It was supposed to be a fairytale night for Cristiano Ronaldo this past Tuesday. Walking out as captain of the Portuguese national team against Northern Ireland in World Cup Qualifying Group F, Ronaldo was winning his 100th cap for his country at the tender age of 27. Critics had assumed an easy night for the Real Madrid star but Northern Ireland hadn’t read the script and gave Ronaldo and his teammates a fight they weren’t expecting, leaving Porto with a well deserved point. Regardless of the result, no-one can take the occasion away from Ronaldo who now lies 3rd in the race for most capped Portuguese player of all time, ten behind Ferando Couto and 24 behind Portuguese legend, Luis Figo. Over the next few years, Ronaldo should beat Figo’s record, unless injury or selection prevents this from happening, to join an elite list of players known as the 100 club.
The 100 club is a group of footballers who have all managed to achieve 100 or more caps for their country. The list includes football greats such as Germany’s Lothar Matthaus and Franz Beckenbauer, Mexico’s Jorge Campos, Brazil’s Cafu and Roberto Carlos as well as England’s Peter Shilton and David Beckham and Scotland’s Kenny Dalglish. Some illustrious names are missing from the list such as Pele, Maradona, Eusebio and Cruyff who all failed to reach the century of appearances. So how has Ronaldo been able to achieve what Pele couldn’t, by the age of only 27?
The answer is simple. Over the past 40 years, there has been a gradual increase in the yearly number of internationals played, with more being introduced into the seasonal fixture list. The need for regular international competitions and pressure attached to national coaches to win has led to every available slot being filled with qualifying games, friendlies or international friendly cup tournaments like the Kirin Cup or The Nations Cup. With the World Cup or European Championship being played every other year, the African Nations Cup and Copa America every two years and the Confederations Cup every four years, player fatigue and burn out is a major concern for clubs across the globe. International managers are not happy either, with club schedules being as tight as they are, they can only realistically release their international players a maximum of 4 days before they are supposed to play. Removing the travelling day, this gives international managers only 3 days to gel the squad, enforce their tactics and put the team to get the result.
The solution isn’t clear but rests firmly with governing bodies, UEFA and FIFA. Recently FIFA agreed to reduce the number of yearly internationals from 12 to 9 with a limit put on friendlies that would not count towards national rankings or caps. But this doesn’t necessarily help to solve the clubs concerns. The clubs are actively pushing for back to back international fixtures, with countries playing twice within 5 days, in an effort to reduce the number of times players are having to leave their clubs to go join up with their national teams. The club vs country row happens on every continent with the richer clubs more often getting their way as countries have little legal say against the clubs strong stance on employment law.
Regardless of FIFA’s final decision, it appears that the only way forward is to reduce the overall number of international games to a bare minimum. This should resolve the club versus country row to a degree but will limit the chances of the next generation matching Ronaldo in winning a century of caps and joining that illustrious 100 Club.
For a full list of the 100 club, check out Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_footballers_with_100_or_more_caps