Early Doors

Farcical friendly a waste of everyone’s time

Early Doors

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You may have missed it amongst all this Olympic euphoria but on Friday Roy Hodgson names an England squad to face Italy in a friendly.

Yes, just as a nation becomes enraptured by the noble art of Horse Dancing - and, of course, a generation becomes inspired to go along to their local inner-city dressage club and ask their parents for a horse for their birthday - along comes football to remind us how logically deficient it can be.

There could be a new national sport on the horizon if we are not careful. Kids up and down the country may soon be making horses prance to 1970s Bond themes instead of kicking a ball around the streets.

Certainly the sporadic madness of football is there for all to see when an international friendly is scheduled just three days before the start of the new season.

In fact, Hodgson will name his England squad before the current international tournament has even finished, with Brazil and Mexico doing battle in the final of the Olympics on Saturday evening.

A whole host of big names will be absent as Hodgson tries out new faces and also seeks to avoid angering clubs who have already released their players for the Euros this summer.

The Euro 2012 back four of Ashley Cole, John Terry, Joleon Lescott and Glen Johnson will all be absent for a start. They are joined by Steven Gerrard as Hodgson seeks to call on the likes of Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and even Ryan Bertrand, Tom Cleverley and Daniel Sturridge, the last three of whom have spent the summer break helping to translate England's proud record of quarter-final shoot-out exits into the British psyche too.

The Football Association - which has to conform to FIFA's ridiculous calendar - has apparently told clubs that players will be back with their clubs the following morning in an effort to head off inevitable criticism, but at a moment when players should be readying themselves for the new club season and gelling with new recruits, they will be asked to perform in a game of few consequences, and no real point.

This is only underlined by the fact England are playing Italy, their most recent opponents and the team who knocked them out of Euro 2012. It might seem like a lifetime ago - a time before the world knew of the existence of Greg Rutherford - but it really wasn't. Still, perhaps in the intervening few weeks Jordan Henderson has been in a programme of intensive technical realignment and to everyone's surprise will out-Pirlo Pirlo.

For this game to be any more pointless for all involved it would have to be played in a random country. And lo and behold, this monumental tussle between England and Italy is taking place in Berne, Switzerland.

Frankly, the whole thing feels like a complete waste of time. Apart from for Italy of course, who get to test their mettle against the third greatest side on earth, according to the FIFA rankings.

Coach Gary Neville admits experimentation will be the order of the day.

"Roy Hodgson was very clear that he would always use friendlies to have a look at people he hadn't seen before or to develop new ideas," said Neville. "He has good ideas about what he wants to do with this friendly. It is the only environment he will have to look at people. But they have to be the right players and they have to be ready.

"You have to consider what you want out of a game. We are at the end of pre-season, the league is just about to start and we have three days to prepare, so you are not going to get a perfect performance.

"Also I am not quite sure it will have an effect on the Moldova game. I played in a lot of England friendlies when the result wasn't backed up in the competitive matches afterwards. What we need is a good quality performance to keep the momentum going. We are unbeaten so far in terms of normal football and are developing a squad that can take the country towards the World Cup."

The good news is that from 2014-15 these superfluous friendlies will have been mercifully erased from the international calendar, with FIFA bending to the demands of clubs and bringing in nine windows over two years in which two international games can be played, starting in September.

It is just a shame we have had to suffer them for this long, and the Italy game will no doubt be full of the usual nonsense we see from games of this lowly stature.

Early Doors can already envisage a succession of pull-outs prior to the game, a couple of cautious substitutions being made and then the captain's armband being passed around like a relay baton - getting the tabloids into a typically frothy fury.

Ah football, it's good to have you back.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Of course he's a player that I admire. He's a fantastic player, he's been amazing for Arsenal over many years. Last season was probably his best season of all, he scored a lot of goals. If he does come here he would be a great addition to the squad." - Wayne Rooney rolls out the welcome mat for Robin van Persie.

FOREIGN VIEW: Juventus head coach Antonio Conte has been banned for 10 months for his role in the match-fixing scandal that has enveloped Italian football. The story is breaking this morning so keep up to date with the latest here.

COMING UP: Jim White files his latest column and we preview Sunday's Community Shield fixture between Chelsea and Manchester City.

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