Europe soccer friendlies under fire
Club versus country debate rages as France, England, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Italy line up, minus many of their star performers
Several high-profile European friendlies are set for today but "friendly" would not be the term to be used with how they have been viewed by hard-pressed club managers.
The 2006 World Cup final rematch of France and victors Italy, Germany taking on old rivals the Netherlands and England playing Sweden in a rematch of their thrilling Euro 2012 clash where the English prevailed 3-2 would normally have great appeal.
However, the only appeal the schedule seems to have engendered is an appeal from the club managers for a more reasonable approach to the international schedule while the friendlies have also been further weakened with withdrawals because of injuries.
Leading the calls for reason to prevail were the usual suspects of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, who are even more furious because these friendlies don't even serve a purpose for preparing for 2014 World Cup qualifiers as the next batch are in March.
"Friendly games at this time of year don't mean a thing to me," Ferguson said.
Wenger's main concern is his star midfielder Jack Wilshere who was recalled by England manager Roy Hodgson, after playing only three matches since a 17-month lay-off with injury.
"It is as it is. He has played three games now, and of the three games only one was a full game," Wenger said. "He has been out 17 months but I think it's good to have a little break after three games. I think, that it is too early for him."
Hodgson, for his part, tried to calm Wenger's fears over how long Wilshere would play.
"It will be a part of the game - it won't be a question of him starting the game and playing 90 minutes, which might be a bit much for him at international level at this moment," Hodgson said.
Wenger and Ferguson's criticisms have been the least of Hodgson's problems as he has to do without several key players including Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, Chelsea players Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole and Arsenal winger Theo Walcott.
The Dutch will also have to do without a United star in the English Premier League's joint leading scorer Robin van Persie, who pulled out because of injury despite showing absolutely no signs of it in playing the entire match in the 3-2 win over Aston Villa on Saturday.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - who has a better record than Van Persie for the national side and was unhappy that the United man got the nod ahead of him at the disastrous Euro 2012 campaign - should start up front.
The Germans - who are seeking to put behind memories of letting slip a 4-0 lead over the Swedes in their World Cup qualifier last month and being held to a 4-4 draw - will also have to improvise up front as Mario Gomez is still coming back from injury and veteran Miroslav Klose picked up an injury at the weekend.
Joachim Loew is likely to put Borussia Dortmund star Marco Reus up front and while club managers may denigrate the worth of the friendlies they will not find German manager Oliver Bierhoff a sympathetic listener.
"We want to end this year in good fashion and win this prestigious duel here in the Netherlands," Bierhoff said.
"It is important to be tested like this. Regarding planning for the season, we intend to face opponents like them often."
France coach Didier Deschamps has little time for the modern-day soccer player - his predecessors in the national hot-seat Raimond Domenech and Laurent Blanc would probably concur - saying last month they were the "Why? Generation".
His conviction will only have been strengthened by comments made by one of the more senior players in his squad for the Italy game, one of their few world-class players, Franck Ribery.
"Here [at his club of six years Bayern Munich] it is always good, here I am happy and here it's fun," Ribery said. "That is more important for me than the national team."
Ribery's remarks will add grist to Wenger and Ferguson's mill.