Club versus Country
May 20, 2006
by Aparajith Ramnath
As one who is little more than a casual follower of football, the World Cup is, by comparison, a big event for me – World Cup matches are the only football games I have any distinct memories of. Perhaps that's why South Korean striker Ahn Jung-Hwan's decisive goal that saw Italy exit the 2002 edition of the World Cup is still fresh in my memory. Well, not the goal itself, but the aftermath of it.
Perugia, the Italian club that Ahn played for, sacked him.
I remember being shocked at what seemed to me a display of rank immaturity. When you're on the field representing a team, you put all past associations and thoughts out of your mind and play for that team. When playing for Perugia, one expected to Ahn to be Perugian; when he played for South Korea, nothing less than South Korean. The episode seemed too ridiculous to be true, and sure enough, it was not quite so simple as all that.
"It has nothing to do with the goal he scored against Italy," said Perugia president Gaucci, according to a BBC Report (here). "He could have scored 10 and I wouldn't have felt offended. It was simply the comments he made.
"He said Korean football was superior to Italian football, when Italy is a footballing nation."
I haven't been able to locate the exact comments that Ahn made, if any, but even if he did claim Korean football to be superior to Italian football, well, that's just a matter of opinion, isn't it?
I was reminded of this incident upon reading recently some rather telling statistics about players representing clubs and countries. A report (here ) featured on espnstar.com informs us that according to accountancy firm Deloitte, upward of a hundred players who play for English clubs will be representing their native countries at WC 2006.
German clubs will contribute 70 players to the tournament.
70 players then, will be striving to score and save goals for their own countries – as they must – on fields where they might very probably have been scoring and saving goals for their German clubs until months ago.
As I have already indicated, I see no contradiction in this. When you play for a team on a particular day, you play for that team. That's the beauty of sport. At the same time, it is worthwhile examining the level of passion that players, fans and observers invest in their support of their teams at various levels. Clearly, football fans are passionate about their clubs to an extent that is unimaginable in some other sports. Look at cricket; the Indian fan who lifts an eyebrow as if to ask, "Do you imagine I have nothing better to do?" when you ask him the latest Ranji Trophy score, sits up all night in front of the telly to cheer the national team on against the West Indies. The hockey fan who cares two hoots about the Chennai Veerans or the Maratha Warriors will keep a close eye on the fortunes of the Indian team at the Olympics.
I am not well-read enough on the evolution of football as a sport to comment authoritatively on this, but this extreme enthusiasm for club as well as for country seems to be one of the defining features of the sport's following. It would be quite fascinating to undertake some day an analysis of how this came to be.