It`s an interesting observation from Cesc that he feels, at the age of 23 that perhaps he is now suffering physically having played too many games too early in his career.
“The good news is there is no tear on the hamstring, nothing. It`s just a little bit of fluid, but it keeps coming back” the Arsenal captain commented in his program notes “We have to work on it, but also understand that I am 23 years old and I`ve played many, many games. Soon I will play my 200th Premier League game, as well as nearly 60 for the national team and 60 in the Champions League. So that`s a lot of games for my age and I have to take care of myself.”
Cesc`s career certainly got underway at Arsenal very early. He`d played 46 games for Arsenal in the season in which he`d reached 18 just as it came to an end. He`s been an ever present ever since. But the thing that strikes me is that at such a young age he has played nearly 60 games for the national team. That`s almost 20% of the total he has quoted. He hasn`t had a full summer break since he left his teens. I daresay he is delighted to have been part of a Spanish team at a time when they were able to challenge successfully for the major tournaments and wouldn`t have wanted to miss out on that. Even so what proportion of games that he has turned out for should have been acceptable for club games if he didn`t want to lose out on international representation? If there`s a suggestion that the 80% of playing time dedicated to his club is too much would 70% be sensible? To turn that around; is it acceptable that almost a third of his young career so far should be dedicated to the national side?
This echoes a theme I took up earlier this season reflecting on the benefits to the early season form of players like Theo, before he was crocked on international duty, Nasri and Rosicky, of absence from last summer`s international demands. I also pointed to the praise that Paul Scholes, a longer term international absentee, who had also started the season in impressive form had received as I wrote at the time:
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.
I daresay that Wayne Rooney`s problems this season aren`t entirely related to his international exertions but for a player only just 25 he has also played more times for England than Scholes has done in his career. There is a relationship I feel between longevity and over committing yourself too early to an international career when you already have a demanding club career. Maybe to protect its young players full international football shouldn`t be open to players under the age of 23 and before then limited to no more than 3 or 4 games a season at under full international level.
Being deprived of a full summer break is as debilitating as the number of games played. As much as anywhere that’s the direction I think Cesc should be or should have been looking towards in terms of his recently discovered need to look after himself. Perhaps full length summer breaks should be mandatory for all players under 23.
It`s frustrating to think that some brilliant young players could find their careers inhibited because of excessive physical demands just as they are reaching a point of physical maturity which should allow us to see them at the height of their powers. Jack Wilshere be warned.
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