01 July 2014

If only World Cup squads were a better proxy for Prem performance...

We're almost down to the quarterfinals, with just two matches remaining to round out the final eight. A quick glance at the six nations that are through reveal a strong London flavor with 21 different players hailing from various London-based clubs. Of those, more than a third play for Arsenal, a number matched by Chelsea and trailed by Man City's six, which leaves me wondering why such numbers can't serve as a better barometer for how we do in the Prem. After all, one indication of a player's class and form is his inclusion in his country's squad. On that score, we'd win the Prem—if not outright then perhaps on goal-differentials or some other tie-break. Pity that there's more to it than that.

First, the World Cup rosters, club by club:
  • Arsenal (7): Joel Campbell, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, Mesut Özil, Lukas Podolski, Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud.
  • Chelsea (7): Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Andre Schürrle, Oscar, Ramires, Willian.
  • Man City (6): Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Sergio Agüero, Bacary Sagna, Fernandinho.
The gap (such as it is) between us and Chelsea might gorw were we to dismiss those who are out on loan—Campbell for us; Courtois and Lukaku for them. A similar consideration might be made for Sagna, who only joined Man City after the World Cup had begun. Should Argentina lose to Switzerland on Tuesday, Man City would lose three players; if Belgium lose to the U.S., Chelsea would lose three while we and Man City lose one each. In other words, these other contingencies would only seem to strengthen Arsenal's international brand.

Sadly, of course, reality rarely conforms to such whims. Looking past those who represent their country (and those whose countries haven't made it this far) tell more of the story. With the likes of England, Spain, Italy and Portugal eliminated, each club sees a fair number of members knocked out as well—and that's not taking into consideration smaller counties that have been eliminated or that failed to qualify but who still a player or two playing for these three Prem clubs. Add in Poland or Wales, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Croatia, Nigeria or Côte d'Ivoire, and the balance of power might shift a bit.

Setting aside such quibbles, it's hard to resist looking at the list above and ask why our position in the Prem isn't better-reflected by the number of Gunners still in World Cup contention. Does Campbell's inclusion unfairly inflate our position, for example? Should we only look at who makes it to the semifinal? Perhaps there's no connection whatsoever to be made between playing for club and country. After all, Spain, with its stable of madridistas and blaugranas, failed to advance from the group stage despite Real Madrid's winning the Champions League and sharing dominance of La Liga with Barcelona.

If only there were more to the connection between club and country representation, we might find Arsenal atop the Prem. Sadly, the connection is tenuous at best. As such, we're free to watch the World Cup and support other countries as we see fit. I assume we'd all agree that Costa Rica defeating the Netherlands qualifies as a Good Thing™ on many levels; denying the likes of Robben and van Persie a chance at glory while affording Campbell a shot at the same feels right. France versus Germany might be more of a toss-up, a balance between affection for Giroud and Kos and Per and Özil on one hand and desire for Schneiderlin or Pogba or Reus or Khedira on the other.

The remaining matches, Argentina-Switzerland and Belgium-USA, offer fewer such considerations unless you want to go back to spite and root against Argentina and Belgium in order to see Chelsea and Man City's players knocked out. There are worse ways to decide one's sympathies...

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