This article in the Chron was amusing and interesting: Baseball people have noticed the popularity of the World Cup and now there is a “me too” sort of international baseball tournament happening in the US. But, since there is no international regulatory body the like of FIFA, it kind of squeezed in around the end of MLB and the start of spring training.
The article points out something new for baseball but an everyday issue in soccer: club players participating in games for their country and risking their fitness for duty in the process. In this case the primary worry is SF Giants closer, Sergio Romo: “Romo got hit hard before giving up a two-run double to Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs first baseman, and was tagged with a 6-5 loss to Italy.
And in the process, Romo became Exhibit A for why the World Baseball Classic is not considered a great idea among the people who are responsible for winning Major League Baseball games.”
Clubs (or “teams”) want the most talented players they can find. National teams do, too. Players play for their clubs because it is their profession but most are proud to play for their nation as well; it can be the highlight of their career.
But the clubs worry about the extra games and the wear and tear on “their” players. In
soccer it is not unusual for a big club to try to stop players from going on international duty, even putting them on an injured list, from which they miraculously seem to recover just in time for the next league game. There are very real consequences of these risks; Adam Traore was set for a move from his small French club to Arsenal when he injured himself in the African Cup of Nations. His move was tabled until the summer as a result.
The other wrinkle that makes soccer different is that for players in Third World countries, international play can be the auction block that ignites their careers. While the big clubs have increasingly detailed scouting reports from every corner of the world, many still get a boost in marketability by playing on the big stage of the World Cup, African Cup of Nations, or the Copa América. In fact a typical career trajectory seems:
- Play well in your home country
- Get selected for the national team
- Breakout games in your continent’s championship or World Cup
- Europe beckons
- Star for a big club
- International duty now requires long travel, jet lag, risk of injury
- Club exerts indirect or direct pressure for the player to stop missing their games
- Announces retirement “to focus on club career”
Africa presents additional problems, as it can be dangerous to return. Didier Drogba contracted malaria when he went back. Emmanuel Adebayor retired after financial disputes resulted in players not receiving their game fees (not unusual). Earlier he temporarily stopped after a paramilitary group fired upon the team bus killing three, and injuring many more.
If you follow the money, representing one’s national team brings diminishing returns. Of course the exposure can bring fame and sponsorship deals. But is it possible, just possible that players suit up for country out of pride? Every pro can remember watching the World Cup as a kid and dreaming of a day when they would take their place on that stage. What price can we put on that?