Although he more or less successfully self-isolated from the recent international fixtures, Chelsea season ticket holder and website columnist Giles Smith ponders their merits in these uncertain and fast-moving times...
At the risk of sounding contentious, I genuinely think the worst of this is behind us and that we’re almost out the other side. Not a lot of people are saying that, I know. But seriously.
What was it that Donald Trump said? ‘One day - it’s like a miracle - it will disappear.’ And I would go so far as to say that day is almost upon us – the day when we can shrug off the heavy shackles that have been binding us and get back to normal, or something close to it. It’s Saturday, in fact, when the Premier League resumes and finally the International Week will be over.
What a thing to have had to live through, though. Talk about a double-blow. There we all are, in the middle of the worst global health crisis any of us have known, facing a new system of graduated regional lockdowns. And, mercilessly, as if that wasn’t enough, on top of that we have to go through an International Week - a kind of unofficial ‘fourth tier’ in which, not only is no mixing allowed between households, inside or out, but there’s no football that anybody cares about on the television either.
If one has sensed the social fabric fraying slightly since the weekend, and a tangible loosening of the sense of community and goodwill that we’re depending on right now, it’s hardly surprising. An international break is a heavy chore at the best of times. But, at a time like this, to face an extended one, with not just two but three ‘fixtures’ in it… well, people are arguably entitled to start feeling a little restless about what is being asked of them.
Let me get this straight: I’m as keen as anybody else to do what is necessary, make the sacrifices and get beyond this. But I’m sure I’m not alone in asking right now: where is the scientific evidence for the efficacy of International Weeks? Don’t they just hold us all back – and at what long-term cost to our health, economic, mental and otherwise? Shouldn’t we just let league football rip, as it were, without these constant, irritating and perhaps only minimally useful circuit breakers designed to enable England to play Denmark yet again?
And surely if any time was the right time to be cancelling international football, the middle of a global pandemic would be it.
And I hear the counter arguments which say, ‘But international football is still important to some people – not many, it’s true, but some. So let the people who want to do so get on and expose themselves to international football, and let the vulnerable – the people who feel that international football represents a threat to their personal well-being - shield themselves for as long as necessary.’
I hear that, I genuinely do. The problem is, how, in the end, do you shield yourself from international football? You can quarantine yourself away from it, as I did this week - sit upwind of the newspapers for the duration, avoid all the tiresome and ultimately irrelevant conversations about Jack Grealish, and generally protect yourself to the best of your ability.
Yet you still come into contact with its symptoms in the form of a thigh injury to your newly-signed goalkeeper, or a foot problem for your newly-signed left back. That’s the insidious and ultimately uncontainable nature of what we’re dealing with here.
And naturally, I’m as pleased as anyone to learn that Olivier Giroud, Mason Mount, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz have been off scoring and making goals for their national sides and no doubt having some kind of fun in the process, social distancing allowing. But I would much rather they had been scoring and making those goals at Cobham, surrounded by their team mates and a full-time backroom staff who have their best interests at heart, 24/7.
And if Edouard Mendy is going to do something to his thigh, however minor, and if Ben Chilwell is going to aggravate a foot injury, I would rather they did that at Cobham as well. At least you would have been able to shrug and say, ‘That’s football.’ Whereas here all you can say is, ‘That was, strictly speaking, unnecessary.’
However, this column sees it as its mission to draw a positive wherever it can, and to seek out the uplifting take-away. And in this case there’s an obvious one. The fact is, yes, the rhythm of the season has been disrupted and we don’t yet know how that will leave us. Yet we are nearly through. It’s practically done. On Saturday we’ll be playing Southampton and it will be as though this whole tricky period never happened – leaving aside the possible injuries, obviously.
That, surely, is the lesson here – and a reassuring and inspiring lesson it is, too. That, ultimately, everything passes - even extended International Weeks with not two but three fixtures in them. And if we can get through that, we can get through this other thing, too.