Mason Greenwood decided not to make himself available for England’s World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino this weekend, and Callum Hudson-Odoi opted out of England Under-21 duty.
Meanwhile, captain Leah Williamson played 90 minutes in both the Lionesses’ recent World Cup qualifiers against Latvia and Northern Ireland, which they won by a combined 14-0. Her Arsenal team-mate Viv Miedema missed last month’s game against Belarus to give her some much-needed rest and recovery.
We have to be careful not to ask so much of our top players that they end up picking and choosing their games.
Having been at the Olympics as well, Leah has played a lot of football recently, and had to rest in the week leading up to Arsenal’s game against West Ham United last week. It should have been a warning to the women’s game.
Leah is probably similar to how I was in terms of wanting to play every game for club and country. Decisions like that need to be taken out of the players’ hands which I would have hated back then but now I am older I can reflect that I probably did not always make the right choices.
For Greenwood and Hudson-Odoi, these internationals are a chance to get more minutes under their belts when they are not playing all the time for Manchester United and Chelsea respectively. You could even say to show willing.
I do not think it should make a difference who England are playing. Whether it is a supposedly meaningless qualifier or an under-21 game, they should want to play.
For Bradford-born Greenwood it is his chance to get back into the side having been sent home for breaking Covid-19 protocols after his debut in Iceland. That was not a great look but he is a top-quality player who should be there.
Even if the game is not the most exciting he will still learn just from training with England’s best players, and working with the coaches. I have been in camps where a couple of youngsters with no chance of playing were brought along just because the experience is so valuable.
With Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Patrick Bamford injured and Ollie Watkins not in the squad, this could have been an opportunity to get some minutes at centre forward, which is not easy at Manchester United with Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford around.
As for Hudson-Odoi, Southgate spelled it out: “By not being in the Under-21s he misses a bit of an opportunity to impress us and come across if we need players for training.”
In the cases of Greenwood and Hudson-Odoi there may be more to it but we must avoid situations where players feel they have to or want to pick and choose.
It is about looking after them. Leah did not need to play two lots of 90 minutes for England. Start her in the first game, but change in the second half as there was no way England were going to lose.
Arsenal Women had to play four games to qualify for this season’s Champions League, so some players went more or less straight into it from the Olympics. From 2024 the men’s group stage will be 10 matches.
Next season those players who reach the men’s World Cup final will have an eight-day break before the Premier League starts again. The season is 13 days longer, but has a 35-day break for the Qatar tournament, increasing fixture congestion.
We all love football and want to watch as much as we can but the quality is bound to suffer because of fatigue and injuries.
I remember a couple of years ago covering a Championship team on Boxing Day, then covering their third game in what was probably six days and it was like watching a completely different side – no pressing, no movement because the players were physically gone.
We should always want the best players playing the best games in the best physical and mental condition, but sometimes we have to realise we are asking too much of them.