Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher has been ruled out for the rest of the season after picking up ankle ligament damage on international duty for Scotland against Wales on Friday.
Fletcher has been one of Sunderland's few sources of goals this season and has been influential in many of their victories. His absence for the remainder of the season will now prove a major headache for the club, given their precarious position hovering just four points above the relegation zone with only eight games remaining.
Unfortunately for Sunderland they cannot simply go into the transfer market and buy a like for like striker which makes the blow even harder to take for the Sunderland supporters.
All supporters up and down the country are very proud to have their players selected to play at international level, after all it's a good reflection on the club as well as the player. Equally though supporters must wince when they watch every tackle made by the player, or on the player themselves.
Some of the more successful clubs can have their whole squads away on international duty which increases the chance of at least one player returning with an injury. Perhaps the added pressure placed on international managers by their club counterparts should not be frowned upon as much as we do. An injury to a key player for any club will have an effect on the team and club managers have a duty to their club first and foremost.
This highlights the old argument of what is more important to us as supporters, your club or country? Sir Alex Ferguson, for example, clearly wants to look after his Manchester United players and must doubt the need for international friendly games during the season. He will surely speak to Roy Hodgson and try and negotiate substituting some of his players during an England game to give them more of a rest. Who can blame him? However, this is more difficult when the international games are important World Cup or European qualifiers.
There are rules in terms of compensation for clubs if players pick up injuries on international duty. Michael Owen's long absence after picking up an injury at the 2006 World Cup gave rise to a change in the compensation arrangements after a dispute between Newcastle United, FIFA and the FA. In the end it resulted in an unprecedented £10m compensation deal.
Sometimes though money is just not enough. Sunderland must be thinking exactly the same at this moment in time.
Steven Fletcher's injury is crucial and could place Sunderland in real danger of relegation. Sunderland depend on Fletcher, not only because he is the Black Cats top scorer but also for his all-round displays. Added to this the news that Lee Cattermole will also miss the remainder of the season and the upcoming difficult fixtures and you would be forgiven for thinking that Sunderland have a real battle on their hands to avoid relegation from the Premier League this season.
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