An Arsenal Fan’s Love-Hate Relationship with the International Break
By Mac Johnson
Most football fans love to hate the international break. They see it as two weeks where you can’t watch your favorite team play, and nothing more. And while it certainly grinds my gears in that regard, I think there’s more to it.
The original purpose of the international break was to give players a focus on the international scale, with an eye for the Euros, CONMEBOL, and World Cup. It allows them to build chemistry, garner experience in the squad, and it makes those international competitions far more exciting, because the teams in question are actually used to playing with each other.
It’s a system that led to the meteoric rise of Iceland. Despite facing pretty horrific odds, the Icelandic national team had a Cinderella story in 2016, and have continued to frustrate even the most skilled opponents. Most of their players, though, don’t play in Iceland. Unlike the top nations, their biggest talents don’t play against each other on a weekly basis, which means the international break is the best opportunity for them to draw together as a team and work on systems etc.
Many of you might remember England’s Golden Generation. Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Rooney, Terry, Ferdinand, etc. They were always touted as the next big thing, and they all hit legendary status for their respective clubs, but when it came to international duty, they floundered. In interviews, they’ve been asked about their lack of success, and have put it down to internal competition.
So many of their players’ relationships were predicated entirely upon club rivalry, and nothing more. They wouldn’t speak in training, or in the hotel, and the social groups were very separate. But with no other opportunity provided to just get to know the other lads, it stayed that way.
The same isn’t true for the current England squad. They came up together through the youth system, and due to the increased prevalence of international football, have played together for five, and in some cases ten years, already. And as Gareth Southgate turns towards his youth more and more, that relationship becomes even stronger. Bukayo Saka was just given the opportunity to join Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the international stage, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for the Arsenal youngster to really fly.
Now of course, it’s not all good. Not by a long shot.
The international break is an injury machine, something that’s only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that put Kieran Tierney out of contention against Manchester City, even though he tested negative multiple times, and followed the COVID guidelines to the letter. His frustrated message to the fans left this writer in no doubt what was to blame.
Arsenal typically have at least one, but as many as four or five injuries coming back from the international breaks. Having a squad loaded with talent is nice, but it also means that a majority of the squad trains away from London Colney when October rolls around. And when they come back with muscular problems and compound fractures, often due to stupid incidents accrued playing against less-skilled opponents, it’s even more frustrating, especially when they’re played by their international managers against the wishes of the club.
And finally, it’s a momentum killer. Arsenal have been on an excellent run of form, but they’ll come back to one of the most important matches of the year having trained separately, in different systems, for two weeks. It’s certainly not ideal, and while I don’t know how to change it perfectly—maybe a dedicated Christmas break?—the current system leaves me tearing my hair.
So there you have it, an Arsenal fan’s love-hate relationship with the international break. It annoys me, frustrates me, and I can’t help but think it has positive ramifications, especially for young players. It's a dilemma.