At the time of writing, the television in this room is playing away to itself. The noise sounds familiar and, at a glance, it kind of looks familiar. Engand and the Netherlands are battling out a friendly match in Amsterdam. This, however, doesn’t matter, and it takes the whole concept of not mattering to a new level. Is this match, the Netherlands against England in Amsterdam on the twelfth of August 2009, the single most pointless football match ever played?
For the supporters, there is a reason to be there, though it has little to do with football itself. A few days in Amsterdam at this time of year is quite a nice mini-break before a winter hauling your way the four corners of the country to support your club team. Most – if not quite all – of the players are there. The last twelve months before a World Cup Finals series is the time when the power of the international manager is at its highest. Only the likes of Steven Gerrard can cry of with this sort of match with a dubious “thigh strain”, or some such. For the rest of them, failure to show up for this match might cost them when the chips are down next year.
This, though, is football that is of devoid of any context or any meaning. Under any normal circumstances, coming from two goals down to force a battling draw against the Netherlands (who, reasonably famously, are incapable of not taking a football match very, very seriously indeed) away from home would be hailed – and not without reason – as a great result, one of the best in the last few years. Tonight, though, the over-riding impression is one of indifference. It will be interesting to see what the audience viewing figures for it are.
What is the most confusing aspect of this all is what on earth they were doing it scheduling an international friendly match three days before the start of the Premier League season. FIFA, of course, sets aside dates for international friendly matches and it is understandable that the FA would want to want to to fill as many of those dates as possible. However, the battle for the overall control of the game is still bubbling under the surface between the national associations and the biggest clubs remains a battle for hearts and minds, and one suspects that the biggest reason why the clubs haven’t made their pincer movement for power is that they need to win the public’s support first.
Every time the England get involved in a match like this, the FA’s authority is slightly chipped away. There was no need for England to play this match this evening. Fabio Capello has learnt that Jermaine Defoe cares quite a bit about playing in pre-season matches if a place in a World Cup Finals squad is up for grabs. Whether he learnt much more than that is open to question. What we know for certain is that the Premier League has another reason to gripe about those bloody international matches and, on this occasion, they’ve got a point.