Everyone loses with club over country mentality

Martin Rogers

Roy Keane was an uncompromising and imposing figure as a soccer player, and he is trying to take that mentality into life as a head coach in the English Premier League.

From a grim corner of northeast England, Sunderland boss Keane's single-mindedness this week has had long-reaching repercussions – all the way across the Atlantic.

By standing in the way of his club striker Dwight Yorke from performing for Trinidad and Tobago in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier, Keane unwittingly has given the United States another boost in a campaign that is already chugging along nicely.

Yorke took part in T&T's 1-1 draw with Guatemala last weekend but was recalled to England instead of being allowed to join his national team colleagues in Chicago.

Keane put pressure on Yorke to put club before country and return to the United Kingdom ahead of Sunderland's weekend clash with Wigan.

At 36 and in what is likely to be the final season of his playing career, Yorke understandably is unwilling to make waves, especially with a coaching role at the club on offer once he hangs up his boots.

That means bad luck for T&T and a break for coach Bob Bradley and the U.S. team. Of course, the U.S. would have been heavy favorites even with Yorke in the Caribbean team's lineup, but his absence robs the Soca Warriors of one of their biggest attacking threats.

It also is a further test of the uneasy truce that exists between national federations and major clubs, particularly those in England.

"I am feeling caught between a rock and a hard place with my club and my country," Yorke told the Trinidad Express Newspaper. "I want to play against the U.S., but I don't know if I will be allowed to."

It is hard not to feel sorry for T&T, who are paying the price for being a small nation. It is far from a unique situation, but it is not right and is demoralizing for a hopeful nation with big dreams of repeating its trip to the last World Cup finals.

It is widely understood that any attempt by leading clubs to flex their muscles against powerful nations would be met with force and could get messy.

Clearly, the U.S. is not a heavyweight when it comes to international play, having only once reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup, in 2002. However, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is a powerful figure in FIFA circles, and the U.S. generally avoids too much meddling from clubs.

Not so with T&T, even though CONCACAF president Jack Warner is a longstanding, if controversial, member of the FIFA family.

Furthermore, Yorke's individual situation makes it harder for his national federation to seek action against Sunderland.

If T&T were to make a fuss, it only would infuriate Keane and severely could impair Yorke's hopes of getting serious playing time this season.

Yorke's status as one of the most beloved sportsmen in his nation's history makes that option unworkable.

With suspended duo Khaleem Hyland and Avery John, plus injured Aurtis Whitley also on the missing list, the U.S. comfortably should rack up a third straight win in the second qualifying phase.

That would put them on the brink of the final qualifying round next year, from which up to four teams from six get a ticket to South Africa.

Having already won away from home in Guatemala and Cuba, things are running smoothly for Bradley's side.

"It has started well but we will be fully focussed," national team veteran Landon Donovan said. "T&T is a good team. They won in Cuba and probably should have beaten Guatemala.

"It is tricky when you travel on the weekend and then play at home a few days later. You don't have a lot of time to turn around mentally and physically. It is not going to be easy."

Not easy perhaps. But, with Yorke missing, certainly easier.