International class. It’s a phrase regularly bandied about by armchair pundits. It can be used to bemoan the merits of a particular player “Barry’s never been international class”, or critique the ability of upcoming opponents “Montenegro only have two international class players”. But what exactly does international class mean? Does it actually make sense?
The phrase is loaded with assumptions. First that the qualities needed for international football are fixed, clearly defined and permanent.
Are any of the Scotland team who took on Brazil at the weekend worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Mackay, Dalglish or Jimmy Johnston? If Scotland cannot find heirs to these honoured sons should they refuse to play another fixture?
Clearly no, but implicit in the phrase is the suggestion that international teams should only be allowed to field players who meet this hazy, ill-defined criteria. I can’t think of an international team in history who’ve been so blessed. Look at any championship winning side and there’s a journeyman, or three, somewhere happy to be pegged to this coat tails of the sides genuinely great players.
Now I’m not pretending there aren’t better or worse players in every team. But if they’re pulling on the jersey for their country they have without question achieved the threshold of being international class.
So why does anyone use the phrase? For me it’s about trying to add a little gravitas to an opinion by invoking this unknown, undefined benchmark of quality. International class? It’s just a snobbish way you of saying you don’t think a player or team are good enough.