INTERVIEW EXCLUSIVE: Adrian Bevington – We can’t just bin international football. It’s too important, from the top down to the grassroots
Concerned club supporters the length and breadth of the country have suggested that international football should be scrapped for the foreseeable future.
With Covid-19 cases on the rise again, and various restrictions being imposed on society by government, the argument is that travelling all over the world to represent your country is potentially dangerous.
In the past week, Celtic trio Odsonne Edouard, Nir Bitton and Hatem Elhamed all tested positive on duty with their respective countries.
Their Hoops team-mate, Ryan Christie, had to self-isolate after Stuart Armstrong also returned a positive test while in the Scotland training camp.
Indeed, even Cristiano Ronaldo – who normally lives his life in a different kind of bubble – was also diagnosed with the virus last week while he was on international duty with Portugal.
Supporters now regard international football as an unnecessary risk.
They want their clubs to pull players out, or for UEFA to scrap the rest of the Nations League campaign.
Former English FA executive, and ex-managing director of Club England, Adrian Bevington, is well aware of the depth of feeling.
He understands it – even though he might not necessarily agree with it.
Bevington has also worked in club football – with Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest in various capacities – so he gets both sides.
Overall, however, he has sympathy for the national federations.
“Every international association is losing revenue from having no gate receipts,” he told The Sunday Post.
“UEFA is trying all it can to supply support to individual nations in various ways, depending on their needs.
“There should still be common ground between club and country, but I accept these are really testing times.
“When a player leaves his club to go on international duty, every manager, team-mate and supporter hopes they come back in one piece and without injury.
“If you lose someone under such circumstances, it is very frustrating.
“But now you are worrying about Covid-19 and players coming back, having to self-isolate. That is an extra negative concern.
“There must be managers, coaches and chief executives at every club right now, saying that this is an intolerable situation to be in.
“However, it is not fair just to say that international football should be scrapped.
“That is just not right. There is most definitely a place for it. It’s very important.
“There is no reason why the experience for everyone between club and country shouldn’t be a perfectly compatible one.
“Every international manager, footballer and person working in the respective Football Associations wants to qualify for a major tournament. That is the aim. It helps enormously for finances, and also brings significant prestige in many different ways.
“Right now, there are conversations going on globally about how to increase revenue and get supporters back in.
“That is always the aim. Then the finances can be re-invested back into many different areas of the game, including grassroots football.
“So we must all be mindful that international football and the various federations are not just about playing nine or 10 games a year. There is much more to it.
“There are also agreements in place with broadcasters and other commercial partners, and that revenue will be helping enormously right now during the pandemic.
“You can’t not fulfil such contracts and just walk away.”
Bevington, who has a reputation for being an outstanding leader and administrator, is a veteran of many major tournaments with England, having worked at five World Cups and three European Championships with them.
He was also part of the Executive Team with Wales at Euro 2016 in France.
Gareth Southgate and his squad will be at the Euros next summer – and Bevington hopes to see Scotland there too.
He said: “Steve Clarke is doing a terrific job. To be unbeaten in their last eight games – and have three clean sheets in a row – is fine progress.
“It now comes down to the final 90 minutes away to Serbia next month, and I hope Steve and his players emerge victorious.
“I grew up watching football, and seeing Scotland at many major tournaments between 1978 and 1998, with the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan, Ally McCoist and Paul Lambert involved.
“Quite simply, the Scots have been away for too long.
“They most definitely bring something to the party. They absolutely add to the vibrancy of it all.
“With Wales in 2016, I saw what that meant to them, and it was just fantastic.
“Chris Coleman and the players loved the experience and so did I. Getting to the semi-finals was amazing.
“The supporters had the time of their lives in France, and so did the ones back home. It was brilliant.
“It just emphasises once again how unifying it can be for a country.
“Football is very powerful at bringing people together. We’ve all missed that these past few months.
“We must also never forget what it means to players to be part of their international set-up. They love it.
“It gives them the chance to achieve something memorable.
“That’s just another reminder – for every Scotsman, at least – of the significance of international football.
“They are on the verge of becoming the first group of players in 23 years to take Scotland to the big occasion.
“So, for David Marshall, Lyndon Dykes, John McGinn, Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay, Kieran Tierney, Ryan Fraser and the rest, they will all be eager to be part of the game against Serbia.
“It’s going to be a huge ask for them to win the game in Belgrade, but they can do it.
“They will go there full of confidence, and rightly so.
“The reward waiting for the whole country at the end of it is enormous.”