One of the biggest talking points in football, the club v country debate, finally reached Priestfield Stadium this season as fans had to recover from the shock that two of our players could actually be playing in the World Cup.
Ian Cox has been a near ever-present this season under Ronnie Jepson, and his up and down form for the Gills has seen him play himself into, then out of the T&T squad. He’ll be hoping his form between now and the end of the season will alert coach Leo Beenhakker and he’ll get his World Cup ticket. Cox has a refreshingly philosophical attitude to it, saying “if it will be, it will be”, and is just getting on with his job at Priestfield with the minimum of fuss. For our other potential World Cup star, Brent Sancho, things have been somewhat more controversial.
The dreadlocked centre half may be a cult hero with the fans, but Paul Scally certainly didn’t count himself among that number earlier this season when he stated that Sancho would never play for the Gills again after he ignored club orders and travelled with the T&T squad for their vital World Cup playoffs with Bahrain. The club said Sancho was injured and shouldn’t go, but Sancho said he was fit, got a note from his doctor and flew with the squad against club orders.
The considered reaction to this is there was wrongdoing on both sides. Sancho probably didn’t go about things the right way, but his dream, the dream of every player to pull on a pair of boots, was just two games away, and he wanted to realise that dream. Totally understandable. However, the club couldn’t see past their own noses, and decided that an unfit player (who wasn’t being selected for the team at the time anyway) shouldn’t travel.
The club should have looked at the bigger picture and seen, like, the vast majority of the fans, that Sancho’s inclusion in the T&T World Cup squad would be a massive PR opportunity, and maybe even the chance for the club to earn some much-needed funds via a possible sale after the tournament. If Sancho plays in the World Cup and does well, Sancho wins and the club wins. The interests of the two parties are linked, yet in their treatment of Sancho, they failed to identify this.
Thankfully, a combination of events meant that the club had to recall Sancho to the starting lineup and at the time of writing, he’s just turned in two superb defensive performances against two of the best sides in League One, Brentford and Swansea. Such is the way football can throw up moments of true poetic justice, Sancho not only announced his return to the team with a Man of the Match performance, but he did so by scoring the first goal in his return match. His celebrations in front of the Medway Stand answered any questions the club had about his commitment and passion for the cause and effectively stuck two fingers up at the petty minded people who had kept him out of the side while the club slumped to defeat after defeat.
Now he’s in the side, not only has he produced some superb displays in helping turn the club’s form on its head, but his inclusion also seems to have brought the best out of his fellow Soca Warrior. Cox looked a little shaky against Brentford, but he was still miles better than in previous games, and against Swansea, Cox and Sancho effectively stifled one of the most dangerous strikeforces in League One, keeping a clean sheet in the process.
The club needs to realise that having international players is good for the club, but it also requires a little give and take at times when it comes to international call-ups. Scally’s actions earlier in the season may have cost Brent Sancho his World Cup place, and the Gills a place in League One next season. Hopefully now Sancho and Cox are paired at the back and look to form a formidable partnership, the two players will both be able to help the Gills survive the drop and earn themselves a place on the Soca Warriors’ plane to Germany this summer. Hopefully Coxy will be able to break back into the squad in what is his final chance of playing on the big stage. As for Sancho – if he makes it, he’ll have done it the hard way, but he’ll have fully deserved it.
If one or both of them get there, they’ll have the full backing of the Gills fans, perhaps with the exception of their second match when they take on England. Then the club v country debate will resurface once again. I’ll leave you with this – if Cox and Sancho make it to Germany, do we support our Gills players, or our country when they face England? Whatever your views on that, let’s all hope we get to see our two Soca Warriors at the World Cup this summer. It’ll be great for Coxy and Sancho, and it’ll be great for our football club.