International tournaments are peculiar things. My relationship with them is wholly ambivalent. Should the Republic of Ireland be part of proceedings, there is a patriotic fervour that grips me, despite myself. On the far more regular occasions that my countrymen are absent, I have one concern only -- the injury potential for Liverpool players.
This crushing weight of anxiety is only ever leavened by the unbridled fun to be gleaned from the inevitable soap-opera that is the England national team. I mean no maliciousness here, as I am one of those rare Irishmen who enjoys (limited) success for our neighbours. It seems wilfully obtuse to cheer Steven Gerrard all year and then produce the voodoo doll at World Cup time.
To be fair, the entertainment is usually immense -- Baden-Baden and the WAG circus was a particular favourite of mine. If a story does not exist, the tabloid hacks will not rest until one has been manufactured. This feeding fenzy happens at every tournament and it never ceases to be darkly amusing as the very organs that espouse the stereotypical bulldog spirit and exhort their nation to "cheer on our boys," engage in the most comical self-sabotage by undermining the team at every turn.
Brendan Rodgers appears to be utterly unencumbered by any such tortured thinking in his approach to the participation of four of his young charges at the forthcoming European Under 21 Championships. He's all for it, in fact, citing only the positives to be accrued and zeroing in on how Liverpool Football Club will ultimately benefit. Jordan Henderson will skipper a squad that will include Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Robinson and Andre Wisdom.
"It's great for Jordan, Jonjo, Andre and Jack to be part of it," opined the Northern Irishman. "I always think going to big championships like that is great for their learning. All these footballing experiences are good for them. I'm not one who is against players representing their countries. Obviously, there needs to be a balance in terms of the demands placed on them but I look on it as a real positive that we have had four players called-up."
Liverpool's four players represent the most contributed by any club and it would have been five were it not for the sensible decision to allow Raheem Sterling to continue his slow rehabilitation from injury.
"Everyone was in agreement that we need to look after the long-term situation with Raheem," insisted the Liverpool boss. "He's obviously had a chronic problem, where he's been playing and working through it. But we needed to give him recovery and rest. He will be better for that. He's making progress and he will be fresh for the beginning of the season."
Two of the club's even younger stars, Conor Coady and John Flanagan, have been named in Peter Taylor's provisional thirty five man Under 20 squad, who will play in the World Cup in Turkey, also in June. The group, as Rodgers might call it, will be narrowed to twenty one members, but given the Premiership experience and comparatively high-profile of the two Liverpool lads, it would not be a shock if six of the clubs young players were donning the three lions in tournament football next month.