Friday, September 09, 2011

Club And Country

By Jason Davis, US National Team Players Association

For American fans, there could be no better reminder that the interests of club and country are diametrically opposed than the last round of US National Team friendlies. Players that are both coming into their own as professionals as well as featuring for the National Team find themselves pulled in different directions by teams bent on forcefully expressing their respective positions. American internationals are finding out the hard way that what's good for their status with the National Team isn't necessarily good for them in the eyes of their full-time employers.

At a time when European clubs are pushing for less international release dates when their agreement on the calendar with FIFA expires in 2014, club vs country is once again a hot issue. How does that impact the United States? Well, consider the situation of Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar.

Viewing form through the prism of the potential National Team contributions, Jozy Altidore getting the starting job at AZ is a welcomed rush of success for a player long tabbed for glory in a USA jersey. With former US National Team stalwart Earnie Stewart serving as AZ's technical director, Altidore is in a unique circumstance for a National Teamer in Europe. For Altidore, that's made it an opportune situation in Holland after spending several seasons trying to win a starting job at various stops on loan from his former club Villarreal.

With AZ, Altidore has already scored more goals than all but the most optimistic outlook could have foreseen, and seems to be coming into his own as a (still very) young player. Some of the credit for that has to go to AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek, who showed confidence in his American acquisition - one he had a hand in landing in the first place - and allowed him to shine. It should be all sunshine and smiles for the National Team. A striker the team needs to have take the next step is happy and scoring with a good club in a good league in Europe.

The trouble started with the change in US coach. Verbeek had a deal with former National Team coach Bob Bradley. No Altidore for the September friendlies as he settles in with AZ. Considering how well that settling in process has gone, keeping Altidore in Holland for the September dates took on an even greater importance. Sending Altidore to LA was simply not in Verbeek's plans.

Enter new National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who made it clear early and often that he would be choosing a first choice squad whenever possible. With the September dates already set on the schedule before Klinsmann took over, the European National Teamers got the call to travel to Los Angeles for a Friday fixture, and then Belgium on Tuesday.

The travel, plus the training, plus the international fixtures themselves, gives European coaches good reason to be miffed when their American players are called up for friendly games split between the US and Europe. Needless to say, for Verbeek this was a problem.

Verbeek, being the club coach and beholden to FIFA rules that require he release Altidore at Klinsmann’s request, isn’t beholden to any rule that says he must hold his tongue. He didn’t, and let fly with venom to Voetbal International :

“That's eleven hours flying. And then that doesn't factor in the time difference. This is very dumb of Klinsmann. This serves no one... I have tried to stop it, but he did not appear lenient. And Jozy himself said he didn't want to go... Klinsmann has been appointed the successor to Bradley and clearly he wants to draw his own lines. Whereas it concerns all parties, is it not more important that Jozy gets fit faster? It is pure self-importance from a man who had but one year as manager with a club and got fired. That says enough."

So we know at least two things. 1) Verbeek isn't shy with his opinion, and 2) Klinsmann's plans go beyond the desires of a European club coach.

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