I love the England men’s national football team, but I only had Leeds United players on my mind this international break.

What’s on the telly?

“No, just a bunch of international fixtures, nothing special,” is the retort we often hear to the enquiry, “Is there football on TV today?”

The response is quite revealing and throws international football’s appeal into sharp focus.

Then we have football publications, including our own, barely containing their excitement with giddy headlines screaming, “Football is back,” as Premier League action resumes after the international hiatus.

As a publisher of three football sites, Football365, TEAMtalk and PlanetFootball we can see the lack of interest into International games compared to the Premier League.

Let’s face it, international football is not a patch on the Premier League in terms of entertainment value.

It’s hard to be excited about international qualifiers whose outcomes are as predictable as the sun rising in the east.

As expected by the whole nation and PlanetSportBet, England beat Italy on Wednesday before dispatching Ukraine at Wembley on Sunday. In the space of five days the Three Lions had seen off two rivals with relative ease to underline their status as the top seeds in the group. After just two games Gareth Southgate’s men already have one foot in Germany for next year’s Euro Championship.

The seeding system has divested qualifiers of serious ‘competition’ and entertainment value. The top teams just breeze through.

At the same time England were tackling Ukraine, Iceland were putting seven unanswered goals past hapless Liechtenstein. Elsewhere Portugal were hammering Luxembourg 6-0 and United States were thrashing Grenada 7-1. And they say there are no minnows in world football anymore?

Qualifiers, especially the lopsided contests, don’t stir the emotions as much as Premier League football does.

Did I look forward to watching any of England’s matches during the international break with the same excitement and emotional involvement I experience ahead of Leeds United matches? No.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Three Lions, even with their propensity for flattering to deceive. But they just don’t awaken the same feelings in me as my beloved Leeds United.

So, while England were doing the needful against Italy and Ukraine, it was Leeds United who were constantly on my mind, thinking about the battles that lie ahead, starting with Saturday’s trip to league leaders Arsenal.

Inconvenience or welcome break?

International breaks in the middle of a league campaign are a nuisance for some clubs and a welcome break from the rigours of the league for others.

Every time clubs release players for international duty the fear is that they will come back carrying knocks and bruises, ruling them out of the selection reckoning for club duty.

The post-break roll call

Leeds United had several players called up by their countries during the current international break.

Skipper Liam Cooper, who has missed a huge chunk of Leeds United’s campaign through injury, was included in the Scotland squad for the Euro qualifiers against Cyprus and Spain. If he comes through unscathed that would be a massive injury boost for the club.

Wilfried Gnonto was called up by Italy for the double-header against England and Malta. The bad news is that he was withdrawn after 22 minutes of Italy’s routine win at Malta on Sunday. Every Leeds United fan will be waiting anxiously to discover the extent of the Italian international’s injury. The forward is a key player for us and it would be a wrench to lose him for any length of time.

United States duo Brenden Aronson and Weston McKennie were included in the United States squad to play Grenada and El Salvador. The duo were both on target against Grenada as the USMNT scored seven, with McKennie grabbing a brace, which will do his confidence a lot of good.

Compatriot Tyler Adams missed out due to a hamstring injury, so hopefully he will have recovered sufficiently to feature when we return to domestic action.

January arrival Max Wober made the cut for Austria, but the defender lasted just over half an hour of his country’s 4-1 win over Azerbaijan before limping off with a thigh muscle injury. Wober has been in imperious form for us and losing him would be a huge blow. Fingers crossed the injury is not long-term, but if it proves to be, hopefully his absence will be offset by Cooper’s return to fitness. 

Rasmus Kristensen also earned himself a call-up to the Denmark squad, while goalkeeper Illan Meslier and forward  Crysencio Summerville were called up to France and Netherlands U21 squads respectively.

A scene that will live long in the memories of Leeds fans worldwide occurred at the conclusion of England’s game against Italy, when former great and Leeds boy Calvin Phillips consoled Wilfried Gnonto.

When football returns

Javi Gracia will be waiting with baited breath for fitness bulletins on his returning international stars. Are they fit enough to play for the club after their international exertions and gruelling travels criss-crossing different continents?

After the excellent win at Wolves last time out one got the sense that we were starting to build a head of steam in the fight against relegation. Hopefully the international break has not disrupted that momentum.

Playing for one’s country is the highest owner for a footballer and we can’t begrudge them the opportunity. I just don’t think club fans share the players’ excitement though.

I know I’m more excited about a player making his debut for my club than for his country, even if that country is my native country, England.

Next up, we have the mighty Gunners – The last time Leeds United beat Arsenal in a Premier League match was on November 22, 2020. Leeds won the match 0-1 at the Emirates Stadium, with the only goal of the game scored by striker Patrick Bamford. Fingers crossed that this can be replicated.

I love the Three Lions, but I love Leeds United a bit more!


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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