Ah, the international break. Every football fan’s worst enemy. Just as the Premier League gets going, and Sunderland actually start to pick up a few points, it’s cast aside in favour of a couple of matches that don’t really excite anyone. For a week, at least.
One or two football fans I know didn’t even realise that England were playing Scotland this week, which sums it all up as far as I’m concerned. A weekend without a Sunderland match is a weekend without football, regardless of who’s playing internationally.
I’m one of the few that actually still gets excited by England games, and seeing Jordan Henderson grow from a young lad into a regular for his country gives me immense pride. I vaguely remember seeing him for the first time in a League Cup game against Blackburn Rovers, and he was dreadful – weak, no intelligence and completely out of his depth. I doubt I was the only one to believe that he would never make it in a Sunderland shirt. Now he’s probably our most famous export.
Yet at the same time, it’s a bit of a shame that a player we sold three years ago is still the highlight of watching our country. As a young fan, I haven’t witnessed many of our players don that famous white shirt – Darren Bent probably deserved more caps (although Fraizer Campbell probably deserved less), while Kevin Phillips was just one of a number of quality English strikers in that era. If one of our players gets a call-up, it’s a special occasion.
Saying that, we aren’t represented too badly on the world stage. Seven departed this week, and the stand-out in my opinion was Santiago Vergini’s return to Argentina.
Vergini has now played every minute of his country’s last two matches, and didn’t look out of place in doing so. His only previous outing for Argentina was a 2-1 defeat against Brazil, with both sides restricted to naming domestic-based players for the two-legged match. The second leg was won by the Argentines, with Nacho Scocco scoring both goals in a 2-1 win. Yes, really.
Jozy Altidore is another who departed for international duty this week, and even managed a goal for the USA in their defeat to Colombia. I like to think of Jozy as a sleeping volcano, ready to explode into a flurry of goals at any moment. Sadly, to extend the metaphor, we’ve barely heard a tremor from the lad. I don’t think a few goals for his country is going to change the fact that he doesn’t seem to turn up for his club, but I really hope he proves me wrong.
One player to have won a few more admirers over the last few weeks has been SebLarsson. The Beautiful Swede hasn’t had the best time for his country recently – he missed a penalty during his side’s 1-1 with Russia, and was subsequently dropped for Sweden’s following two fixtures. Incidentally, only Altidore and John O’Shea have more caps than Larsson in the current squad.
O’Shea, one of only six players to reach a century of caps for the Republic of Ireland, came up against Steven Fletcher’s Scotland at the weekend. Most Sunderland fans were looking forward to seeing how they would shape up against one another. We were all disappointed, as the two didn’t really do a great deal. At least it was a decent match.
Costel Pantilimon, meanwhile, still can’t win his place back in the Romania team. Ciprian Tatarasanu is Fiorentina’s second choice goalkeeper, and hasn’t actually played a minute of competitive football for his club. You get the feeling that Costel deserves another crack of the whip on the world stage, and now that he’s forced his way into the Sunderland first team, it might only be a matter of time.
I digress a little bit, but the point still remains – the international break might be boring, and we might be missing the sights and smells of the Stadium of Light, but at least Sunderland didn’t lose this weekend.