The club versus country debate is one that rears its ugly head whenever international football comes to the fore. Coaches don’t like their players taking part in games where their star players could suffer an injury that most of the time is only to the detriment of their club side.
However, there is a second club versus country debate emerging during Euro 2012, about how players are used in different roles for their national team in comparison to how they play for their club side, with La Liga providing a couple of good representatives.
Take Cristiano Ronaldo for example. His role at Real Madrid is simple. Occupy the left flank, cut inside and wreak havoc with that hammer of a right foot by scoring and of course assisting goals. His supporting cast are excellent and allow Ronaldo the freedom he craves without really being punished for his naivety defensively. Whilst his position on the left is the same for Portugal, his role is slightly altered.
Ronaldo is depended on even more with Portugal. The absence of a true playmaker like Manuel Rui Costa is evident and everything goes through Ronaldo on the wing. Even scoring goals is thrust on the former Manchester United as they lack a world-class centre forward since losing Pauleta and Nuno Gomes. In fact, Real Zaragoza’s top scorer Helder Postiga is seen as something of a misfit in the team. Unfortunately, this imbalanced dependence on Ronaldo to attack means he doesn't defend well enough and we've already seen at Euro 2012 that Ronaldo's poor defensive work has cost Portugal.
Ronaldo harbours the hopes of a nation and often finds it too much of a burden. At least when he’s with Real, he has other players he can depend upon such as Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain. With Portugal, he tries to do too much, as if he doesn’t trust his teammates to win the game, and it’s something that Ronaldo needs to change if he is to flourish on a consistent basis at international level – he won’t always have the high calibre entourage that he has at Real Madrid.
Another Real Madrid star has come under the spotlight for his role with his national team. Karim Benzema has received some criticism for his part in France’s 1-1 draw with England as his display was a far cry from what we’re used to with Madrid.
Benzema was often coming deep to get the ball, almost as if he was an attacking midfielder rather than a centre forward, but people need to consider the situation. England were sitting so deep that Benzema barely got a sniff of the ball when he was inside the area. Benzema obviously wanted to get on the ball and often dropped off to get it, leaving nobody in the centre.
At Real, Benzema doesn’t need to come deep to get the ball. He can rely on the aforementioned Ozil, Di Maria and Ronaldo to provide the creative spark and he can simply finish the chances. France had Florent Malouda and Yohan Cabaye in the centre of midfield and they struggled to break down a resolute England side, leaving Benzema to try and provide for himself, something that didn’t reap rewards.
It’s a shame that Benzema didn’t get many goalscoring chances in Donetsk as people started to question his importance to Laurent Blanc’s side. His form for the national team hasn’t been great over the years but is that because of his compromised role? You can’t doubt that Benzema is a top class player and would be an asset in any side since his move to the Bernabeu. Particularly under Mourinho, Benzema has proven that he’s up there with the very best strikers in the world but struggles to replicate those displays with players of a somewhat lower standard.
Here we have two cases of superb League players with indifferent form at international level. They are key players that aren’t quite contributing what we’d expect, but we should expect Coaches like Laurent Blanc and Paulo Bento to use them in systems to maximise their ability – shouldn’t we?