Give Me a(n International) Break: How Hard Can It Be?

Flint's Off on One

I can’t be sure, but I don’t imagine many people get a warm tingly sensation at the prospect of an international break. Just the thought of yet another round of that sodding trumpet blaring out from Wembley’s sanitised vacuum is terrifying. I am actually penning this while watching the Three Lions slug it out against the might of Slovenia, but thankfully I have to turn the sound off as my family are asleep.

What’s wrong with me? My country is on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup, and yet I am struggling to get excited. I know I’m far from alone, but it still doesn’t explain the instinctive apathy. We obviously cultivate allegiances to clubs week in, week out for a lifetime, so in a sense it follows. The time, stress, money and love invested in the national team is much smaller.

OH FOR GOD’S SAKE PRESS WILL YOU! Sorry… You will be getting outbursts of frustration throughout this column I’m afraid. Half an hour gone against the 55th best team in the world, and the front men are dropping deep against a five-man defence. At least Marcus Rashford is skinning his marker for fun every time he gets the ball.

Look, mind-numbing as these godforsaken international periods are, we must accept that it is a completely different task. Train all year round with club teammates and of course you’ll develop a better understanding. There’s only so much cohesion non-Germans can magic together at short notice.

So why am I so pissed off? Well, it’s actually a whole lot more specific this week. Yes, international breaks in general are loathsome, but you know what’s a million times worse? Russian international breaks. In case you didn’t know, I live in Siberia and have an affection for next year’s World Cup hosts that surpasses most natives. They’re a depressing bunch in the cold light of day, but they’re my depressing bunch.


Now while the majority of the world is still battling for the greatest honour of all this weekend, Russia of course are twiddling their thumbs with no qualifiers to negotiate. It has been a very, very long 15 months since the abysmal Euro 2016 performance, but in September the Russian Football Union (RFU) surpassed itself.

You may remember the moment when the floppy-haired meerkat, sorry Andrei Arshavin, revealed Russia bid victory. Yep, the event complete with English heads firmly sunk into English hands. Well, that was seven years ago. Seven years to plan infrastructure, transport, stadia and everything that goes with it. A significant part of that planning is the friendly fixtures that must fill the gaps left by what would have been qualifiers.

Russia is a country where rich and powerful people get their way. Attracting high-profile foreign stars is a common occurrence. So when the schedule of international breaks was revealed SEVEN YEARS ago, what do you suspect the RFU did? Line up some decent, challenging opposition? Nope; they couldn’t find a single international team to face, so they decided to play Dinamo Moscow. The club. At Dinamo’s hideous Khimki Arena. And called up Dinamo’s best player anyway.

CAN’T YOU PASS THE BLOODY BALL FIVE PISSING YARDS BERTRAND??? Nope, apparently not. Well done Slovenia, you earned that throw-in simply by waiting.

It is hard to express the emotions when the RFU confirmed the fixture. Anger? Frustration? Amusement? With the eyes of the world increasingly trained on Russia, they play a struggling club side. I don’t know quite how much more humiliating that could have turned out. Yes, of course, many sides are busy with qualifiers, but far from all. Kenya and Canada, for example, were free; not stellar opponents perhaps, but certainly not the worst.

Confidence in the Russian national team is pretty much at rock bottom. Russian fans are weary from endless arrogant under-performing stars – remember that post-Euro 2012 video of Arshavin in the hotel lobby? The one where angry fans surround him, and he tells them where to go? It’s hardly surprising then that there isn’t a great deal of excitement when international breaks roll around. Having the RFU’s utter incompetence thrown in your face on top of that is ridiculous.