football.
Last year Theo sacrificed most of a club season, perhaps not fatally damaging at his age if he has learned his lesson. Scholes, who didn`t make a full England appearance until 23 and ended his commitment to his national team at 29, seems to have benefited from knowing on which side his reputation is buttered. He is regularly feted as a world class player despite not having played for his national side for 6 years. Four years after his last England appearance Scholes was inducted into the England Hall of Fame an award only made possible by the quality of his performances at club level since his retirement. As yet Owen still open to an England call-up hasn`t been as far as I can see. Therein lies the first lesson Theo`s football brain has to learn. What you do in an international shirt is secondary, by some distance, to what you do in a club shirt. Your status as an international player will be measured pretty well exclusively by what you achieve with and for your club – everything else is window dressing.
Fabregas` career so far looks to be rewarded more by what has been achieved at international level than for his club but that ignores the fact that his international career for Spain may not have reached the point it has at the age of 23 were it not for the opportunity to win a club trophy at the tender age of 18. Fabregas has had to forgo a full summer break in each of the last 3 summers as international demands for European, Confederation and World Cup tournaments have inhibited the sort of pre-season that would allow his club to fully utilise the quality by which his international status is judged. Yet still it is largely the belief shown by Arsenal that has allowed him to achieve international glory at an age at which Scholes was only making his international debut.
As fates conspired to deprive Nasri and Rosicky of the rigours of international duty their enforced holiday, injuries aside, has made a significant difference to the way they have been able to start the season. Fail to prepare and prepare to fail as one sporting maxim has it. Over commit too much, too early, too long to the international game and you`ll invariably fail to prepare properly should be another.
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