The World Cup in Rio de Janeiro is fast approaching and England fans are skeptical as per usual.
England have been handed a tough group that consists of Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. To top it all off England’s first match, versus Italy, will be played in Manaus at the Arena Amazonia.
And just as England fans started to feel a little optimism about some of the young players (and old players - Gareth Barry is enjoying a wonderful season for Everton - for that matter) form in the Premier League... Theo Walcott ruptures ligaments in his knee.
Beckham’s metatarsal, Rooney’s groin/ankle, Walcott’s knee.
What’s next? Oh yes. Ross Barkley’s toe.
That pretty much sums up England’s luck when it comes to major international tournaments: Half fit players, or great players that miss out all together. But this got me thinking... is it bad luck?
The argument that English teams play too many games is always thrown around the media in years that include international tournaments. Too many games over Christmas, too many international friendlies - the excuses mount.
Full disclosure: I have always been 100% against a winter break. I have never understood why certain leagues take them.
But the story is always the same. Major tournament is coming up in the summer, players playing their hardest to ensure they get a place, star player gets injured. This can’t be just “bad luck,” there must be a more logical reason, right?
Every European league barring the, English Premier League and the Portuguese League, has a winter break. In most of them this is more feasible due to the weather, or the fact that they are only comprised of 18 teams. For example the Bundesliga only has 18 teams, the winter break lasts 28 days, their players always look like they’re raring to go.
The Eredivisie in Holland also has 18 teams. It employs its “winterstop” from December 23 until January 16. The Dutch national team always looks like they’re raring to go at international tournaments too.
Looks to be a pattern emerging right? Well... not quite.
The Liga BBVA in Spain has 20 teams, like the English Premier League, but like the Eredivisie and the Bundesliga (and every other league in Europe) it has a winter break. However, it is only 10 days long. Is that really the difference between Spain keeping their players fresh and healthy before a major tournament? A 10-day break?
Xavi has been ever-present for Barcelona since 1998. He has been instrumental for Spain in their back-to-back-to-back international Championships. Xavi has averaged 44 games per season for Barcelona.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is synonymous with Bayern Munich since his debut in 2003 for the German giants. He averages 42 games per season for his club. Is a 28 day break in the middle of the season helping him stay fresh, or does it mean that he’s squeezing in more games before and after the break?
Now lets look at Brazil, a nation who has dominated international football for decades.
Not only does Brazil not have a break in their fixtures, and after the 38 game Brasileirao season is over, teams then compete in a state league. Not to mention the fact that many will play in the Copa do Brasil, and the best players will play in the Copa Libertadores/Copa Sudamericana.
Neymar, for example, played on average 45 games per season for Santos. The highest amount he played in a season was 60.
Wayne Rooney averages about 42 games per season (including Champions League and all domestic competitions) for Manchester United. Before the last World Cup he was plagued by injuries and his lack of fitness showed with his poor performance in the tournament
David Beckham averaged about 44 games per season with Manchester United. Before the World Cup in 2002 he fractured his metatarsal, was rushed his recovery and was of limited use in said World Cup.
One may point out that the Brazilian soccer calendar runs from May until December, and then the state tournaments in January. Their “break” is from February until May.
The Brasileirao season continues throughout the World Cup in Brazil, just without the players who are selected by their countries to play in the World Cup.
Why wouldn’t the European nations just move their calendar in line with Brazil’s calendar? It would certainly keep England’s best players fresh for the World Cup and European Championships. It would also take care of the injury problems that players suffer in the lead up to a World Cup too.
The problem is, it’s not that simple.
You see of the 23 players selected in Brazil’s 2010 World Cup squad. Only three played in Brazil: Robinho (Santos), Kleberson (Flamengo), and Gilberto (Cruzeiro). Robinho was at Manchester City at the beginning of their 2009/10 campaign, but only played in 12 games for the Citizens before moving on loan to Santos before the World Cup. The last time more than five players playing for Brazil’s national team plied their trade actually in Brazil, was at the World Cup in 2002.
When you look at the amount of Premier League players selected to participate in the 2010 World Cup, the effect on the quality within the league would be staggering. Chelsea sent 16 players to the World Cup in 2010, Liverpool 12, Arsenal 12, Manchester United eight, and Tottenham Hotspur 10.
In all, 108 players at the World Cup in 2010 came from the Premier League, the Championship, and Scottish Premier League. The next highest number was Serie A in Italy contributing 75 players, while 57 were selected from Liga BBVA in Spain (with 24.5% of those players coming from Barcelona alone).
Adhering to a schedule more forgiving to international tournaments in the summer, then, is something the European league’s simply cannot afford to do.
Given the evidence ... I’m not convinced that a winter break would be beneficial in the slightest to the England national team, or the progression of its young players. If the Premier League institutes a winter break, the games still have to be made up somewhere. Maybe this means less international friendlies, which means fewer opportunities for players to gel within the national team, or maybe it means starting the Premier League season two weeks earlier.
One thing that is different in England compared with the rest of Europe’s leagues is that England has two cup competitions. Not many leagues in Europe have two cup competitions (France and Portugal the only notable European nations that do). Going on a long run in the Capital One Cup means a team could add seven additional games per season to their already busy schedule.
The second thing the FA could do immediately is to get rid of FA Cup replays. These just add to the cluttered English football calendar. Smaller teams love these as they generate a decent pay day if the replay is somewhere like Old Trafford or the Emirates, but ultimately, could the FA not help this by subsidising the loss of financial income Bradford City would make from a replay at Old Trafford?
Scrapping the Capital One Cup could mean players like Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott only average around 35-40 games a season rather than 44-48. It’s not much, but it’s four or so less chances for the player to get an injury.
Maybe it’s bad luck, maybe England’s players aren’t good enough... Either way, something needs to be done to aid the development of England’s young players so that they aren’t over-played in World Cup and European Championship years. Scrapping the Capital One Cup and getting rid of FA Cup replays would be a good start.
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