Jan Molby

Scotland at Wembley is last match England stars need

Jan Molby

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The Football League is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and England against Scotland at Wembley on Wednesday is part of the celebrations.

From one perspective, it is a good time to hold a game like this: everyone is bouncing for football ahead of the new season. But from a sporting point of view, it makes very little sense.

I don’t think England’s players will be keen to play – they’ll be more interested in making sure they’re fit for next weekend.

They’re being asked to play in a game where they could have had an easy friendly, where nothing really mattered; but now every tackle is going to matter. It’s like a war between England and Scotland.

The thinking of a top player before a game like this goes in stages.

A few days beforehand, someone like Steven Gerrard – to take one example, but I’m not singling him out – would be thinking ‘this is the last game I need’. But by Wednesday – and especially in the last hour leading up to a game at a full Wembley – he’ll be getting quite excited, especially as he’ll be leading out the team.

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Then when the game starts, he might be thinking ‘I’ve got a big game on Saturday. I’ve got to get through this looking like I’m giving 100 per cent, but without giving 100 per cent’. This is quite possible – you kind of play within yourself, and no one can point the finger.

And when the top players have played for an hour, they’ll be thinking ‘come on Roy, get me off here, I need to be ready for the weekend’.

There’ll be an understanding from both teams - which you hope Scotland will buy into - not to injure one another. If England can keep Scotland at arm’s length, i.e. not go behind, it’ll be a typical international friendly; the problem England have is that if Scotland score, that’ll get their backs up and it’ll become a real physical game.

Most players will be quite happy with one of those almost ‘no-contact’ international friendlies. But England v Scotland… it wouldn’t take a lot to spark it off.

International friendlies are another money-spinner. The quicker we see the back of them, the better. They just don’t float the players’ boat any more.

Players look at the fixture list and they are right down the pecking order in terms of importance. It shouldn’t be like that, but that’s the way it is - so you’re better off doing away with it.

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I’ve never quite seen the sense in international friendlies. It’s an opportunity to try one or two players, so against Scotland Rickie Lambert might get a chance to impress, but long-term I don’t think you need to test players at international level. You can look at them at domestic level these days and know whether they can play or not.

The Champions League and Premier League, in this country, are the most important matches. Even the qualifying games don’t appeal to players because there are so many easy ones now. A lot of the time, the players don’t fancy it – and you don’t see the same intensity as you do in other countries around Europe, or indeed the world.

In England, it’s dying a death - and most of the other home countries are not making a great fist of it either.

Elsewhere, international football is often an opportunity for countries to show the world what they are all about, whereas in countries which are backed up by big leagues, the leagues take precedence. There are a lot of countries who live and die by the international game: I come from Denmark and we kind of fall into that category. It’s our opportunity, every two years, to let the world know we’re still about.

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If I was playing today, I’d view the importance of my international career differently; as a player, you’re almost given no choice. It’s the way football has moved on.

Back in the day, we’d finish a game on a Saturday and you just grabbed your boots and off you went on the Sunday. Nobody at the club ever asked whether you had a strain or a pull or anything.

I guess now the medical team will look at every player and assess whether they should be going off to play international football. If they’re unsure about anything, they’ll pull them out.

There are still a few players to meet up with the squad – the boys who played for Manchester United yesterday – and I don’t think Ashley Young’s withdrawal will be the end of it.

Trying to fit in international friendlies is very, very difficult, but to have games like this, when most players are yet to play a competitive match, doesn’t make any sense.

Certainly, at the moment, there aren’t enough dates. Soon we could end up playing football for 46, 48 weeks of the year to fit it all in. This summer you had the Confederations Cup – what sense does that make? It’s another money-spinner, isn’t it?

In this country you’ve got the Football League, the FA which is in charge of the national team, the Premier League and beyond that you’ve got the Champions League, Europa League, international football – the money is such now that everyone will try and fit something in that benefits them.

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There’s no need to have this friendly every year, although I can understand Scotland and their boss Gordon Strachan wanting it: when he played, it was the one big friendly they had.

It’s an opportunity for Scotland to get one over on the Auld Enemy, but it doesn’t go any further than that. The England players will be thinking ‘let’s get through this, win one- or two-nil, and by Thursday morning everyone will have forgotten about it’.

You can draw a parallel with Manchester City looking to get one over on United, five or 10 years ago. Scotland will be looking for a day in the sun – but they’ll go back to being a mediocre international team.

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