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.

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5 Responses to “Club versus Country”

  1. ch@ry Says:

    i’m no expert on sports, but what about county cricket in England? do people follow that?

  2. pavilionseat Says:

    Certainly county cricket in England has more following than the Ranji Trophy does here. I doubt though, if today the interest can compare with the fervour for club football. The Twenty20 idea itself seems to show that there was a need for something dramatic to boost interest in county cricket.

    Aparajith

  3. Sohail Says:

    Yeah the extreme enthusiasm for both club and country is one of the reasons why the game is what it is today. But one exception I have noticed is Spain. The Spaniards(both the general public and the players) are always found wanting to show the same enthusisam to the country as they show towards the clubs. May be because of some political compulsions. Even the players, unlike players from other countries, don’t gel together well enough when representing the country and are not able to put off the club rivalries. That can be one of the reasons that inspite of having great talents they have never won the world cup. I somehow feel there is more to it then just sporting reasons.

  4. Amit Goyal Says:

    I dont really agree with your deductions Sohail.

    Winning the World Cup is not a measure of success me thinks. Holland, despite having great players on a number of occasions has not won the World Cup ever and has won the Euro Championship also only once (reminds me, post the quiz answers please).

    I do not follow the Spanish national team as much but I think I have seen a couple of matches and they seem to do pretty decently. Even in the last World Cup, they were effected by a couple of bad calls by the referee.

  5. Sohail Says:

    @Goyal

    You are certainly entitled to disagree. But for me winning is the only thing. As someone once said “Winning is not everything, its the only thing”. and winning the world cup certainly is a measure of success for the national teams. Thats the reason Brazil is the most succesful soccer team in the world.

    yeah i agree they play pretty decently but with the talent they possess and with the strongest league in the world they should have achieved more than what they have achieved. Just follow them closely at this year’s world cup and you will see the difference. Followers of La Liga will certainly find a lot of difference between the enthusiasm the crowd and the players show for the clubs and for La Seleccion(the spanish football team).

    yeah i agree that both Holland and Spain are the two most underachieved teams in the world( leave Engalnd aside, they have not won more because they dont deserve to win. They are the msot overhyped team in the world. waiting for Sweden to kick their ass in this world cup!). Both have never one won the world cup and won the euro cup only once. But the manner of their defeats have been differently. Holland have been unlucky most of the times( ala South Africa in Cricket) whereas Spain was ousted most of the times because of want of commitment and enthusiasm(ala England in cricket). Just go through the record of both the teams in major trophies and you will understand the difference.


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