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Country or club is pitiful debate; It's time now to stop the hypocrisy.

Byline: John Helm

TO play for one's country should be the ultimate reward for any sportsman or woman.

I would have crawled on hands and knees to represent Yorkshire - let alone England - because it marks a pinnacle of achievement that few attain.

It was only a couple of months ago that the whole nation was rejoicing in an unprecedented crop of gold medals.

Yet here we are in a week when it was announced that funding for athletes may have to be slashed, and when the football team sent out to play Germany was . . . ahem, under-strength to say the least.

Has national pride been jettisoned because of the narrow-mindedness that seems to hold sway?

The constant battle between Premier League managers and a succession of England coaches isn't even a fair one, the paymasters at Liverpool, Man Utd et al, always get their way.

If Wayne Rooney sneezes, or Rio Ferdinand stumbles over a wet leaf on the pavement, they're inevitably withdrawn from international duty yet miraculously recover in time for vital league encounters with Fulham or Bolton three days later.

Fabio Capello must wonder what chance he has of fulfilling our World Cup dream in South Africa, when he can rarely choose the players he wants without meddlesome interference from those with vested interests.

Drafting in third and fourth choice alternatives may be good for the egos of Darren Bent, Jimmy Bullard and Michael Mancienne, but it does nothing for the credibility of international football.

The priority on passports is nationality, so essentially we're British, not Bradford, Bristol or Bolton. That priority should appertain to sporting duties, irrespective of who pays the wages.

The top stars in South America, Africa and Asia take greater pride in returning home to wear the shirt of their birth, and aren't forever ducking out of matches.

Nolberto Solano when he was at Newcastle and Aston Villa clocked up millions of air miles hopping on and off planes to Peru, even if it was only a friendly against Venezuela, and the same could be said of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Park Ji Sung.

It's time to stop the hypocrisy.

Clubs generally know when they sign a player that he is likely to be called up regularly by his country, and the honour is coupled with an opportunity for someone else in these days of massive squads to get a chance.

CAPTION(S):

PLEASED TO MEET YOU!: Anton Ferdinand (left) and Michael Mancienne get acquainted during an England training session; STILL SMILING: Fabio Capello enjoys a lighter moment despite his squad being struck by absenteeism.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Nov 20, 2008
Words:431
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